The world of shopping can be a minefield. Whether you’re spending your money on groceries, clothes, electronics or furniture, there is so much that can go wrong.
Even the savviest shoppers can find themselves in a pickle if they’re not clued up when it comes to their consumer rights.
So before you spend another penny, let Telegraph Money explain the main points you need to know to protect yourself from being wrongly left out of pocket.
If you’ve bought a faulty item
One of the most common gripes is buying an item that turns out to be faulty. Happily, the law is set up to protect shoppers who’ve spent their hard-earned cash on something that’s not up to scratch.
If something’s gone wrong with an item you’ve bought, don’t just throw it in the bin and buy another one, as you might be entitled to a refund, repair or replacement. These rights exist regardless of whether you bought the item new or secondhand.
If the item you have bought is damaged, not fit for purpose or doesn’t meet the retailer’s description, then you have a legal right to a refund under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
Examples of this could include:
- A new sofa arrives covered in scuff marks = damaged
- A mountain bike that is not designed to go off-road = not fit for purpose
- You ordered a pink dress and received a blue one = item not as described
The rules also cover digital content, such as downloaded films, games or apps.
Remember that your statutory consumer rights are against the retailer – the shop, website or app that sold you the product – rather than the manufacturer, or courier (if you had the item delivered).
Now read: From Evri to Royal Mail – how to get your money back when a parcel goes missing
When you should complain to the retailer
If you notice a fault with something you’ve bought, you should report it to the retailer as soon as you become aware of it – delaying this could affect your rights.
If you spot that something’s faulty within the first 30 days of owning the item, then you have the right to reject it and get a full refund, but you must tell the retailer within this period.
If you notice something’s wrong within the first six months of ownership then you can ask the retailer to repair or replace it.
Your rights against the retailer can last for up to six years (in Scotland, it’s up to five years after you realised the problem), but after the first six months of ownership you will need to prove a fault was present back when you bought the goods for you to maintain your right to a replacement.
If you have a manufacturer’s guarantee or warranty, you may be able to make a claim against the manufacturer, but it’s usually best to raise issues with the retailer first.
Bear in mind that you are likely to need to provide proof of purchase, such as a receipt. If you don’t have the receipt, don’t give up hope – a bank statement can also work.
If you ask for a refund within the timeframes outlined, and the retailer tells you to contact the manufacturer, you should remind them of your rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
Buying from private sellers
If you’ve bought goods from a private seller – classed as someone who doesn’t sell goods professionally, including those who put secondhand items on eBay or Facebook Marketplace – your refund rights aren’t as strong.
In this case, you’re only really entitled to a refund if the product you’ve received is different from how they described it.
So, if their description is very vague and you still opt to part with your cash, you’re unlikely to get a refund, even if it’s faulty.
If you want a refund for other reasons
In many circumstances, you have the right to change your mind about something you’ve bought within a set timeframe. The length of this timeframe depends on how and where you bought the item.
Orders made online, via mail and telephone are covered under something called “distance selling” rules and can be cancelled for a limited time even if the goods are not faulty.
You can cancel or ask for a refund if you tell the retailer within 14 days of receiving the goods that this is what you want to do. You then have another 14 days to return the goods.
The retailer must then refund you within 14 days of receiving the goods back.
When companies don’t have to give you a refund
While consumer laws exist first and foremost to protect shoppers, they are also designed to protect companies from unreasonable shopper behaviour.
This means there are some instances where shops don’t have to give you a refund when you ask for one. They include:
- If you knew an item was faulty when you bought it
- If you damaged an item by trying to repair it yourself, or getting someone else to do it (though you may still have the right to a repair, replacement or partial refund)
- If the item has been damaged by “reasonable” wear and tear
- If you simply no longer want an item (unless you bought it without seeing it first)
- If an item was customised or personalised (unless faulty)
- If you bought perishable items (unless faulty)
- If you bought newspapers and magazines (unless faulty)
- If you bought unwrapped CDs, DVDs and computer software
There’s a bit of a grey area with some of these exclusions. For instance, while retailers don’t have to give you a refund for items you’ve bought and changed your mind about, many stores have their own more generous refund policies that will commonly give out refunds for unwanted items returned within a set timeframe.
