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EU rules ‘threaten shoppers’ rights’

Right to reject faulty goods could be weakened
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UK shoppers could see their right to reject faulty goods diminished if new European rules come into force, two Law Commissions have warned.

Currently, consumers have the right to reject faulty items and get their money back, provided they act within a ‘reasonable’ amount of time. This applies when an item is not ‘as described’ or is not of satisfactory quality.

However, if UK law is brought into line with the European Consumer Sales Directive, this could see the right to a refund replaced with the right to a repair or a replacement item.

The Law Commissions of England and Wales, and the equivalent body in Scotland, say UK consumers’ right to a refund on faulty goods should be safeguarded.

Your right to a refund

Currently, consumers should be able to obtain a refund for any item they reject if they do so within a ‘reasonable’ period. The law is not specific on this point, and what is ‘reasonable’ usually depends on the product and how obvious the fault is – though it is unlikely to extend beyond four weeks.

For the first six months after purchase, if a retailer wishes to avoid giving an individual a free repair or replacement, it is they who must prove that the goods in question were satisfactory when first bought.

However, after six months, the burden of proof switches. For example, if a shopper wished to return an item seven months after first buying it, it would be up to him or her to prove that the item was not satisfactory when originally purchased. If they were able to do so, the consumer would then be entitled to a repair or replacement item.

Crucial consumer protection

The Law Commissions consulted consumers on the ‘right to reject’ in 2008. Of those people interviewed for the poll, 94% said they valued the right to ask for a refund on faulty goods very highly.

However, the commissions say there is considerable confusion over the current rules – mainly surrounding the idea of what constitutes the ‘reasonable’ amount of time within which consumers can reject faulty items.

The commissions have proposed that in order to clarify consumers’ rights, this should be set at 30 days (with some room for flexibility if necessary). It has also been suggested that shoppers should have the right to reject goods after they have been repaired or replaced if they are still not satisfied.

Which? and your rights

Which? lawyer Chris Warner says: ‘We’re pleased that the Law Commissions support the right to reject faulty goods, which is an important and valued protection for British consumers.

‘The government must now do all it can to ensure that British consumers don’t find themselves worse off as a result of the Consumer Rights Directive. Rather than watering down the UK rules, other EU countries should be able to benefit from the rights we already enjoy.’

To find out more about your rights, take a look at the free Which? advice guides on the Sale of Goods Act and cancelling online orders. If you’re trying to get your money back on an unsatisfactory item, check out the Which? guide to .

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