Customers can seek refunds, replacements and repairs for purchased goods if the promise doesn't live up to the reality.
For second hand goods, the rights customers have will depend on where they purchased the item and who sold it to them.
Overall, consumer rights for UK customers have been strengthened over the last decade but there are still loopholes that can trip some customers up.
What are your consumer rights when buying goods?
Thanks to the Consumer Rights Act 2015, we have strengthened protections when it comes to faulty or damaged goods.
The Act came into force on 1 October 2015, replacing old legislation including the Sale of Goods Act, Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations, and the Supply of Goods and Services Act.
What this means for customers is that we are covered by consumer regulations if:
- Goods are not of a sufficient quality
- Goods are not fit for purpose
- Goods are not as described or do not meet our expectations
Let's take a closer look at these three scenarios.
What if goods are poor quality?
The Consumer Rights Act stipulates that goods need to be of a satisfactory quality.
This can mean different things depending on the item in question and it does depend in some respects on what a "reasonable" person would be satisfied with given the price they paid for the item.
Here are a couple of examples where the item is probably not of satisfactory quality:
- A pair of trousers that split at the seam as soon the buyer puts them on
- A new TV that is scratched or damaged when it comes out of the box
In both cases, it's clear the item is not of satisfactory quality from the moment the buyer begins to use it.
Things may not always be this clear cut and traders can argue that something is of satisfactory quality even if a customer believes it isn't.
Value comes into this too: a set of low budget pyjamas from a high street shop wouldn't be held to the same standards as luxury boutique pyjamas, for instance.
However, there's no denying this area of the Act is open to interpretation and might not always work in the customer's favour.
What if goods aren't fit for purpose?
Goods sold by retailers in the UK must be fit for purpose and last for a reasonable length of time.
Essentially, this means that a product must do what it's advertised to do or, sometimes crucially, what a customer was told it would do.
Take the example of a man buying a drill that is capable of drilling into masonry and then getting it home to find it doesn't. There are several scenarios to consider here:
- The box falsely claimed the drill could be used on masonry. The customer can return the item because it isn't fit for the purpose advertised.
- The sales adviser told the customer the drill could be used on masonry. The customer can return the item because they were not given the correct information at the time of purchase.
- The customer bought a drill that didn't say it could be used on masonry on the box. Since there was no explicit confirmation that it could be used in such a manner, the customer cannot claim it isn't fit for purpose.
- The customer didn't ask the sales adviser whether the drill could be used on masonry. Since the question wasn't asked and the adviser didn't know what the customer was looking for, the customer cannot claim the item is not fit for purpose.
Being fit for purpose also includes longevity. In the case of this drill, we wouldn't expect it to break after a couple of weeks - that would be a combination of poor quality and being unfit for purpose.
We look in more detail below at how long faulty goods are covered under the Consumer Rights Act.
What if goods are not as described?
Any goods purchased must be as they were described and meet our expectations.
Here are a few instances of where this isn't the case:
- We order a cake in the shape of a favourite cartoon character but what arrives is a generic round cake.
- We open a box expecting to find a red toaster inside but the toaster is blue.
- We buy a camera that claims to be pocket-sized but requires a huge shoulder bag to carry it around.
Again, these examples are clear cut, and it would be straightforward for us to argue that we have not got what we paid for.
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.
At that point, we're heading into ambiguous territory and we might not be as successful with our complaints.
How long can you claim against faulty goods?
Under the Consumer Rights Act, an item is considered to be faulty if it doesn't meet the three standards discussed above.
If an item is faulty, it is the responsibility of the retailer to deal with any customer complaint.
So, even if you think you're covered by a guarantee or warranty, if the complaint is that the product was faulty at the time of purchase, the retailer should be the first port of call.
There are three separate timeframes to consider when we're looking at faulty goods: the first 30 days, the first six months and the first six years.
Let's look at each of these timeframes in detail.
First 30 days
The strongest rights for faulty goods come within the first 30 days of taking ownership of a product - so the day of purchase or the day it was delivered to a customer.
Within 30 days, customers can:
- Claim a refund for faulty physical products
- Give the retailer one opportunity to repair or replace digital content before they provide a refund
We have the right to reject faulty products within 30 days for non-digital products and obtain a full refund.
We usually need proof of purchase to confirm where and when the item was purchased, but this doesn't necessarily have to be a receipt. A bank statement or credit card statement can also show the date and location of purchase.
