As January sales loom, Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson is urging consumers to shop responsibly and be aware of their rights to a refund or exchange.
Recent figures show that more shoppers are choosing to buy their festive treats online, but with internet shopping and many other methods of buying, it can be difficult for consumers to know exactly what the rules are.
Jo Swinson said:
“The festive period is the one time we happily push away scrooge-like thoughts and shop for gifts for our loved ones or to take advantage of the wide range of sales. We are increasingly being spoilt for choice with a wide range of goods, services and shops to choose from, but the variety of choice can mean that consumers forget to take note of the different shoppers’ rights that apply.
“I would urge consumers to take note of when they are entitled to a refund or exchange, and to bear in mind any restrictions on certain purchases. When shoppers do buy something, and later change their mind or have a problem with the purchase, I want them to be aware of their rights and obligations to make sure they can get their money back.
“The current laws that apply to buying goods and services need to be clearer, as do the rules on shopping online or buying digital content. The proposed Consumer Bill of Rights aims to clarify and modernise the law, ensuring consumers are confident about their rights across all areas.”
When a consumer buys goods, they must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose, last a reasonable time and match any description given. If they don’t the consumer can usually get either a repair, replacement, refund or partial refund. The consumer has the right to any claim for 6 years from purchase, or 5 years in Scotland.
It is important to be aware that sometimes these rights won’t apply. For example if a consumer just changes their mind they will not have the same rights unless the shop they bought from offers them under its own store policy.
Consumers have a “reasonable time”, often around 4 weeks (although it may be less, depending on the goods in question), to return faulty goods and get a full refund. After this, they may only be entitled to an exchange or partial refund.
If goods are faulty, consumers don’t need to have a receipt to return the item, just proof of purchase. However they may not be entitled to a refund if the fault is due to normal wear and tear, or if the consumer damages the item themselves. This will also be the case where the consumer was aware of the fault before they bought the item. If a consumer keeps the goods for too long before telling the shop or trying to fix the problem themselves, they might not be entitled to get all of their money back.
Consumers have the same rights for sale items as they do for full price items.
Although most shops offer gift receipts, legally only the person who paid has a right to return faulty goods. To avoid any hassle it’s best to use gift receipts where available, or get the trader to write ”this is a gift for —” on any receipt or invoice.
Dangerous or unsafe goods
If an item is suspected to be dangerous or unsafe, the individual should stop using it immediately. Dangerous or unsafe goods should be reported to Trading Standards on 08454 04 05 06.
When a shopper buys directly from a private seller, they cannot get their money back if the goods are not satisfactory or fit for purpose. They do however have the right to get their money back if the item doesn’t match the description, e.g. if the seller says the item works and it doesn’t. Consumers should always ask for a receipt and contact details from sellers where they can, and keep copies of any relevant adverts or website pages.
Online auction sites
The general shopper’s rights apply when buying from a seller who makes some or all of their income from selling through online auction sites. If the seller is just an occasional private seller, the more limited rules of private purchases apply.
Online, mail order and telephone shopping
Consumers who opt for these buying methods have extra rights in addition to the general rights. If they buy a service they can cancel their order up to 7 working days after making it, and if they buy goods they can cancel 7 working days after receiving the item. Consumers can claim a refund if they don’t receive their item within 30 days. However, consumers can’t return certain goods that they have changed their mind about, including opened CDs or DVDs, food, personalised goods, newspapers and magazines.
When buying online consumers should be able to see certain information about the seller, the goods, and the seller’s terms and conditions on the seller’s website. To see exactly what information required visit Citizen’s Advice.
This year, BIS consulted on proposals for a new Consumer Bill of Rights, which will set out a clear code of shopping rights with workable remedies when things go wrong. It will empower consumers, making it easier for them to understand their rights.
The proposed changes will:
- Clarify the nature of consumers’ rights and remedies in relation to the supply of goods, which is currently an area where the law is unnecessarily complex
- Bring the services regime more in line with the regime for goods, by strengthening consumer rights and remedies in relation to faulty services
- Modernise the law on digital content to protect consumers, by establishing a clear digital content regime with its own tailored set of rights and associated remedies
- There will also be one clear set of rules governing public investigations of breaches of consumer law.
The Consumer Bill of Rights consultation closed in October, and the government will respond in the spring.
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