If you have bought or been given something for Christmas that does not work it is important to know what rights you have. Most people will have heard of the Sale of Goods Act, which for years has given consumers a right of redress against businesses who sell faulty goods, but few will have heard about a new law introduced in 2015 which strengthens consumer rights.
Nick Guinness, corporate solicitor with Forrester Sylvester Mackett, explains the increased protection now available to consumers in the UK who purchase goods, services or digital content following the introduction of the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
The Consumer Rights Act
The Consumer Rights Act is designed to ensure that if something you purchase is faulty, or not as described or not suitable for the purpose for which it was intended, you have the right to insist that the business you bought it from does something about it.
Knowing your rights can help you challenge a retailer or supplier who fails to deliver on their promises. This is something that you might need to do at any time of the year but which tends to happen more frequently at Christmas as we increase the number of things we buy.
Sale of goods
When a business sells you goods you have the right to be provided with goods that are of satisfactory quality, fit for the purpose for which they are intended to be used and as described in any literature or promotional material. If the goods are not of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose or as described, you have the right to do a number of things depending on the circumstances.
You have a short-term right to reject the goods within 30 days of purchasing them if you wish to do so. This is unless the goods you have bought are perishable, such as food, in which case rejection must happen sooner.
Once 30 days have passed you have the right to request that faulty goods, or goods which are not fit for purpose or do not match their description, are repaired or replaced. If following an attempt at repair or replacement the goods still fall below the expected standard you then have a further right to reject the goods or to ask for a price reduction.
Supply of services
When a business provides you with a service you have the right to receive a service that is provided with reasonable skill and care, which is charged at the rate agreed and which is performed within the time agreed. Where rates of pay or the timeframe for performance have not been agreed you have the right to be charged a reasonable rate and for the service to be provided within a reasonable time.
Where a business has told you certain things about a service or the person who will be providing it, and those things influenced you in your decision to buy the service, you also have the right to hold the business to account if the things you have been told are not delivered on or turn out to be untrue. This is a new right created by the Consumer Rights Act which makes it easier for consumers to seek redress when promises made by businesses are not honoured.
If services are not provided with reasonable skill and care, or fail to deliver on promises made by the business, you have the right to request that the business performs the service again so that it is performed correctly. Depending on the circumstances you may also have the right to claim a price reduction of up to 100 per cent.
When a business sells you digital content, such as computer software and computer games or music downloads and films, you have the right to content which is of satisfactory quality, fit for its purpose and as described. If this does not happen you have the right to request repair or replacement unless this would be impossible or too expensive, in which case you have the right to a price reduction. If the digital content supplied has caused damage, either to other digital content or a device that you own, you may also have the right to claim compensation if you can show that the supplier of the digital content failed to exercise reasonable skill and care.
The rights in respect of digital content are new; previously digital content was treated as a general sale of goods contract and consumers did not have such extensive rights of redress when things went wrong.
Unfair contract terms
The terms on which a business contracts with you must be fair. This has been the case for a long time but under the Consumer Rights Act there are some new terms which are likely to be deemed unfair and therefore not enforceable against you. These include terms that try to charge you very high fees for cancelling a contract or which allow a business to increase the price you must pay after the contract has been entered.
Dealing with disputes
If you are unhappy about any goods you have bought or any services you have been provided with, the best way to resolve the issue is often by taking the matter up with the business and if necessary using their internal complaints procedure. If this does not work consider using a third-party, such as a solicitor, to try to break the deadlock. If this fails to resolve things then as a last resort the matter can be referred to the court.
The Consumer Rights Act recognises that court action should only be taken if there is no other way for the dispute to be resolved. For this reason it requires businesses to provide consumers with information on the availability of alternative methods of dispute resolution, including any specific to their service sector or industry. While it is hoped that most businesses will use alternative means to try to resolve disputes there is no legal requirement for them to do so if they do not want to.
Consumer rights affect us all. Early legal advice can help to ensure that your rights are respected and that you receive any redress to which you are entitled.
For a confidential discussion on consumer rights, please contact our corporate team.