Purchasing Goods: A Seasonal Reminder Of Your Legal Rights

Christmas is a stressful enough time without the fear of discovering one of the expensive presents you have purchased or been given is faulty or doesn't meet expectations. Under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (which has seen many amendments since it was first introduced) goods must be as described, fit for purpose and of satisfactory quality.

Should a present you have purchased fail to meet any of those standards you may be able to seek redress under the Act. Any claim you make will need to be against the retailer who sold you the good as opposed to the manufacturer.

There are a number of ways you may deal with your claim.

If the goods turn out to be faulty you may choose to reject the item and return it to the place of purchase and get a refund, but this must be done in a reasonable time, usually within three to four weeks, although this may vary depending upon the nature of the goods. Anything perishable for example you will need to deal with immediately. If you have the right to reject them you don't have to purchase a replacement. Your right is to a monetary refund of the purchase price.

If you leave it too late to reject and return the goods, you may get the goods repaired or for a like for like replacement. Ask the retailer to do this, although they have the right to attempt a repair if that is reasonable, and they will normally choose to do the cheapest option for them. If the retailer does not repair or replace the goods 'within a reasonable time but without causing significant inconvenience' to you, then you may either claim a reduction in the purchase price, or your money back (minus a fair amount for usage). If the retailer refuses to co-operate after a reasonable request you may get the goods fixed elsewhere and then claim the cost in compensation from the retailer.

If you are not able to resolve the matter directly with the retailer and you have to go to court, any monetary claim against the retailer up to a value of £10,000 may be brought on the small claims track in your local county court hearing centre. You may even begin your claim using the court's online service. The key protection on the small claims track for a claimant is that so long as you conduct your claim reasonably, you will not face a costs order even if you are unsuccessful. If you have to go to court the burden is upon you to prove the goods were at the point of purchase. If your claim is that the goods were not fit for purpose or not as described, then within a period of the first 6 months, the burden will be on the retailer to satisfy the court they were. Beyond the initial 6 months after purchase the burden will then fall on you. That is sometimes difficult to do without support from an expert. If you need expert help it is sensible to invite the retailer to agree to jointly instruct the expert, but if they refuse you may not have a choice but to instruct your own. The expert must be independent. The court will usually give extra weight to evidence from an expert, but because the evidence from an expert has to be impartial, never seek to influence the evidence they give. If you do that the court may not be willing to allow you to use the evidence and it is likely to undermine your case.

The best advice if you discover a fault with a goods you have purchased is to act as quickly as possible. Go straight back to the retailer with the faulty item and insist on a refund. If you do leave it too late or have had a significant amount of use from the goods, then request a repair or a replacement if a reasonable repair is not possible.

The final deadline for bringing a claim for defective goods is six years (and in limited circumstances may be extended up to 15 years where the defect is hidden) but in the vast majority of cases involving modern consumable goods if leaving a claim that late would probably be too late. If the goods in question don't have a design life of five years for example, it is likely that any claim brought after five years is not going to be successful.

As may be common around the festive season, the fault may be with goods you have received as a present. If this is the case then you will need to contact the person who purchased the gift for you. It is the person who purchased the gift who has the contract with the retailer and any claim must be brought by them. Most responsible retailers will deal with the recipient of the gift if you have evidence of purchase. It makes no difference in law whether it was purchased as a gift or not. If they are not of satisfactory quality, not fit for purpose or not as described, the statutory protection under the Sale of Goods Act is the same.

As the trend towards online purchasing of goods grows ever stronger your rights in relation to this area are equally important. Your rights under the Sale of Goods Act still remain in place, but there are additional rights in most cases available under the Consumer Contract Regulations, which give a right to cancel any order for goods within 14 days of receiving them. Certain goods, for example those that are personalised or considered perishables are not covered by those regulations.

To speak to a member of the Litigation Team please call 01603 620508 or email sward@fosters-solicitors.co.uk

For more information on Litigation issues, including frequently asked questions please follow this link to the Fosters Litigation page.