How do you measure quality?

Satisfactory quality is defined as what a ‘reasonable person’ would regard as acceptable, and takes into account factors such as price paid, fitness for purpose specified, appearance and finish, freedom from minor blemishes, safety and durability. If it becomes apparent that an item is not of the quality you were led to expect, you were not aware of any such defect when you bought it, and you bought from a seller acting ‘in the course of a business’ (i.e. not an informal sale), you are quite within your rights to go back to the retailer, even after some months of use. If it is the case that 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 may not have recourse. Safety is an important aspect of quality and we will look at unsafe goods and product liability under different legislation – namely that of the Consumer Protection Act LINK.

It’s not fit for purpose!

That’s a legitimate claim as long as you are using the item for the purpose for which it was intended. This is the principle of fitness for purpose. There is no point claiming that paint thinner has had adverse effects if it is not being used as paint thinner! Similarly, if you are commissioning the manufacture of a product and do not specify the purposes for which it will be used you will have no recourse if it fails to live up to your expectations

How long should it last?

Durability is another recent addition to the definition of quality. How long should a dishwasher or a vacuum cleaner or a printer last? This is a very common source of complaint and one which manufacturers were always quick to turn back on the consumer, requiring them to provide proof that the item did not conform to contract specification from the start, or implying an element of misuse or neglect. Thanks to the new European Regulations, UK law now offers greater protection for consumers against products which develop faults within the first six months. The assumption is now that if it breaks down within this time period it cannot have conformed to the contract specification when purchased. Having said this, items which should last several years can still break down after this six month period, and in order to make a claim under the poor quality issue, it will vital for you to know how long items such as washing machines or printers should last. You can get this information relevant trade association

It could be that due to the discontinuation of something you have recently bought, you can no longer get your hands on spare parts, rendering it un-fixable. Unfortunately there is no legal obligation for a manufacturer in this regard, although there are some trade associations who require their members to ensure products are not rendered useless due to the absence of spare parts.

I bought it from a bloke down the pub

As mentioned above, the statutory term of satisfactory quality only applies if you have bought something from a commercial entity – a supplier or retailer who is acting ‘in the course of a business’. If you buy something from a private seller, you don’t have the benefit of this protection and must employ ‘buyer beware’. For this reason, take good care when buying a second hand car from a private seller

What are my rights if I buy an item which I know to be damaged?

If an item is reduced in price due to a sale, your rights are the same as if it were a full priced item. If however, the item is reduced due to a defect and you are made aware of that defect, you cannot then return the item on the basis of that defect. Sounds obvious, but in many cases, the shop assistant will tell you that you cannot bring the item back at all – which is misleading. What if you buy a shirt at reduced price because of a missing button. However when you get home you discover a huge hole in the seam which you were not informed of. You know you cannot return the item due to the missing button, but you are free to return it on the basis of the dodgy seam.