Consumer rights

When you buy goods or services as a consumer (ie an individual), you have certain rights that protect you in the event that there is something wrong. Make sure you understand your rights as a consumer and protect yourself.

Who is covered?

Consumer rights are only given to consumers. A consumer is someone who purchases goods or services for personal use. Therefore these rights do not apply to businesses or individuals who purchase goods or services on behalf of a business.

What is covered?

These rights apply to any goods or services you buy. Goods can be anything tangible such as a t-shirt, a kettle, a car and can even apply to second-hand goods or goods bought online. Digital content will also be covered by consumer rights. Digital content can include computer games, films, music, ebooks or mobile apps. However the rules on digital content is slightly different and more complex. For further information read Consumer rights when purchasing digital content.

Consumer rights also apply to any services you buy. Services can cover a wide range of things, from haircuts and dry cleaning to fitted kitchens, bathrooms and home repairs, where goods may be included as part of the service (eg replacement parts, building materials).

It's also important to remember that these rights only apply to goods or services bought after 1 October 2015. Anything bought before that date will have slightly different rights and would need further investigation.

Consumer rights when buying goods

When you buy goods you should expect a certain level of product quality. Therefore you can expect the goods to meet the following standards:

  • satisfactory quality
  • as described
  • fit for purpose

Satisfactory quality

Satisfactory quality is defined as what a 'reasonable' person would be happy with, looking at all the information readily available, such as price and conditions. Therefore a luxury or hand made product, such as bespoke cupboards or a designer jumper, would have a higher standard as to what is satisfactory. Contrast this with a second-hand item which would have a much lower standard.

As described

This means that the goods should match any description you were given or was available to you. For example, if a jumper was advertised as being red, but it turned out to be blue, then the jumper was not 'as described'.

Fit for purpose

'Fit for purpose' means that the goods should be usable for their intended purpose. For example if you bought a pair of shoes and the stitching started to undo after a short while.

What happens if the goods don't meet these standards?

If the goods you bought don't meet the standards as mentioned above then you should make a complaint to the retailer or seller who sold you the goods. The complaint is to the retailer or seller, and not the manufacturer. This is crucial as some retailers will state that you will need to make a claim to the manufacturer instead.

As part of your consumer rights, you have a 30-day right to reject the goods. This means that you can state that you no longer want the goods, as they are not of satisfactory quality, as described or fit for purpose, and claim a full refund. The time limit starts from the moment you purchase the goods.

After the 30-day right to reject, you will not be legally entitled to a full refund. If it's been more than 30 days you still have some rights. You have to give the retailer one opportunity to repair or replace the goods. You may still be able to receive a partial refund instead of a repair or replacement, especially if the cost of repair or replacement is disproportionate (ie the cost of repairing is substantially more than the cost of the original product).

If a fault develops after the first six months, then the burden is on the customer who needs to prove that the product was faulty at the time of purchase or delivery. This may require an expert opinion or evidence.

What happens if I just change my mind about the goods?

You won't have an automatic right to get a refund if you decide to change your mind about something you've bought. It will be up to the seller or retailer to decide whether to give you a refund. However, many stores offer a 'goodwill gesture' where they will offer a refund if you've decided to change your mind as long as you provide proof of purchase and the item is in a saleable condition (ie unused).

Consumer rights when buying services

When you buy services, you will also have protection if anything goes wrong. A trader performing a service must:

  • perform the service with reasonable care and skill
  • provide the service for a reasonable price, where it was not agreed beforehand
  • perform the service in a reasonable time period, if it was not agreed beforehand

Reasonable care and skill

This means that the service must be performed to the same standard as other professionals or traders who perform the same service. Therefore a hairdresser would be compared to the standard of other hairdressers.

Reasonable price and time period

Where the price for the service was not agreed beforehand, the trader must only charge a reasonable price for the service performed. The same applies to the time period for which the trader must perform the service. For example if you had hired a builder to complete home improvement, then where the time period was not agreed beforehand, the trader should complete the work within a reasonable time (ie not too long after the service was paid for).

What happens if the service doesn't meet this criteria?

If the service doesn't meet the above standards then you can ask the trader:

  • To redo the element of the service that's inadequate, or perform the whole service again at no extra cost within a reasonable time and without causing you significant inconvenience; or
  • Where it's impossible to repeat the service or can't be done within a reasonable time period, you can claim a price reduction. Depending on how severe or how poorly the service was performed, you could receive up to 100% of the cost. If the trader is going to refund you, they must refund you within 14 days of agreeing to a refund.

What about goods/services I bought outside of the UK?

If you've bought goods from another country within the EU then you should contact the UK European Consumer Centre for help with problems buying goods or services from another EU country.

What should I do if the retailer won't refund my faulty product?

In the first instance you should always try and resolve this informally with the retailer or seller by contacting them, and stating your consumer rights. It's also important to act fast as the entitlement to a full refund only lasts for 30 days from when you bought the goods or services or had it delivered.

You should also collect and keep any evidence you have such as pictures of the quality of the product, receipts to act as proof of purchase, contracts you signed or any terms and conditions available to you.

In any event you can make a claim to the Small Claims Court if the retailer or seller is being uncooperative. However this should always be used as a last resort. For further information read Small claims court.

You can also make a complaint to the Consumer Ombudsman or your local Citizens Advice Bureau. The Citizens Advice Bureau have a dedicated Consumer Service helpline and can help you lodge a complaint and enforce your consumer rights.

What happens if a faulty product damages my property?

If a faulty product has caused damage to your property (eg a leaking faulty washing machine causing damage to flooring) then you may be able to claim the costs of rectifying the damage from the retailer or seller.

However, you will only be able to claim compensation for damage if the cost of the damage is over £275. The total amount that you can claim will depend on the harm suffered, but there is no upper limit to compensation.

The process for making a claim for compensation is the same as the process used to request a refund described above.