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Worryingly, we still hear stories regarding unscrupulous traders taking advantage of older or vulnerable people when selling products or services.

Here we provide you with an introduction to your key consumer rights, which were added to by the introduction of the Consumer Rights Act on 1 October 2015.

Over the past few years, legislation has improved protection for consumers when buying goods and services and it has safeguards that are particularly useful for vulnerable adults as well as people acquiring equipment or service for a disability or health condition.

In this article, we explain about:

1. Consumer rights legislation
2. Defining 'goods' and 'services'
3. Different rights apply depending on where you buy your goods and services
4. What consumer rights do I have if I change my mind?

Consumer rights legislation

Here we summarise the overall protection provided by different pieces of legislation and give examples so that you and your relative are better informed when buying goods and services.

The retailer or service provider must clearly display on their website and paperwork:

  • their full postal address; a PO Box address is not acceptable
  • their trader identity; for example, if they are a limited company or registered charity.
  • if they are signed up to a code of conduct, for example, the British Healthcare Trades Association (BHTA) members have a code of conduct that they should adhere to.

Furthermore, they must:

  • give the total price of the service or product you are buying and be transparent about all related costs, including taxes and delivery charges
  • deliver products you order within 30 days unless agreed otherwise
  • provide goods as they were described, that are fit for purpose and of satisfactory quality
  • provide a service with reasonable care and skill
  • if they are selling at a distance (e.g. online, by phone or mail order) or away from their business premises (e.g. in your home) and have a complaints handling policy, ensure that you (the customer) know it exists
  • not add any items to your online shopping basket that require you to buy them, such as if you were buying a mobility product and the provider adds an extended warranty that you would have to pay for. If this were to happen, you would be entitled to a refund of the extra you paid for the item added to your basket
  • charge no more than the basic rate for a helpline that gives support to a consumer who has a query about a contract they have with that provider
  • cancel any ancillary contracts if you change your mind and cancel a purchase that you bought online or away from the trader’s premises, for example, at home. So, if you had intended to purchase a mobility scooter and then changed your mind and cancelled within the agreed period, your supplier is responsible for cancelling the scooter insurance (if purchased as part of the package).

Defining ‘goods’ and ‘services’

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Goods

Under the Consumer Rights Act you have rights if you receive goods that are:

  • of unsatisfactory quality
  • unfit for purpose or
  • not as described.

You have a right to a repair or replacement (the seller in some circumstances can choose the cheaper option) and, in the first 30 days from when you get goods, a right to reject them and get a refund.

You can use the Which? Consumer Rights ‘Faulty Goods Tool’ to help you request a refund, repair or a replacement. Just answer a few simple questions and you’ll receive an email with a ready-to-go letter you can send to the retailer.  

You may in some circumstances get a further right to reject goods (such as where you asked the seller to repair or replace faulty goods and they failed to do so) and get a full or partial refund (depending on the circumstances).

Services

Services should be provided with reasonable care and skill. If they aren’t, the trader should either re-perform the service at no cost (and within a reasonable time and without causing you significant inconvenience) to put the issues right.

Where the repeat performance is impossible or can’t be done within a reasonable time or without causing significant inconvenience, you can claim a price reduction. Depending on how severe the failings are, this could be up to 100% of the amount you paid for the service.

Your rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 don’t prevent you from recovering other losses you may have as a result of the traders failings.

Different rights apply depending on where you buy your goods and services

The Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013 acknowledges the need to have different arrangements in place depending on where or how you make your purchases. In these regulations these are termed:

  • on premises: in a shop or place where the service provider usually trades from
  • off premises: for example, in your home
  • distance selling: the ordering of goods and services on the internet, by telephone or from a mail order catalogue.

At a shop or clinic

If you go to a shop or clinic they must clearly provide the following before you enter into a contract with them:

  • the full price of the service or product (for example, on the product, in a leaflet or on a noticeboard)
  • clear delivery charges, along with any other associated charges, such as additional parts and VAT requirements
  • after sales services details and guarantees where these are offered
  • details of any  complaints procedure the trader has (for example, in a leaflet).