If stores have published returns policies then they have to stick to them – so it’s worth checking beforehand.
Equally, when it comes to “reasonable” wear and tear, there aren’t any hard and fast rules so common sense needs to be applied.
For example, if a pair of sturdy boots break after two wears then they may reasonably be deemed to be faulty. However, if a pair of high heels with delicate embellishments are trashed after being worn to a big event, then that could probably be put down to wear and tear.
If a retailer is treating you unfairly
If you feel a retailer has not treated you fairly you should lodge an official complaint. This is best done in writing; note that most companies will deal with emails or online contact forms much faster than physical letters.
You should set out what the issue is, what you would like the outcome to be – a replacement, refund or compensation, for example – and why you think you’re entitled to it.
This is a good opportunity to show knowledge of your consumer rights. In many cases, retailers will do their best to smooth things over.
Paid by credit card? Use Section 75
If you cannot get a satisfactory resolution to your complaint, and you paid for the items either fully or partially on credit card, then you may be able to get a refund via a Section 75 claim to your credit card provider.
Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 means your credit card provider is jointly responsible for any breach of contract or misrepresentation by a retailer or trader, covering goods worth £100 to £30,000.
It lets you make a claim from your credit card company to get your money back if a contract has not been properly honoured, and covers you in a wide range of circumstances, including:
- If you bought items online, by telephone or mail order that are not as described, or never arrived
- If a company goes bust before it has fulfilled your order
- If a company’s actions create associated costs for you (for example, if a cancelled event means you’re seeking a refund for the transport you booked to attend it)
- If you bought something from another country – whether that’s while on holiday, online, by mail order, or over the phone
You won’t be covered if you’ve bought something from a third-party seller (such as eBay), for goods that aren’t within the £100-£30,000 price range, or paid for something with cash withdrawn with a credit card.
How to make a Section 75 claim
As a first step, call your credit card provider to say that you want to make a Section 75 claim.
It will send you a form to fill in, and you should provide as much detail as possible about what went wrong.
The provider will then make a decision about whether to refund you or not. If it does, it will pay you and then try to recover the money from the company or its insurer.
If you are not able to resolve your issue with your credit card company you can contact The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) for an independent assessment of the case.
Making a chargeback claim
If you didn’t pay for the item on credit card, or its value doesn’t sit within the Section 75 £100-£30,000 range, you could make a chargeback claim. This involves asking the card provider to reverse the transaction to give you your money back.
You’ll typically have 120 days to make a chargeback claim, and you’ll need to provide evidence that there’s been a breach of contract, and that you’ve been refused a refund.
Chargeback claims can usually be issued if the company you’ve bought from has gone bust, the goods weren’t as described or weren’t delivered, if you were charged multiple times or the wrong amount, or if you’ve been the victim of fraud and didn’t authorise the transaction.
There are a couple of downsides to chargeback.
Firstly, it’s not a legal right – unlike Section 75 – however, if you feel your claim is unfairly rejected then you can still take your claim to the FOS.
In some cases, even if your chargeback claim is successful, it can still be reclaimed by the retailer if they argue against your initial claim. You can dispute this with your bank and by making an appeal this by going to the FOS.
Small claims court
If you didn’t pay for the item on credit card you could also consider making a “small claim” via a county court.
You don’t need a solicitor to go down this road, but there will be a small fee to pay depending on the size of the claim – which means claims under £100 are less likely to be financially worth it. The upper limit on small claims is £10,000.
Before you make a claim you must write to the company with a “letter of intent”, laying out your case and explaining that you are planning to take it to court. This gives the company one last chance to resolve the complaint without getting a judge involved.
Many companies will pay up as soon as a formal claim is launched, as a “no-show” in court means they will automatically lose. However, be aware that if you lose the case then your fees are non-refundable, so you could end up out of pocket.
What have your experiences been like when trying to get a refund? Tell us in the comments section below
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