Faulty Goods: Know Your Rights

In the UK, customers have various rights in respect of faulty goods. The Sale & Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002 were introduced in the UK on 31 March 2003. These also apply to 'non-retail' transactions, such as hire purchase sales. They also include purchases of second hand goods, but not goods bought at auction. As with the previous regulations, the protection is for the consumer and the responsibility is placed on the supplier. Trade transactions and the supply of services are not covered by these regulations.

The provisions contain many interesting features. Whilst they cover only defects which existed at the time of purchase, they include the presumption that any defects becoming apparent within six months were present at the time of purchase, so for the first six months the 'burden of proof' that the goods were not defective rests with the seller.

Under the old regulations, your remedy was to require the seller to give a refund. The new regulations permit you to require a repair or replacement. While replacing faulty items has been standard practice in many cases, it has not before been a requirement. If a repair or replacement is not possible, you can insist on a refund of the whole or part of the purchase price as appropriate.

The remedies also apply where the 'public statements' concerning a product do not match the item itself and in cases of faulty installation or seriously deficient instructions (watch out DIY furniture manufacturers!). The practical effect is that the descriptions contained in advertising claims and the information on packaging effectively form part of the contract with the consumer.

The rules made no change to the period of guarantee nor did they alter the period (currently six years) after the sale during which it is possible for the purchaser to bring an action relating to a faulty item.

It is also worth mentioning that attempts to limit the rights of consumers will (if the limitations imposed are unfair) be void under the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977, regardless of whether the limitations are agreed to or not.

A 2007 case has established that if goods are received damaged and the consumer accepts an offer by the supplier to repair them, then the consumer cannot subsequently reject the repaired goods.

UK credit card holders are protected by the Consumer Credit Act 1974. This means that if the merchants selling the goods are in breach of contract or misrepresent them in any way, the credit card company is required to compensate their customer. This protection applies even where the card is used to buy goods abroad or via the Internet. Revised guidance was issued in 2008, which you will find on the link above.

There are additional requirements where the sale has been made at a distance (i.e. over the Internet), in the form of the Distance Selling Regulations. The Regulations provide additional consumer protection.