The law on buying goods and services has changed. Here’s how

Shopping bags

Are you clued up on consumer rights? ©iStock

Heading out to the shops this week?

It’s worth knowing that new consumer rights, set out in the Consumer Rights Act 2015, now cover everything you buy.

For the first time, there are clear rules about when you’re entitled to a refund on faulty goods, as well as better protection against late deliveries and shoddy services.

And if you’re caught out by the small print in a contract, you may be able to challenge that, too.


What is too late?

Still waiting for that item you ordered online? Under the new law, if a retailer doesn’t deliver your order when they say they will, and it was essential for you to have it by then, you can claim a full refund.

If no delivery date was agreed, you’re entitled to a refund if the goods don’t arrive within 30 days.

The new Act also deals with the problem of goods not turning up at all.

We’ve all heard stories about careless couriers leaving parcels where anyone could pick them up, or slinging boxes of bone china over fences, but now the law is clear that goods are the retailers’ responsibility until you have them in your possession – or someone you’ve appointed to take delivery has.

So if the delivery doesn’t turn up, or it’s damaged, the retailer has to give you a refund or replacement – they can’t fob you off by blaming the courier company.

Returning Goods

Can you get your money back?

If you simply change your mind about a purchase, there’s no legal right to a refund or exchange – unless a company has a stated policy of offering refunds on non-faulty goods. With faulty goods, it’s different.

Although the previous law gave a right to a refund on faulty goods, the new Act sets out clearer terms:
✤ If you return faulty goods up to 30 days after buying them, you can get a full refund.
✤ Between 30 days and six months after purchase, the retailer can offer a repair or replacement (you choose which) instead of a refund.

If repair or replacement is impossible, significantly inconvenient or disproportionately costly, or if it doesn’t solve the problem, you can claim a refund or keep the product but get some money back.

In the past, if you returned an item after several months, you could be asked to prove the fault existed when you bought it.

Now, the retailer has to accept the fault was there from the beginning.

✤ After six months, you can still take the product back (this right lasts for six years) but the retailer can require you to prove the product was faulty when you bought it (usually using expert reports, which you may have to pay for).

If you get a refund as a result, the retailer can deduct some money to reflect the use you’ve had out of the product.


What to do when things go wrong

The Act also applies to services, which covers everything from a haircut or dry cleaning to fitting a kitchen or repairing your roof.

When you pay someone to do something for you, the law says:
✤ It has to be done with reasonable care and skill.
✤ Any information they give you, verbal or written, is binding if it’s something you rely on.
✤ If you haven’t agreed a price, the price must be reasonable.
✤ The job has to be done within a reasonable time.

If one or more of these conditions isn’t met, the trader should redo the service, at no extra cost, within a reasonable time and without causing you significant inconvenience. If that can’t be done, you can claim a discount and, in serious cases, a complete refund.

When The Deal’s Unfair

Previously, businesses could get away with some unfair terms in a contract, as long as they were written in clear language.

The new Act provides that you can challenge terms that are simply unfair, such as unexpected extra charges, provisions that limit your legal rights or excessive cancellation fees – basically, anything that puts the consumer at a significant disadvantage in terms of their rights against the retailer’s.

It also applies to terms of business stated elsewhere, such as terms and conditions listed
on a website or disclaimers on a car-park sign.

If a term is unfair, you’re not bound by it. So if, for example, a company imposes a ridiculously high charge for you to cancel a holiday, contact them to challenge it.

They can resist, in which case you’d have to take them to court. However, because the new law makes it very clear there should be a level playing field between business and consumers – and companies that try to use unfair terms can be taken to court by Trading Standards  – it’s now much more likely that companies will give in and not impose unfair terms.

Going Digital

One of the major changes is that the rights detailed here now also cover ‘digital content’, such as apps, downloaded films or TV programmes, and e-books.

They apply whether the content was paid for separately or supplied free with something you paid for, such as digital content on a smart TV.

As well as allowing you your money back if the content is faulty, the new rights mean you can claim compensation if digital content damages a device you use it on, if it happens as a result of the supplier not using ‘reasonable care and skill’.

So if a download gives your computer a virus, you could claim the cost of putting that right.

What Counts As Faulty?

Under the Act, goods will be faulty if they are not:

✤ Of satisfactory quality. This means not broken and of a reasonable quality for the price.
✤ Fit for purpose. Goods have to be usable for their normal purpose, but also for any special purpose you mentioned when buying. For example, if you say you want a pair of boots
for hiking and they fall apart on a walk, the retailer can’t claim they were fashion boots not intended for serious walking.
✤ As described. The item must match any description you had at the time you bought them, which includes everything from the details on a website to something the shop assistant told you.

Your rights: Before and now

A faulty product

Before Right to refund if returned within‘a reasonable time’.
Now Right to a refund within 30 days of purchase; more limited rights for up to six years.

Services performed badly

Before Up to the customer to negotiate remedy with the trader.
Now New statutory right to have work redone at no extra cost, within a reasonable time.

You change your mind

Before No right to a refund unless the retailer has a stated policy.
Now No change.