Your rights when buying second hand goods
FROM mobile phones to kids' bikes, cars to clothes, more of us are buying second hand than ever before.
Looking through the classifieds for a used car is a familiar experience for thousands, while there seem to be no end of practically new items to be found online with the description, "unwanted present".
Meanwhile others are finding second hand is the only way they can afford certain essentials.
So what rights do we have when buying pre-loved goods? Broadly, they depend on how and where we bought them.
If it's from a second-hand shop or retailer click here.
If it was a private sale - say through classified ads - click here.
Buying second hand goods online? Click here.
In addition, some forms of payment offer extra protection - click here to find out about those.
Finally, there are some other situations when extra conditions apply - click here to find out about them.
Second hand traders and retailers
When we buy second hand goods from any kind of trader or retailer - say, a charity clothes shop, laptop repair and refurbishment shop, or a garage - we have the same rights as we do when buying new.
Anything bought since October 1st 2015 is covered by the Consumer Rights Act, which we cover in full detail here; anything bought before then is covered by the old Sale of Goods Act 1979.
The basics are broadly the same under both: goods must be as described, of satisfactory quality, and fit for the purpose made known to the trader.
The main thing to be aware of here is that our idea of "satisfactory quality" may differ from the trader's - remember to factor in realistic wear and tear.
Say we're buying a second hand car: a few scuffs and scratches on the bodywork are to be expected, but an unexplained dent along one side isn't. The upholstery won't be pristine, but there shouldn't be any CSI-level stains.
"Fit for purpose" means the item will do what it should be expected to in an everyday situation - and any other particular purposes we specify when thinking about buying.
For example, computer software or accessories should work - and if we've told the trader we have a particular operating system, it should be compatible with that.
"As described" means the goods we buy must match any samples we were shown, in store or in photo form, and they must match the description given in brochures or blurbs.
If we're looking at a vintage dress and the shop assistant says it's in good condition apart from a rip to the skirt - that's as described.
Any other faults and we're entitled to a refund or replacement, or compensation - say the cost of repairing the broken zip they didn't tell us about.
An extra factor to take into account for sales covered under the Consumer Rights Act is that goods must not only be as described but also "meet our expectations".
This is particularly useful when it comes to buying second hand goods. The phrase "as described" tends to cover surface issues - but the stipulation about expectations also covers us with regards to how long an item should last and how well it should work.
The Consumer Rights Act has made the conditions surrounding buying from retailers much clearer, but the protection offered by both that and the Sale of Goods Act 1979 is much more limited when it comes to buying second hand from individuals.
The rules about items being of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose no longer apply - instead we're much more reliant on the clause about them being as described.
There's no obligation on the seller to disclose any faults, but misrepresenting goods isn't allowed.
Say we're looking for a second hand car in the classified ads. The seller doesn't have to tell us that it's impossible to select second gear, or that the bonnet doesn't securely shut.
But they can't tell us it's a good little runner when it doesn't start half the time, and they must tell us the truth if we ask them about something we notice - for example why a door is a different colour from the rest of the car.
Or we're buying baby clothes second hand. If the private seller tells us they're "blue" and they turn out to be blue with lots of baby stains on them, we've got no claim.
But if they tell us the clothes we're buying are "blue and like new", and they've got some kind of stain on them, they've misrepresented the items - even if the stains aren't baby-related - and we're on far firmer ground asking for a refund or replacement.
We can break down our rights when buying second hand goods online in a similar way. Are we buying from a trader or retailer, or from a private individual?
If we're buying from a private seller, the same rules as above apply.
If, however, we're buying from a trader, we're also covered by the Consumer Contract Regulations, which replaced the Distance Selling Regulations in June 2014.
This gives us a couple of very useful extra rights:
- protection against fraudulent use of a credit card,
- a right to clear information, and
- a minimum cancellation period of 14 days from the sales contract being fulfilled
That means we have a minimum of 14 days from receiving the goods to change our mind - on top of the rights outlined above.
When buying several items in one go from the same trader, which are then sent out separately, the 14 days doesn't start until the final item has been delivered.
The trader is entitled to request that anything we return is sent back in exactly the same condition as you received it - that is, unopened and unused.
If we're sending an item back because it isn't fit for purpose or as described, then we must not have used it - but if the only way we could see it didn't meet those criteria was to open the packaging (for example it was in opaque wrapping or a solid box), that should be acceptable.
In addition, we may also be entitled to a refund for return delivery costs - but many traders will state upfront that return costs are to be paid by the customer.