It's important to understand that requesting a refund constitutes a rejection of the item, so we should stop using it immediately and contact the retailer as soon as possible. For example:
- If we order an item online for collection but we immediately that it's faulty (i.e. a chair has a damaged leg)
- If we buy an item from a shop and then check it over at home to discover there's something faulty about it (i.e. a part is missing from the box)
- We could also discover an item is faulty further down the line. An example of this would be a radio appearing to work for a week but then displaying a fault with the volume button.
The crucial point is that rejecting the item as faulty means you should stop using it and contact the retailer as soon as you realise it isn't working as advertised.
Up to six months
If you discover a product is faulty after the initial 30-day period but within six months, you still have the right to request the retailer replace or repair the item.
Here are some points to note:
- Customers can request either a repair or a refund, but the retailer can choose which it offers
- If the retailer believes it will be disproportionately expensive to offer one solution over the other (e.g. a repair costs more than a replacement), they have the right to refuse and offer the alternative instead
- If the repair or replacement is unsuccessful, customers can then request a refund or a price reduction if they wish to keep the item
- No deductions can be made by the retailer on a refund issued within the first six months of purchase if an attempt has been made to repair or replace the item
If a fault is discovered within six months of purchase, it's generally accepted that it was present at the time of purchase. If a retailer disagrees with that, it's down to them to prove otherwise rather than expecting you to prove it was faulty from time of purchase.
Note: It's slightly different for motor vehicles where retailers can make deductions based on fair use of the vehicle after 30 days rather than six months.
Beyond six months
Once we get beyond the first six months of ownership, the burden shifts to the customer to prove the fault was present at the time of purchase.
This sounds difficult, and it's certainly trickier than simply returning to the retailer within the first few months of buying a product and allowing them to prove the item wasn't faulty when you bought it.
Official guidance leans towards getting expert opinions or reports about defects within a product range.
For example, if another product within the same range or from the same manufacturer has been recalled due to safety reasons or because there was a fault with them, this could be used as supporting evidence that your item was faulty at point of purchase too.
There have been several high-profile cases of companies recalling faulty products in recent years such as the Hotpoint and Indesit washing machine recall of 2019 or Toyota's 2018 recall of 2.4 million vehicles worldwide due to a system fault.
These big cases make headlines, and it's unlikely your complaint about a malfunctioning radio is going to reach the same heights. However, there are methods we can use to work out whether a fault was present at the time we bought the item:
- Ask a local repair shop or independent expert to produce a report confirming the defect
- Collect evidence from forums or social media about other people struggling with the same issues
It's worth remembering these avenues can cost money, especially if you decide to commission a report from an independent expert. While this might be worthwhile for a high-value item, it could be disproportionately expensive for a simple radio or toilet seat.
If the item is still under a manufacturer's warranty or guarantee, it might be better to go directly to them rather than a retailer if the retailer is being persistently unhelpful.
There's more detail on warranties later in this guide.
What are your rights around second hand products?
When we buy second hand goods from a retailer or trader, we're protected by the Consumer Contracts Regulations as well as the Consumer Rights Act.
As well as the standard rules about quality, being fit for purpose, as described and meeting expectations, there are additional rules on distance and off-premises sales (including online purchases).
These explicitly say what information a seller needs to supply to customers when they buy something remotely - see the Consumer Contracts Regulations section below for specific details.
Goods bought from retailers and professional traders, even if they are second hand, are covered under these regulations. Examples of retailers and traders include:
- Second hand shops
- Charity shops
- Trade-in shops for games and electronics
- Market traders
- Online marketplace traders
The lines that separate out professional online marketplace traders with private sellers are sometimes blurred. Ask these questions:
- Are they buying products and selling them on?
- Are they making their living from selling things online?
If the answer to these questions is yes, they are classed as a professional trader, even if they don't apply the label to themselves.
For customers, it can be a problem if a trader refuses to identify as such. Often, these problems only appear if the customer finds their goods are faulty, so we would always recommend caution.
What are the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013?
The Consumer Contracts Regulations came into force in 2014 and they stipulate what information an online sellers and other distance sellers must provide.
This information includes:
- A description of the goods, services or digital content
- The total price of the goods or a breakdown of the way the price will be calculated
- How the customer will pay for the goods and when they will be provided
- Any additional delivery charges and other costs (if they can't be calculated in advance, they must be still be mentioned)
- Details of who pays for the cost of returning items
- Details of whether the customer has the right to return items
- Information about the seller including their contact details, geographical address and details about any third parties they are acting on behalf of
- Information about the compatibility of digital content with hardware/other software which the trader can reasonably be expected to be aware of
All this is considered to be key information and should on a professional retailer or trader's website (or in their catalogue). If the information isn't present, this could be a red flag about the seller, and we'd advise proceeding with caution.
