The Consumer Rights Act 2015: What to know
THE arrival of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 gives shoppers unprecedented rights when making purchases. It replaces previous consumer legislation and creates new protection for things like digital media.
The changes are pretty comprehensive, but the most important points are highlighted below. Keep reading, or use the menu below to skip ahead to each section individually.
- Purchases made before the changes
- Condition of items
- Protection for digital content
- Protection for services
- Protection from sellers abroad
- Terms and conditions made clearer
- Complaints and disputes
Purchases made before the changes
It's important to note that goods and services purchased before the Act came into force - that is, before October 1st 2015 - aren't covered by it.
However, items bought before then are still protected under old legislation: the Sale of Goods Act, Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations, and the Supply of Goods and Services Act.
We've summarised any differences between the new and old legislation at the end of each section.
Condition of items
All items we purchase - whether that's an e-book or a pair of boots - should meet a set of standards, which are basically an updated version of those within the Sale of Goods Act.
Under these rules, the things we buy should be of satisfactory quality, and shouldn't be faulty or damaged on arrival.
The standard of "quality" will depend on the item and what a reasonable person would expect from it.
So, for example, we couldn't expect a cheap camera bought in a pound shop to meet the same standards as one from a professional photography shop.
Items we buy should also be fit for purpose, as made clear to the trader "expressly or by implication".
Say, for example, someone goes into a shop looking for a drill suitable for making holes in walls. The salesperson recommends a particular drill for the job, and confirms that it is suitable for masonry.
However, when the buyer gets home, they find that the drill isn't capable of drilling into their walls and is, in fact, unsuitable for masonry.
The drill may be of satisfactory quality, but it is not fit for the purpose described to the salesperson.
An important thing to note is that for the "fit for purpose" protection to apply, it requires us to make it clear what we want from a product; it's not the seller's fault if we ask for a drill, but don't specify that we need it to drill masonry.
The third standard our purchase must live up to is that it must meet our expectations and be as described.
The latter relates in particular to purchases made online or from catalogues, but the former can relate to purchases made anywhere.
That the Act includes reference to our expectations is useful, because descriptions tend to relate solely to appearance - but our expectations also include factors like how long things should last and how well they should work.
Something described as a professional, pocket-sized, camera would fail the "as described" standard if it turned out to need a shoulder bag to carry it round in. It would fail to "meet our expectations" if we'd paid £900 for it, but it took low resolution, grainy photos.
- These standards were previously covered by the Sale of Goods Act.
Our rights when getting faulty, damaged or poor quality items repaired or refunded are now much clearer. The changes also mean that in the first instance we're covered for longer.
The exact protection we're entitled to depends on how long ago we made the purchase, and is split into three time periods:
30-day refund period
One of the biggest changes with the new law is that anyone buying goods that aren't up to standard is entitled to a complete refund for a full 30 days after purchase.
If we don't want a full refund, we can also:
- request that the goods be repaired
- keep the goods and get a partial refund
If we do request a refund, the money must be returned to us within 14 days.
If we ask for a repair, and it doesn't do the job, we're entitled to ask for a second repair attempt or a replacement - at no additional cost to us.
The 30 day refund period doesn't apply to digital content, which is covered separately. It also doesn't apply if we change our mind about a purchase, so although many retailers let us return items we've decided against, they're under no legal obligation to do so.
Similarly, the 30 day refund period doesn't apply to perishable goods, where we must use the reasonableness test: it's reasonable, for example, to expect a pot of yoghurt to last until its use by date when kept properly - i.e., in the fridge.
- Under previous legislation, buyers were only entitled to refunds for a "reasonable time". They weren't able to demand a refund after the first attempt at repair or replacement.
Up to six months - repair or replacement
Once we pass the 30 day mark, we're no longer entitled to ask for a refund straight away.
Instead, we can ask for a faulty product to be either repaired or replaced. If the subsequent repair, or the replacement item, also isn't up to scratch, then we regain the right to ask for a refund.
This protection lasts for up to six months after purchase. Say we bought a waterproof jacket four months ago, and it starts to leak: we can ask for it to be repaired or replaced. If the repair doesn't stop the leak, or the replacement also has the same issue, we can ask for a refund.
- Previously, customers could ask for a repair, replacement or a refund - but we could also be made to accept continuous repairs or replacements, instead of being able to ask for a refund after the first attempt.
Between six months and six years
If the purchase was made longer than six months ago, we can still ask for a repair or replacement if it develops a fault.
If the repair fails and we subsequently want a refund, the seller is allowed to deduct some money to account for wear and tear since purchase.
Say we buy a bicycle, and after seven month the gears don't work properly. The seller tries to repair it, but the problem remains so we ask for a refund. Because we've already been using the bike for seven months, the seller can deduct some money from the refund.
In the case of motor vehicles, the seller can make a reasonable reduction for wear and tear on claims made after just 30 days.
Protection for digital content
Digital content is now explicitly protected for the first time.
