What is a faulty product?

Under the Consumer Rights Act, all products - including electrical goods - must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described.  

The rules also include digital content in this definition. So all products - whether physical, electrical or digital - must meet the following standards:  

  • Satisfactory quality Goods shouldn't be faulty or damaged when you receive them. You should ask yourself what a reasonable person would consider satisfactory for the goods in question. For example, bargain-bucket products won't be held to as high standards as luxury goods.
  • Fit for purpose The goods should be fit for the purpose they are supplied for, as well as any specific purpose you made known to the retailer before you agreed to buy the goods.
  • As described The goods supplied must match any description given to you, or any models or samples shown to you at the time of purchase.

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You could be entitled to a repair, replacement or a refund even if the product is out of warranty, answer some simple questions and Which? can help you start your complaint for free

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The date you made the purchase determines which legislation applies.

  • If you bought your goods any time from 1 October 2015, then the Consumer Rights Act applies.
  • If you bought your goods on or before 30 September 2015, then the Sale of Goods Act will apply.

How long do I have to return a faulty product?

Under the Consumer Rights Act you have an early right to reject goods that are unsatisfactory quality, unfit for purpose or not as described, and get a full refund.

30 day right to reject

Your early right to reject is limited to 30 days from the date you took ownership of the goods (this could be the date of purchase or the date the goods were delivered to you - whichever is later).

This right doesn’t apply to faulty digital content. The retailer has one opportunity to repair or replace digital content that is of unsatisfactory quality, unfit for purpose or not as described, before you can claim a refund on a digital download.

How long do I have to return faulty goods?

  • You have the right to reject your item and get a refund within 30 days of possessing the goods.
  • You could also ask the retailer to repair or replace your item within six months of purchase.
  • Your rights against the retailer can last for up to six years, but after the first six months the onus is on you to prove a fault was present at the time you took ownership of the goods.
  • You can also use your guarantee or warranty if your product develops a fault.

After the first 30 days

If you're outside the 30-day right to reject, you have to give the retailer one opportunity to repair or replace any goods or digital content which are of unsatisfactory quality, unfit for purpose or not as described.

Tell the retailer whether you'd prefer a repair or a replacement, but bear in mind that it has the final say.

But the retailer can refuse if they can show that your choice is disproportionately expensive compared with the alternative.

If the attempt at a repair or replacement is unsuccessful, you can then claim a refund, or a price reduction if you wish to keep the product.

Can I get a full refund? - the first six months

If you've owned the item for less than six months, the retailer must give you a full refund if an attempt at a repair or replacement is unsuccessful.

The only exception to this is motor vehicles, where the retailer can make a deduction for fair use after the first 30 days.

It doesn't matter whether you bought your goods before or after 1 October 2015 - in the first six months from when you buy something, the onus is on the seller to prove your defective product was of satisfactory quality when you received it.

It's not for you to prove that the faulty item was not of satisfactory quality in order to get it repaired or replaced during the first six months after purchase.

Six months or more

If a defect develops after the first six months, the burden is on you to prove that the product was faulty at the time the goods were delivered to you.

In practice, this may require some form of expert report, opinion or evidence of similar problems or defects across the product range.

The retailer can also make a deduction from any refund for fair use after the first six months of ownership if an attempt at a repair or replacement is unsuccessful.

You have up to six years to take a claim to the small claims court for faulty goods in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and five years in Scotland.

This doesn't mean that a product has to last six years - just that you have this length of time in which to make a claim if a retailer refuses to repair or replace a faulty product.

Was a fault present at purchase?

The truth is, the law doesn't explain how you can prove the fault was present at the point of purchase, which can make it problematic when you’re asked to do so.

Guidance has tended to focus on getting an independent report from a repair shop or expert, but this advice dates back to a time when these were a common presence on high streets.

You could be hard pressed to find one now. But it's worth looking in your local area for a repair shop if you need to get an objective opinion.

Here are a few suggestions on what you can do:

  • If you can find a repair shop or expert to undertake an independent report on a defective product, it’s worth doing so as long as the cost isn’t disproportionate to the value of the product. It’s also worth checking that the retailer is happy with your choice of independent expert.
  • Are people on social media complaining of the same fault? What about any reviewers or journalists? The more evidence you can collect about the faulty product and how widespread the defect is, the stronger your case will be.
  • If the retailer fobs you off and tells you there's nothing it can do, you could consider referring your case to the consumer ombudsman.
  • Do you have a guarantee or warranty? If so, check the terms of use. If you’re getting nowhere with the retailer, or if the retailer has gone bust, you may want to go straight to your warranty provider and make a claim.

Tips for getting a complaint dealt with

  • Act quickly. You have 30 days from taking physical ownership of the goods to claim a refund for a faulty product; after this time you may be offered a repair or replacement.
  • In the first instance, write to the customer-services department politely and objectively, so you have a written record as evidence. Then escalate if you're not happy with the response.
  • Quote the relevant laws.
  • Say what you want to happen - refund, explanation or apology.
  • Say what you will do if not satisfied with the response, such as going to the relevant ombudsman or small claims court.