For purchases made over the phone, verbal confirmation of the above should be expected and then the contract should be confirmed in a durable form.
Customers buying second hand goods from a professional trader or retailer should be made aware of all the information listed above.
As an example, if a customer bought a second hand toaster from an online retailer, they should know how to send it back if it's faulty, what the delivery charges are and where the seller is based among other information.
Read the full Choose guide to your online shopping rights for more about this.
Purchased from private seller
So far, we've covered what happens when we purchase goods from professional traders or retailers, but more and more people are buying directly from private sellers. In such cases, our consumer protections are more limited.
If we buy from a private seller, we can expect to receive the goods as they were described to us under the Consumer Rights Act.
For instance, if we purchased a second hand kettle and received a toaster instead, this is a clear breach of that expectation, and we'd have reason to dispute the sale as a misrepresentation.
However, this is where it gets tricky because putting things right with a private seller is harder than dealing with a professional trader or retailer.
To continue with the kettle example:
- If the item header mentioned a kettle but the picture was of a toaster, the advert could be called confusing but not necessarily misrepresentation
- If the kettle arrived with internal components missing that weren't noted, it might be misrepresentation because the kettle isn't in working order, but this is harder to argue
- If the kettle arrived with scuff marks on one side that weren't visible in the pictures, this is lack of information rather than misrepresentation
As we can see, the lines around what counts as misrepresentation are blurred, and it's very easy for a private seller to argue they haven't done anything wrong.
Resolving disputes with second hand sellers
If we buy from a private seller and we're unhappy, the first thing to do is contact the seller and try to reach an amicable solution. This could be a refund, a partial refund or some other recompense.
Sometimes, the seller may be open to refunding the price of the product because they genuinely didn't know it was faulty or there was something wrong with it. If this is the case, then a buyer can consider themselves lucky.
Yet there are plenty of buyers out there who deliberately misrepresent their goods and have no intention of paying refunds. In these cases, buyers are almost helpless.
One method is to pursue an alternative dispute resolution, but the fees associated with this can be more than the value of the item. While it might be useful for big ticket items like second hand cars or high value electronics, it's unlikely to be an option for most second hand transactions.
There are a couple of other ways we can try to get our money back, plus we can make other potential buyers aware of the seller's refusal to engage.
- If we purchased on credit card, we might be able to use section 75 to make the credit card company take joint liability.
- Chargeback allows credit and debit card holders to reverse transactions where there is a breach of contract.
- If we buy through a payment platform like PayPal, some of them have their own protections we can draw on.
If none of these are applicable, however, then we may have no choice but to walk away without getting a resolution.
In this case, if you can safely warn others about your experience (i.e. a review on eBay or another online marketplace), this could stop the seller doing it to someone else in the future
Do consumer rights rules protect services?
It's not just material items that are covered by the Consumer Rights Act - it also offers protections for services we pay for, such as getting a haircut or having broadband installed.
These are the main points under the Act:
- We can ask a seller to repeat or fix a service if it isn't carried out with reasonable care and skill
- If the service can't be fixed, we can get some money back
- If no price has previously been agreed, the final amount must be reasonable
- If no time frame has been agreed beforehand, the work must be undertaken with a reasonable time frame
Along with this, under the Consumer Contracts Regulations, we usually have the right to cancel within 14 days of taking on a service.
However, we may still be charged for what we used before we cancelled, i.e. data on a mobile contract before we cancelled it a week after purchase.
Examples of poor service
It can be tricky for customers to understand what is meant by poor service in practice, so here are a few examples:
- 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.
- 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.
In some sectors, service companies are governed by specific rules and regulations. Along with this, there are different routes to exit contracts and complain across different sectors.
What if contract terms are unfair?
Thanks to the Consumer Rights Act, we can challenge unfair contract terms including hidden fees and charges.
These unfair terms could include:
- Fees and charges only mentioned in the small print
- Anything that tries to limit a customer's legal rights
- Disproportionate charges if a customer defaults
- Excessively high charges for early termination of a contract
Under the rules, contracts for goods and services must include their key terms prominently and transparently.
As an example, 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 consumer protection 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.
It can be tempting for customers who believe they have been subject to unfair terms and conditions to immediately break with a contract.
However, this could end up being a breach of their contract and could result in court action.
In the first instance, trying to resolve the unfair terms directly with the supplier or trader is the best option. After that, customers can try and find out whether other customers have made similar complaints - online forums are excellent places to find that kind of thing.
Are extended warranties worth it?