If the provider comes to your home

This might happen, for example, if the provider were demonstrating some mobility equipment or new shower options. In these circumstances, the provider must give you the following before you enter into a contract with them:

  • all the information listed above, which must be given in writing unless you agree to receive it in an email sent directly to you
  • complete costs, including whether you are expected to pay for return of goods if you change your mind and cancel as well as how any deposit will be managed.
  • information about cancellation rights in writing and a cancellation form to fill in if you change your mind.

You are also entitled to a paper copy of the signed contract/confirmation (unless you agree to receive this by email).

If you are buying over the phone, internet or from a mail order catalogue

If the contract is made online all the same information as if you are walking into a shop must be provided before you purchase an item and it should be included on the website and subsequently stated in writing, which includes on email, once a purchase has been made.

In addition:

  • if the contract is made by phone, the seller would need to give the information verbally rather than include it on its website, and then confirm in writing
  • the conditions of sale must state if they expect the customer to bear the cost of returning the goods if they cancel
  • the provider has to explain to you how to return goods if you change your mind and, if applicable, that you will be responsible for the return costs.
  • consumers have 14 days to say they want to cancel a purchase and then a further 14 days from that date to actually return the goods.

The burden of proof is on the provider of goods or services to provide this information, but it is also advised that you keep a record of all information in case you need proof of non-compliance.

What consumer rights do I have if I change my mind?

The rights for the consumer to change their mind only apply to distance and off premises contracts. However, many retailers have put in place a returns policy enabling you to return goods within a specified timeframe for a refund, exchange or credit note.  

  • Distance selling: the cancellation period starts when you place your order and ends 14 days after the goods have been received.
  • Off premises: the cancellation period starts the day the consumer has entered into the contract for the service and ends 14 days later.

For both distance and off premises sales, if the trader fails to provide the required information about your cancelation rights, your right to cancel will be extended to 14 days from when this is provided (up to a maximum of a year and 14 days).

If you wish to change your mind about receiving a product or service, remember:

  • for goods, you have 14 days from when you placed your order to 14 days after the day  of delivery to cancel
  • for services, you have 14 days from the day of entering into the contract for that service
  • you do not have to use the supplier’s cancellation form to cancel; it could be verbal – however, it’s a good idea to cancel in writing
  • you do not have to give a reason
  • the burden of proof of cancellation lies with you the consumer (a voice message will qualify)
  • the supplier has 14 days to refund your money from when they get the goods back or you provide them with proof you have returned them
  • goods can be opened for inspection – but clearly not used or handled excessively; if they are, you can still return them although the seller may be able to make a deduction from the refund for any reduction in value as a result
  • the standard delivery charge should be refunded (the seller can retain any extra you paid for enhanced (such as, next day) delivery.

However, be aware of these specific rules.

  • If you receive a service (for example, physiotherapy treatment), and you ask for the service to be provided during the 14-day cancellation period, your right to cancel will end when the service has been provided in full.
  • If, at your request, a provider begins to work on a service (such as installing a walk-in shower), before the 14-days cancellation period has elapsed and you change your mind before he or she has finished the work, the trader can charge you for the work done to date. If the trader makes a deduction in this way, they must explain this as part of the information they are required to provide to you about your cancellation rights.
  • Normal cancellation rights do not apply to emergency repairs. So if you have called someone out to fix your stairlift or scooter as an emergency, you may still be charged if you decide not to go ahead.
  • Bespoke products may well be exempted from cancellation rights. For example, if you have ordered a riser recliner chair to meet your size and shape and have specified a non-standard material, it may not be possible to cancel if you have changed your mind. There are some other exceptions to the right to cancel, such as goods that aren’t suitable for return due to health protection or hygiene reasons, if they become unsealed after delivery.
  • Even though you pay for prescriptions, they are nevertheless exempt from your rights to cancel.

Any right to cancel is separate from rights you have where goods aren’t as described, fit for purpose or of satisfactory quality, and services aren’t provided with reasonable care and skill. So if the bespoke item you order arrives damaged or faulty, you still have rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 to reject it for a refund or ask for it to be repaired or replaced.

More information

  • Finding out what home care products are available: information about the different ways that you can research home care products to help with day-to-day living.
  • Returning faulty goods: see the Which? Consumer Rights website for more information, which includes a faulty goods complaints tool.
  • Mobility aids: a look at the most common and useful mobility aids, ranging from walking sticks and frames, to wheelchairs and mobility scooters.

Article first published: November 2016
Next review due: April 2018