The Sale of Goods Act covers the purchase of most things from shops, suppliers and online or mail order retailers. It also details the retailers obligations in situations where you have to return an item to them take on the basis that it is damaged or faulty – or both.
Your statutory rights
One of your principal statutory rights is the expectation that the item will be of reasonable quality. This also includes fitness for purpose specified, appearance and finish, freedom from minor blemishes, safety and durability. The failure of the product to meet any one of these criteria is a breach in your statutory rights, enabling you to go back to the retailer, even after some months of use.
The retailer’s obligations
If there is an obvious fault with the item at any time within the first 6 months and it has not been caused by wear and tear or misuse, your first port of call must be the shop you bought it from. They have the responsibility to put the matter right, and should not evade this responsibility by referring you to the manufacturer in the context of a guarantee or warranty.
In the first instance and if considered appropriate, the seller must offer to at least repair the goods. They must do this within reasonable time, at no additional cost to you and without causing any significant inconvenience. If any inconvenience is caused you should be given a replacement item on a ‘like for like’ basis (and not simply the cheapest and most basic model). Many consumer complaints relate to the length of time the item is away being repaired – and although you must allow reasonable time for repair, the law does not say what ‘reasonable time’ is. It very much depends on the item itself and the nature of the problem. For most things, shops would usually allow you to exchange the item or give you your money back straight away. However, if the damage is minor and can be repaired easily, then the shop can insist on this as a first option, although this will not stop you from taking it back if the repair is unsatisfactory or there is something else wrong with it.
If a repair is impossible or unfeasible, you must then be offered a replacement. Due to the emphasis on proportionality in this legislation, you must give the seller reasonable time to repair or replace before demanding your money back and you should be aware that any refund given may well take account of any use you have had of the goods since you took possession of them. If you do not want the seller to repair or replace, or they have told you they are unable to, you can then request they reduce the purchase price to an appropriate amount, although this does not affect your ability to take return the item if something else goes wrong
Proof of purchase?
Shops will often tell you they will only give a refund on production of proof of purchase. Don’t be misled into thinking this must be a till receipt. It can be a bank or credit card statement, although you may run into difficulties if it is for a different amount than that of the item you are trying to return.
If the item is damaged, the shop cannot say they will only refund on the basis of a till receipt. However you must have proof of purchase of some kind – particularly if it was bought recently and you want to show that the damage wasn’t caused by continued use or wear and tear over time.
Where you have no rights
- If you were aware of the defect before you bought it
- If you bought it from a private buyer on a non-commercial basis (i.e. not a shop)
- If you were invited to carry out a thorough inspection of the product and fail to spot a defect which that inspection ought to have revealed
- You simply changed your mind or the item was not appropriate due to colour, size or style
- The item is dirty and the mark can be removed easily at home. This is not the same as damage and shops are not obliged to give you any discount
Buying seconds or damaged items
If you are buying seconds, you are still entitled to a product which is undamaged and fully useable. If you knowingly buy a damaged product, the specific defect must be pointed out to you before you buy, and although you cannot then return the item on the basis of that defect, it does not mean you cannot return the item if you discover something else wrong with it – even if they have reduced the price. Don’t let the sales assistant tell you otherwise!