The Act covers anything downloaded after being paid for - this includes music, films, e-books, software and apps. But it also includes digital content supplied on a physical medium such as a DVD, and content that's paid for within an otherwise free digital product.
To explain how the latter works, imagine we've downloaded or play a free game online. As we play in the virtual world, we build up some virtual currency. We decide we need a little more virtual currency to make an in-game purchase, so we pay for some.
But the weapon we've purchased with that currency - or the currency itself - fails to appear in the virtual world.
Under the Act, we as players now have rights for the content we bought using real world money. The provider must therefore provide a remedy - in this case, most likely fixing the glitch.
However, any content in the game that we haven't paid for are not covered by the Act - so a weapon bought with currency we got free for signing up isn't covered in the same way if it fails to appear.
The Act also makes provision for viruses that might be downloaded along with the paid-for product.
For example, someone buys a music-organising app for their phone, only to discover that it has a virus that deletes all their music files.
In this case, assuming we can show the damage caused was as a result of the app itself, the trader is liable. They must either offer to repair the damage - including recovering our music collection - or compensate us to an appropriate degree; it's up to the trader which remedy they offer.
As already mentioned, the 30 day refund rule doesn't apply to digital purchases. Instead, providers must repair the faulty item or provide a replacement.
- Previously, digital content didn't have its own protection - it was just treated as a good (a DVD) or service (downloaded content) and covered by the Sale of Goods Act and the Supply of Goods and Services Act.
Protection for services
It's not just material items that are covered by the Act - we also gain rights for services we pay for, such as getting a haircut or having broadband installed.
The Consumer Regulations Act demands that providers carry out their work with reasonable care and in line with what was agreed with them at the start.
Failure to do so means that they are obliged to put things right, or give us a refund.
They must also carry out the work within a "reasonable" period of time. If they can't do this, then "refunds must be offered".
For example: a decorator is contracted to paint our living room before the family arrives for Christmas. After inspecting it the day before it's due to be finished, we realise it's not the colour we agreed with the decorator at the start.
After checking the quote, the decorator agrees that the colour is wrong.
Under the Act, we can ask the decorator to re-paint the room at no further cost to us. Furthermore, they would need to re-do it before Christmas to have done so within a "reasonable time".
Alternatively, they could refund us any money we've already paid.
It's always wise to agree prices beforehand when engaging someone's services. If we don't however, then you're still afforded some protection.
Under the Act, service providers must charge a reasonable price - that is, when a price hasn't been agreed beforehand, what we're asked to pay at the end can't be extortionate.
Say, for example, we hire a garden maintenance company to remove some unwanted plants, assuming that the price would be relatively low. However, at the end of the job they charge us £500.
We ask other gardeners and maintenance companies what they would have charged, and they say between £100 and £200.
Under the Act, the original company's fee would be deemed unreasonable, and we're entitled to a partial refund.
- Under previous legislation, this protection wasn't so clearly set out, but tended to be offered anyway.
Protection from sellers abroad
The new legislation also requires traders selling to people in the UK to adhere to the Act, wherever they happen to be based. Previously, traders were only bound to UK consumer laws if they were based in the UK or somewhere in the EU.
So anyone buying from the US who finds it fails to meet the standards mentioned above is entitled under the Act to request a refund or replacement.
Whether this is workable in practice remains to be seen - it might be the case that it's easier to get traders nearer us - say those in the EU - to comply with the rules, but getting those in more far flung places to abide by them could be a little trickier.
- Previously, we only had protection if retailers were based in the UK or elsewhere in the EU. Outside the EU, our purchases were covered by the laws in the country where the retailer was based.
Terms and conditions made clearer
Many people will welcome the changes to how contracts for goods and services must be laid out, with key terms being "both prominent and transparent".
"Key terms" includes not just the price and other headline details, but things like exit charges and additional costs.
So if we're buying a plane ticket online from a budget carrier, we might be told on the last booking screen that "extra fees may apply" and asked to tick a box to show they've understood.
A week later, at the airport, we're told we have to pay an excess baggage fee.
Under the Act, this fee wasn't made sufficiently transparent and prominent at the time of booking, so we could therefore ask to be refunded.
The concept of "fairness" plays a big part in how contracts are judged under the new laws. In the example here, the airline would also have to change their booking system to make the fee clearer, lest it end up being assessed for fairness in the courts.
Complaints and disputes
As was the case under the older legislation, our rights relate to the retailer rather than the manufacturer - so if we have a problem with a washing machine, we should raise the issue with the trader, not the company that built it.
But if we find that dealing with the retailer isn't getting us anywhere, the least they must do is point us in the direction of a relevant, certified, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) provider.
Previously only companies in particularly industries had to be registered with, and provide details of, an ADR service.
Under the new rules, the retailer still doesn't have to be signed up with an ADR scheme, but they do have to tell us about the relevant one for their industry. They must also let us know whether they're prepared to use the ADR scheme should it come to it.
It's free for customers to refer a complaint to an ADR provider, but in return for being given the option we do have to give retailers a fair chance to resolve the issue first; we can't demand access to one the day after making our initial complaint.