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‘I want my money back’: shopper’s guide to consumer rights

Tahmina Mannan
Written By:
Tahmina Mannan

Whether you’re buying a small present or making a big purchase, we take a look at what consumer rights you have as a shopper.

The Government has announced new rules to be implemented next summer that will better protect shoppers, giving them a longer period to returns goods which are purchased online or by phone.

How the new rules protect you

When the draft Consumer Rights Bill becomes law in June 2014, it will give consumers improved powers through:

1. A set 30 day time period for when consumers can return faulty goods and get a full refund

2. If you seek a refund within six months of receipt of the goods, and if there isn’t a clear second-hand value for the goods, then you get a full refund. If there is a second hand value for the faulty item the refund can be reduced to take account of the use you have had. For example, there is an active second-hand market in cars so a trader would be entitled to reduce the refund to account for the of the car.

3. After the first six months, the refund may be reduced to account for the use of the goods.

4. Online shoppers will have the right to demand a repair or replacement of faulty digital content such as film and music downloads, online games and e-books.

5. You will be able to demand shoddy work be redone by a tradesmen if it is substandard or request a reduction in price.

As it stands, when you buy something from someone, you are going into a legal contract with the seller.

If after the purchase you have a complaint, it is the seller of the goods, and not the manufacturer who must sort out the issue.

A manufacturer’s guarantee does not affect your right to claim against the seller.

The law says that goods you buy:

• Must be of a satisfactory quality and be safe

• Must not be damaged or defective unless the person selling them to you points out a fault or which would have been revealed under a pre-contract examination

• Must be fi t for the purpose for which the seller knows you are buying them

• Must be as they are described by the seller, or on the package or display sign – so, if a skirt was advertised as 100% silk, it can’t have polyester in it.

Buying sale or ‘seconds’ goods

You have the same rights when you buy something in a sale or when you buy ‘seconds’ goods, but remember that these items can be sold with a defect, as long as the seller has made this clear before you buy the item.

If an item is of satisfactory quality and is described correctly, retailers are under no obligation to exchange it or give you a refund (for example, if you decide you don’t like the colour) although many do as a goodwill gesture.

Buying from a private seller

Unfortunately, you have fewer rights when you buy from a private seller.

The only rules are that the seller must have title to the goods and that they must be as described – if not ask for your money back straight away.

Take someone with you to act as a witness to any conversations. Where possible, written evidence is much better. Write key features on the invoice and ask the seller to sign it.

Beware of traders who pose as private sellers – this is illegal.

Buying second hand goods

Here the same rules as buying new goods apply, but the seller is not liable for reasonable wear and tear.

The price and description of the item has to be taken into account when assessing whether they are of reasonable quality.

Internet auctions

If buying new goods, the seller cannot restrict your rights. When you don’t have a chance to examine the goods before buying – like in an internet auction – you generally have the same rights as when you buy goods in a shop.

Note: some internet auctions are actually only notice boards between private buyers and sellers – in which case your rights are the same as when buying from a private seller.

Shopping from home

When you shop at home (for instance from a catalogue or on the internet) you may be protected by extra rights. On placing your order you have the right to get certain information in writing.

The trader does not have to send you this information again if it has already been provided in writing, for example through a catalogue or advertisement.

The information provided to you should include your cancellation rights. You usually have the right to cancel for any reason and receive a full refund, generally between 7-28 working days.

However, if you return goods then they should be in the same condition as when you purchased them.

For financial services (for example credit, savings, pensions and insurance), cancellation periods are longer.

There are some contracts you can’t cancel, for example, perishable or personalised items and unsealed CDs or DVDs.

Note: if the written information you are entitled to isn’t provided, you always have up to three months extra cancellation time.

Top tips for Internet shoppers

Be wary of companies that only use a PO Box number – get a full address

Don’t assume a company is UK based because it has ‘UK’ in its web address – get a full postal address

Keep copies of emails and sales confirmations

If your purchase is for more than £100, using your credit card to pay may give you added protection if things go wrong.

Doorstep selling

Be aware of your rights if a sales person calls at your home. Don’t be pressured into signing on the spot even if you’re being offered incentives to do so. If you didn’t ask the sales person to visit you, or did so following an unsolicited telephone call, you should have seven days to change your mind. This only applies to sales of £35 or more.

This right to cancel should be given to you in writing by the sales person. Failure to do so could be an offence.

Unfair contract terms

Always read a contract carefully, including the small print, before you sign.

Generally you will be bound by your signature, even if you choose not to read the small print.

Look out for terms that are unfair, unreasonable or unfairly weighted against you and in the trader’s favour.

A trader cannot use a contract to avoid responsibility unfairly if something goes wrong or to impose unfair financial penalties.

A contract cannot stop you from holding back a reasonable part of the payment when a trader’s own obligations have been seriously breached, or going to court if you have a dispute.

Paying for the purchase

Paying by credit card – You have extra protection if you pay by credit card for goods and services that cost more than £100 for one item (but less than £30,000), because the credit card issuer, as well as the supplier, may be liable if something goes wrong.


Use your credit card instead of a cheque, cash or debit card if the total bill for the item will be more than £100. If the trader stops trading or fails to fulfil the contract, then you may have additional rights.

Always make sure you get a receipt with the company’s name and address.
Buying on credit

Check the terms of the agreement carefully.

You will normally have the right to cancel the credit agreement in two situations:
1) If you have signed it at home as the result of a sales visit
2) If you have spoken to a salesperson on their premises but then taken the agreement home and signed it there.

In that case:

There should be a cancellation box on your copy of the agreement telling you what to do

You have five days to cancel from the day after the date you receive a second copy of your agreement in the post.

You must always cancel straight away in writing by recorded delivery, keeping a copy for your records.

If you have no right to cancel, there should be a statement saying so in your agreement.

Guarantees and extended warranties

Guarantees and warranties only add to your rights – they don’t replace you statutory rights (the rights given to you by the State).

Guarantees – Guarantees should be clear-cut and available for you to see before you make a purchase. They can’t be used to limit a shop’s or a manufacturer’s liability if anything goes wrong. These are legally binding and should show how you can make a claim.

Extended warranties – These enable you to repair or replace faulty appliances after the end of the manufacturer’s free guarantee.

They may also offer additional benefits such as theft or damage insurance for the whole period of cover. Think carefully about whether an extended warranty is a good deal for you.

Check your own home insurance policy, which may cover some of the same ground.

When the appliance is purchased by credit card, check whether the credit provider offers any extended warranty.

Shop around for quotes before signing up and always reads the fine print.

How to complain

If you keep the goods for too long before you make a complaint, you may lose some of your rights. So, if the goods or services you’ve bought don’t meet the right standards:

Inform the seller quickly if you want to be able to claim a refund. It may be a good idea to put this in writing.

Go back to the seller as soon as you can with a receipt or other proof of purchase.
Explain what the problem is, say what result you expect and set a deadline for the problem to be resolved.

Remember that your rights are dependent on how long you have had it, how you paid and the nature of the fault.

If you are complaining in writing, never send original copies of receipts etc. Also make sure you send documents via recorded post for proof.

If there is a problem with what you’ve bought in the first six months it will be assumed that something was wrong with it when you bought it unless the seller can prove otherwise.

Note: getting a third party repair may affect your rights.

For a more detailed guide to all your rights as a consumer click here for the Citizen’s Advice guide to Consumer Rights.