Customers – know your rights

As customers we always hope that our purchase will be a good one and that the product we receive will live up to our expectations. More often than not, this is thankfully the case. From time to time, however, something goes wrong and we seek a positive solution from the trader we bought the goods from.

It’s when we don’t get a satisfactory solution that we arrive at a place of dispute. At these times, we seek to familiarise ourselves of our customer rights. But for the majority of people that don’t have a qualification in law, this can be all too confusing.

The purpose of this article is to explain your customer rights in as simple terms as possible. In most cases, this should be sufficient. However, the Act in question is naturally thorough and covers all kinds of ‘what if’ scenarios. So, when the advice laid out doesn’t cover something unique to your particular situation, then you may need to seek advice from legal experts. The Citizens Advice Bureau may be a good free starting point.

The law around this whole area was last updated in 2015, when the Customer Rights Act 2015 was published. This is the Act which you must base your arguments around since it replaces anything which arose before (until it gets updated itself!).

The overarching principle is that: goods must be of satisfactory quality

When goods are transferred from the trader to the customer, a contract to supply has taken place. The simple act of paying for goods represents a contract. Implicit within that contract is a term that asserts the good to be of satisfactory quality. But in the event of a dispute, how do we decide what ‘satisfactory’ means?

Well, the Customer Act 2015 states that they must meet the standard that a reasonable person* would consider satisfactory. And specifically, when making a decision on this, a reasonable person would consider the following:

  1. the description of the goods;
  2. the price they paid;
  3. any specific circumstances that the trader has made a public statement on. These include anything the trader stated in advertising the product and anything found on labelling or packaging that was not made clear to the customer within the description.

Point (3) above is quite broad and can itself be defended by the trader. Particular ways the trader may challenge it are:

  • if the trader could not have known about it;
  • if the trader withdrew or corrected the statement before the contract was made;
  • if knowing this could not have influenced the buying decision for the customer.

Upon receipt of the goods, the reasonable person would measure these three elements against the following considerations of their state and condition:

  1. Are they fit for the purpose for which goods of that kind are usually supplied?
  2. Is the appearance and finish satisfactory?
  3. Are the goods free from minor defects?
  4. Are they safe?
  5. Are they sufficiently durable?

*As you can imagine, one line of tack the trader could take against the customer is that they are not acting as a reasonable person would. Therefore, it’s very important in any communication with the trader that the customer makes clear they are behaving in a
reasonable way.

Finally, there are exceptions to the above, and they each relate to circumstances before the exchange of goods is made. They are:

  • anything specifically drawn to the customer’s attention before the contract was made;
  • if the customer examined the goods before the contract was made and deemed them satisfactory upon that examination;
  • in the case of a contract to supply goods by sample, did the customer accept the quality upon reasonable examination of the sample?

If the customer isn’t satisfied, then they have at their disposal a number of options, which are:

  • reject the contract and claim a full refund within 30 days;
  • request repair or replacement;
  • the right to a price reduction or a final right to reject.

Generally speaking, all of the above is the crux of the Customer Rights Act 2015 with regards to physical goods. However, as you can imagine, there are a significant number of contentions around this. We shall now summarise what we consider to be the most contentious.

Items of contention:

  • What if the customer’s purpose for the goods is different to that which they are assumed to be used for? In this case, if the customer made clear their intended purpose (either explicitly or by implication), and the trader allowed the contract to take place for that reason, then the goods should be fit for that purpose.
  • In the case of a sample, changes from the sample must be agreed by the customer and trader. If it can be shown that no agreement took place and the final product matches neither the sample, nor the description, then the customer is within their rights to void the contract.
  • What is the length of time for the right to a refund, replacement or repair? Beyond the 30 day period, the customer’s right to a full refund diminishes. However, they can still request a replacement or repair (for example, if the product is considered defective on the basis of its durability). What is considered a satisfactory length of time will vary from product to product and is to some extent at the discretion of the trader.

Additional Considerations

Delivery of goods

Unless the trader and the consumer have agreed otherwise, the contract is to be treated as including a term that the trader must deliver the goods to the consumer.

Unless there is an agreed time or period, the contract is to be treated as including a term
that the trader must deliver the goods:

  1. without undue delay;
  2. not more than 30 days after the day on which the contract is entered into.

If there is an obligation to deliver the goods at the time the contract is entered into, that time counts as the “agreed” time. If either of the following are true:

  1. the trader has refused to deliver the goods;
  2. delivery of the goods at the agreed time or within the agreed period is essential (for example – fresh flowers);

then the consumer may treat the contract as at an end.

In any other circumstances, the consumer may specify a period that is appropriate and require the trader to deliver the goods before the end of that period.

If the consumer treats the contract as at an end, then the trader must reimburse all payments made under the contract.

Passing of risk

The goods remain at the trader’s risk until they come into the physical possession of:

  1. the consumer
  2. a person identified by the consumer to take possession of the goods.

The exception to the above is when the goods are delivered by a carrier who:

  1. is commissioned by the consumer to deliver the goods
  2. is not a carrier that the trader named as an option for the consumer.

Under this exception, the risk transfers to the consumer.

Goods under guarantee

“Guarantee” here means an undertaking to the consumer by a person acting in the course of the person’s business (the “guarantor”) that, if the goods do not meet the specifications set out in the guarantee:

  1. the consumer will be reimbursed for the price paid for the goods;
  2. the goods will be repaired, replaced or handled in any way.

The guarantee takes effect from the time the goods are delivered, as a contractual obligation owed by the guarantor under the conditions set out in the guarantee statement.

Digital Goods

Digital goods (e.g. a Blu-ray disc or a downloadable film) are broadly the same as physical goods, but with three exceptions:

  1. you don’t have an automatic right to a refund within 30 days. You can ask for a repair or replacement and if that doesn’t work or isn’t possible you can then ask for a reduction in price. But a full refund cannot be guaranteed;
  2. Compensation is available if the goods damage your device, provided you can show it;
  3. No compensation for free digital content. If you receive free digital goods (e.g. a free software download, or open source software) and it damages your equipment, then you are no longer entitled to compensation.