Consumer rights law obliges traders to ensure all their products are flawless and fit for purpose; consumers have many legal rights they can fall back on should they ever feel they have been wronged, so whether you want to return something faulty or have simply made the wrong choice, BikeSocial explains your consumer rights when buying online or in-store…
Quick linksWhat are my statutory rights?
The most significant piece of legislation for traders to be aware of is the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA), which lists many of the statutory rights attaching to consumers. Under the Act, consumers have the right to expect their goods to be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described. If the goods do not fulfil these standards, consumers can ask for a full refund, a repair or a replacement of the product from the retailer.
In addition to these statutory rights, many traders and manufacturers extend an additional layer of protection in the form of a guarantee. These are additional duties undertaken by the manufacturer or seller and offered to a consumer free of charge. They are designed to assure consumers that the goods they have purchased will meet a standard higher than merely the legally required one, and that they can expect redress should those standards not be met.
The CRA defines consumer guarantees as “an undertaking to the consumer given without extra charge by a person acting in the course of the person’s business (the guarantor) that, if the goods do not meet the specifications set out in the guarantee statement or in any associated advertising: a) the consumer will be reimbursed for the price paid for the goods, or b) the goods will be repaired, replaced or handled in any way”.
While there is no obligation on traders or manufacturers to offer consumer guarantees, once offered they must comply with certain legal requirements. Guarantees must be set out in plain and easily understandable language and state that the consumer has statutory rights in relation to the goods and that those rights are not affected by the guarantee. Simply including the words “your statutory rights are unaffected” isn’t sufficient.
Additionally, the guarantor must ensure that the contents of the guarantee are clearly set out, including the essential details for making claims under the guarantee, the name and address of the guarantor, and the duration and territorial scope of the guarantee. If the goods are offered within the UK, the guarantee must be written in English. The guarantee takes effect at the time the goods are delivered, as a contractual obligation owed by the guarantor with the conditions set out in the guarantee statement and in any linked advertising.
The CRA also says that the provider of the guarantee – and anyone else who offers to supply the guaranteed goods to consumers (i.e. the trader, if different from the guarantor) – must, at the customer’s request, make the guarantee available to the consumer within a reasonable time, in writing and in a form accessible to the customer. With the packaging is the usual form.
Guarantees should not be confused with extended warranties, which are an arrangement under which a customer pays a fee to receive services and spare parts for goods purchased over a specified period of time. These arrangements legally amount to a separate contract, subject to consumer legislation in the normal way.
Guarantees offer a legally binding layer of protection alongside a consumer’s rights under statute. There are no legal objections to guarantees that simply enlarge the scope of the consumer’s ordinary legal rights, e.g. offering refunds or exchanges on a no-fault basis or offering repairs regardless of the cause of the problem.
Those giving guarantees must carefully make sure that the level of protection offered under a guarantee ensures at least the same protection as that recognised by law. Therefore, the guarantee must not limit or exclude the consumer’s statutory rights and remedies, or contain terms that are otherwise unfair. When drafting guarantees, traders and manufacturers must achieve minimum compliance with legislation, and ensure consumers are not misled into thinking that statutory rights have been removed.
According to the CMA Unfair terms guidance, a guarantee that offers more restrictive rights than a consumer has under law may be challenged as unfair. This would include guarantees that offer lesser protection, either because the benefits are less, or because their availability is made subject to special conditions or restrictions. Such restrictive wording could mislead consumers into assuming that it represents the full extent of their rights and cause them to refrain from exercising their statutory rights.
Many manufacturers offer a guarantee for the lifespan and quality of their products. This guarantee creates a legal obligation between the manufacturer and the customer, even where that manufacturer is not directly selling the goods. However, the trader who sold the product would still owe the consumer their statutory rights under the contract for the sale of goods.
If a consumer has rights under a guarantee provided by either the manufacturer or the trader, it is up to the consumer to decide whether to exercise their statutory rights against the trader, or their rights under the guarantee against the provider of the guarantee.
Traders often cite guarantees to emphasise the quality of goods they sell. However, it is important to note that this guarantee does not remove the trader’s legal obligations to their customer under existing consumer legislation. A disgruntled customer will still be able to approach the trader as the first point for their complaint, as the existence of a guarantee from a manufacturer does not lessen a trader’s statutory and contractual duties.
In order to avoid upset, traders should explain to customers – clearly – the scope of any guarantee given by the trader itself or, more commonly, by the manufacturer. They would also need to advise their customers as to how to pursue any claims under the guarantee, while emphasising that the rest of their rights remain untouched.
The above article was first published in Motorcycle Trader, November 2018. www.motorcycletrader.net The author – Matthew Gough – is a partner in the commercial group of the international law firm Eversheds Sutherland.
Typically, if a product shows a fault in the first six months that you’ve owned it, there’s an assumption – unless the trader can prove otherwise – that the problem was there at purchase. After this point, you need to be able to show that the fault was not due to normal wear and tear.
An example might be a sat-nav that failed 14 months after you bought it – you should reasonably expect the life of this product to be longer than 14 months, so you may have a case for repair or replacement if you can show the fault was likely there when you bought it. You have up to six years from the point of sale to make a claim under the Sale of Goods legislation in England and Wales, and five years in Scotland.
Because your buying decision could be based on a brief description or a photograph, you have additional rights when buying online, and under the Consumer Contracts Regulations (CCR) that came into force on 13 June 2014, you can return an item simply if you change your mind.
If you decide you no longer want something, you can cancel any time from the moment you place your order online, and up to 14 days after you receive your items. You must notify the retailer within the 14 days, but from that point of cancellation you have a further 14 days to return the goods.
Some retailers offer longer returns periods, but they’re then entitled to impose additional conditions, which you must make sure you’re aware of.
Some products are not eligible for return under the CCR though, including:
Software you’ve broken the seal of
Tailor-made or personalised items
Products sealed for health and hygiene reasons that have been opened
Items that have been inseparably mixed with other items after delivery
Unless the retailer offers you an alternative, you must cover the return cost of unwanted items – make sure you get a proof of posting from your post office in case there’s a dispute you returned them.
The retailer is still responsible for refunding the basic delivery cost of sending the goods to you (though not any extra for premium services like next day delivery), and your full refund must be paid within 14 days after they were returned.
The value of a refund can be reduced if the goods aren’t in an acceptable condition on return, but you are entitled to be able to handle them in the same manner as you would if assessing them in a shop.
If your goods are faulty, you’re not obliged to pay for the return and you have the same rights under the Consumer Rights Act.