Extended warranties are an insurance policy that applies to a specific purchase such as a washing machine or TV.
These warranties are usually sold at the time of purchase by the retailer we're buying a product from, so we'll find the likes of Currys, Argos and Tesco encouraging us to sign up for extended warranties at the checkout or when we purchase online.
An extended warranty will generally cover the repair or replacement costs of a product over a set period (often five years) but there are usually some caveats in the terms and conditions.
These could include:
- Requirement to use authorised repairer
- Waits for repairs that could mean six weeks without the item
- Covering part of costs such as repairs but without parts or labour costs
- Time limits on claims
- Cash value limits on claims
The monthly costs of extended warranties vary significantly depending on the retailer and the product in question.
However, over the length of the agreement, these costs can soon add up, and many customers find it would've been more financially worthwhile to put the money in a designated pot for repairs of products.
Plus, there are some other things to bear in mind:
- Extended warranties will often have loopholes that could catch customers out if they were expecting to make a successful claim
- Warranties can sometimes be marketed as "service agreements", but these are not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and customers have no protection if the company collapses
- Many customers will already be covered by their home contents insurance
On this last point, it's worth noting that most households will need to pay an excess on their home insurance to be covered for a specific repair - so it could work out more expensive than claiming on an extended warranty.
It's a case of balancing risk and evaluating how likely you are to need a repair within the lifetime of the extended warranty, as well as if it's already covered by the Consumer Rights Act regulations we've discussed above or a manufacturer's guarantee (more on this below).
Under the Supply of Extended Warranties on Domestic Electrical Goods Order, customers can cancel within 45 of taking out their extended warranty and get a full refund.
So, even if you take out an extended warranty after persuasion from the sales rep at the checkout, you can cancel it if you change your mind when you get home.
Extended warranties and credit cards
It used to be common to find credit cards and bank accounts that offered extended warranties as one of their perks.
These have largely fallen by the wayside in recent years, although there are some offers available.
As an example, the HSBC Premier Credit Card offers two years extended warranty provided by Domestic & General Insurance on selected household appliances.
However, this credit card is only available to customers who pay their annual income into their HSBC Premier Bank Account and have another product worth at least £50,000 from HSBC as we discussed in guide to airmiles schemes.
So, while an extended warranty like this may be a good perk, the odds are that customers are paying for it in a different way (such as the costs of being eligible for a Premier account in the first place).
Difference between guarantees and warranties
It's worth pointing out that most products will already come with a basic guarantee on the workmanship and quality of an item provided by the manufacturer.
This is essentially a promise that the item will not fail within a certain length of time. If it does, it will be fixed or replaced for free.
As with extended warranties, there are caveats to be aware of:
- Guarantees often last for a year but some manufacturers will cover major goods for up to five years
- Guarantees are focused on build quality and function, so they won't cover accidental damage or cosmetic damage
- Customers usually need to activate a guarantee by registering online
- It's usually only the person who purchased the item who can make a claim
- Customers may be liable for postage, packing and transportation costs
A guarantee is a manufacturer taking a calculated risk that their product is going to live up to expectations and last for a year or longer.
These can come in handy, but it's important to remember the Consumer Rights Act offers a great level of protection for most circumstances - and it may be easier to claim under than a manufacturer's guarantee.
Summary: Understand your rights
Since its introduction in 2015, the Consumer Rights Act has improved the protections offered to customers who buy goods and services then find they don't live up to expectations or they break rules around fairness.
Plus, associated rights in the Consumer Contracts Regulations also help us know where we stand if we buy something online and we're unhappy with it.
Of course, rights are only useful if customers are aware of them, and it can be difficult to persuade obstinate sellers or traders that we're in the right.
It's also the case that some schemes are launched with a fanfare and then sink without a trace. Take the introduction of the Consumer Ombudsman in 2015 to deal with complaints on retail, home maintenance, improvement or installation services.
It was later subsumed into the general Ombudsman service - and it doesn't currently deal with complaints about any companies other than Director & General.
Instead, customers can use RetailADR, an alternative dispute resolution for retail, if the subject of their complaint is signed up. These are examples of the companies affiliated with Retail ADR:
- TK Maxx
The list of retailers affiliated with RetailADR is hardly huge, though, and it means many customers will be left frustrated at being unable to escalate their complaints if retailers fail in their statutory obligations.
So, using the rights we have enshrined in the Consumer Rights Act is a good mechanism to help us when we've received faulty goods or a poor service but it isn't perfect.
Nevertheless, it remains a powerful piece of legislation to help consumer and something that should be more widely known about.