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Your rights as a consumer

Have you ever tried to get your money back for something you've bought? Some shops are very good about returned items. If the goods are in mint condition and you have a receipt, they will exchange them or give you a refund. But they don't have to do this by law if you are returning them simply because you decide you don't want the goods.

It's a different story if the goods are faulty or shoddy. Then the law steps in to protect consumers.

Faulty or shoddy goods

The Sale of Goods Act 1979 is the one that applies to most everyday purchases. It says that the goods a trader sells must be:

  • Of satisfactory quality
    They must not have any faults or be damaged in any way. However, this does not apply if the sales person pointed out the fault to you at the time of purchase.
  • Fit for purpose
    They must do what the sales person, the packaging or advertisements claim they do. For example, a waterproof coat should not let in water.
  • As described
    Goods must fit any description made on the packaging or in sales information or given to you by the sales assistant. For instance, if a shirt is sold as 100% cotton it must not have a cotton/polyester mix. This also applies to goods sold privately or second hand.

The law also covers services such as hairdressing, dry cleaning and booking holidays at a travel agent. The Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 says that a service must be provided:

  • with reasonable care and skill,
  • within reasonable time,
  • at a reasonable cost.

The Trade Descriptions Act 1968 says that it is an offence for a trader to give a false or misleading description of the goods and services they are supplying.
Consumers' rights were extended in March 2003 by The Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002.

If goods are faulty when you buy them, you have the legal right to:

  • a full or partial refund,
  • compensation for your loss (e.g. cost of repair) if you claim within 6 years of the sale (5 from discovery of the fault in Scotland), or
  • free repair or replacement, if practicable.


If you claim a refund, repair or replacement for a fault which you discovered in the first six months and the seller refuses, it is up to the seller to prove the goods were not faulty when you bought them. Otherwise it is up to you to prove the goods were faulty.

The Small Claims Court

If you can't get any satisfaction at all with faulty goods or poor service, you can take the matter to the Small Claims Court. This is an informal way for settling disputes which involve sums up to 5,000. It is relatively inexpensive and can be used by anyone who is 18 or over.

A judge hears the case and makes a judgement. You should write to the retailer/service provider you are complaining to and warn them you are going to do this, giving them time to settle before going to court. You can get advice on this from the Citizens Advice Bureau or other advice centres.

For contact details see 'Further information'.


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