Note though that sites like eBay and Gumtree don't count as traders. Imagine them as the grounds on which a car boot sale is run. Most of the buying and selling is done between private individuals, but there will be the odd trader there too.
If in any doubt, check the seller's profile. That should say clearly whether or not they're a business seller.
Particularly when buying online, but also worth considering when buying in person, is how we pay for our goods.
Using a credit card or PayPal offers another layer of protection.
PayPal will refund us for the full cost of any eligible items bought online, plus any postage and packaging costs, in the case that they don't arrive or are significantly different from their description.
But for those items being bought in person, or via a website that doesn't use PayPal, and that cost more than £100, use a credit card for the protection offered under Section 75 - explained in detail here.
In most auction situations we're entering into a contract with the seller, not the auction house - so our rights are broadly the same as they are in private sale situations.
However, they can be further restricted or excluded all together - subject to rules on reasonableness - but only if buyers have the opportunity to be there in person.
So people using online auction sites - hello again eBay - can treat the exchange as they would a private sale.
Fans of wandering around auction marts should check the descriptions very carefully, and get as good a look as possible at any items they're thinking of buying.
Any electrical equipment bought second hand through a trader or retailer of any sort must satisfy the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994, also referred to as the Low Voltage Directive.
The regulations state that equipment must be:
- safe - using it must present minimum risk of death or personal injury to any person or domestic animal, or damage to property
- built in accordance with good engineering practice regarding safety
- designed and made so it will protect against electric shock - either through protective earthing, double insulation or an equivalent measure
Again, private sales are exempt - as are sales of electrical equipment to reconditioning or repair businesses, or sales of equipment as scrap.
However, while an electrical shop can buy dangerous and broken goods, those items must be brought back up to a safe standard before they can be resold.
Be aware of the difference between "refurbished" and "modified" goods. When equipment is refurbished to its original specs, it counts as second hand and must meet the above safety criteria.
But say someone takes an old laptop and repairs it using parts from other, different, machines. That counts as modified equipment - and it will often be classified as "new".
The thing to note is that it's up to the person who did the modifications to assess and report on the safety of the finished product.
Traders are required to follow the same safety checks as they would with refurbished and genuinely new goods - and if they do sell goods that are unsafe or incorrectly labelled, they're liable for compensation for any injury or damage caused.
The documentation we can and should expect will vary - but they do at least have incentive to comply. Private sellers have no such obligation.
As well as sofas and armchairs, any kind of upholstered furniture should have a label somewhere confirming it complies with the Furniture & Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988. That includes:
- Beds, headboards of beds and mattresses
- Sofa-beds, futons and other convertibles
- Nursery furniture
- Garden furniture suitable for use inside
- Scatter cushions and seat pads
On most newer large furniture - sofas, armchairs, and so on - the label will be permanently attached, say sewn into the lining under any removable cushions, or on the underside somewhere.
This makes buying bigger furniture one of the few times we can check for ourselves the safety of the items we're thinking of buying, whether from a shop or an individual.
Note, however, that the fire safety regulations don't apply to:
- Furniture made before 1950
- Bedclothes including duvets
- Loose covers for mattresses
- Pillow cases
- Sleeping bags
They're not what we'd immediately think of when someone talks about buying second hand goods, but there's always been a lively second market for tickets.
A large proportion of tickets aren't supposed to be resold - read the terms and conditions on the back and they'll have some sort of warning about being void if they are.
But it's recognised that it does happen - from picking up a spare for the match from a friend or colleague, to managing to get a seat for a sold-out show by hunting online.
So the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have been working with four of the biggest resellers to give potential buyers slightly more protection.
Anyone using StubHub, SeatWave, Viagogo and GetMeIn will now be able to see all the details of the tickets they're interested in, including exact row and seat number, viewing restrictions, conditions of entry, and perhaps most importantly, the face value of the ticket.
The full list of information is as follows:
- Age and other entry restrictions
- The exact location - row and seat number - of the ticket, and whether the view is restricted
- Whether seats in a multiple listing are located together
- Additional charges not included in the listed ticket price
- The face value of the ticket
- A contact email address for buyers should something go wrong
As far as potential buyers are concerned, the changes mean they should be able to spot and avoid much inflated prices, or paying over the odds for seats with poor views.
Venues and event organisers, meanwhile, will be able to spot anomalies with ticket sales or bookings - for example a booking for multiple prime seats, which then appear at much higher prices on a resale site - and cancel or invalidate those tickets.
The CMA have contacted all the other main resellers and ticket brokers to explain their obligations - but it's not yet clear how strictly venues and event organisers will come down on those buying secondary market tickets in good faith.