Do I have to pay to return a faulty item?

Whether you pay depends on when you found the fault and whether you want a refund, a repair or a replacement.

Returning faulty goods

If you want to return your faulty goods for a refund, a repair or replacement, you should be refunded the delivery cost you paid to get it sent to you.

If you paid for enhanced or express delivery and you’re returning the faulty goods early on, this will also be refunded to you.

But if you’ve had the goods for a while and they’ve only just developed a fault, you probably won’t be able to claim back the initial delivery costs for getting the goods to you.

This is because you’ll have benefitted from having the goods for a while already.

Returning faulty goods to be inspected

In some situations the retailer - or you - might want or need to send the faulty good to a manufacturer for closer inspection of the fault.

This is so that an expert can confirm whether the fault was present when you purchased it.

The first six months

If the fault developed within first six months of you owning the product and you’re looking for a repair or replacement, it’s down to the retailer to check the fault in order to demonstrate the product wasn’t faulty when you received it.

Because of this, the retailer will usually want to get it checked by a manufacturer. The retailer has a legal obligation to cover these costs.

So, if they ask for you to return the faulty item to the manufacturer, get confirmation from the retailer that they’ll refund the cost of doing so.

The retailer has to cover the cost, so if it refuses to do this complain to its customer services team and refuse to send the faulty item without confirmation you’ll be compensated.

After the first six months

If the fault developed after the first six months of you owning the product, the onus is on you to prove the fault was present at the time you took ownership of it.

So, you should expect to pay for any reasonable steps and delivery costs to prove the fault was present at the time of purchase.

It’s always best to notify the retailer that you will be claiming any such costs back from the retailer in the event that the goods are found to be faulty.

If you manage to prove this, you can contact the retailer and ask them to reimburse you these delivery costs, plus any costs charged for inspecting the goods.

It’s always best to agree the approach the retailer will use to establish whether or not the goods are faulty.

If you don’t want to go down the route the retailer has suggested, make sure you’ve agreed a new approach with the retailer beforehand. This includes making sure costs are reasonable.

Do I have to pay to get my fixed faulty item back?

If the retailer has already repaired or replaced the faulty good and wants to send it back to you, there should be no cost to you.

The retailer must pay the costs of repairing or replacing your faulty item and they must also pay to deliver it back to you.

Do I have to return online goods to a store if they’re faulty?

If you’re being asked to take something back in store and that would be a significant inconvenience to you, you can suggest a reasonable alternative.

For example, you can suggest posting the goods back and that you expect the cost of doing this to be paid back.

Do I need a receipt to return a faulty product?

Being able to show a receipt for the faulty goods you purchased may speed up your claim, but it is not essential to have one.

In many cases it would be unreasonable for a retailer to expect you to have kept your receipt, especially if the goods develop a fault after several months.

If you want to return faulty goods without a receipt, proof of purchase - such as a bank statement - is enough evidence to prove you purchased the goods.

Should I accept credit notes for faulty goods?

The seller's returns policy can't require customers to take vouchers where an item has been returned because it is faulty.

The Consumer Rights Act specifies the rights that consumers have if products develop a fault and the seller can’t remove or reduce these.

What if the retailer refuses to help?

If you're having problems and the shop won't refund, repair or replace your goods, then you should report it to your local trading standards department, as the retailer is breaching your statutory rights.

It's worth telling the shop that you're going to do this, as it could mean your complaint is then dealt with.

If the retailer fobs you off or blames the manufacturer, you might want to take your complaint to the consumer ombudsman.

You could also consider using your guarantee or warranty.

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Can I use a guarantee or warranty?

Many products, such as electrical goods, are offered with a manufacturer's guarantee or sold with a manufacturer's warranty that often lasts for one year.

Guarantees and warranties are a contract between you and the manufacturer, and the manufacturer must do whatever it says it will do in them.

Usually this will be to repair or replace a faulty item. Retailers will sometimes contact the manufacturer on your behalf, but they are not obliged to do so.

However, you still have rights under the Consumer Rights Act or Sale of Goods Act, even if your manufacturer's warranty or guarantee has expired, and retailers can't ignore this.

It will depend on the product and the fault, but you could be legally entitled to a free repair or, in some cases, a replacement by the retailer for some time after the manufacturer's guarantee has expired.

Read our guide on when to use a manufacturer's warranty or guarantee for more information.

What if a faulty product causes death, damage or injury?

According to the Consumer Protection Act 1987, anyone who's harmed by an unsafe product can sue the manufacturer - even if you didn't buy the product yourself.

You can sue for compensation for death or injury. You can also sue for damage or loss of private property caused by faulty goods if the damage amounts to at least £275.

The amount you can claim will depend on the harm suffered, and there is no upper limit to compensation.

There are also certain criminal sanctions that apply to the general safety of products. For example, a lack of safety information can lead to up to 12 months' imprisonment and a large fine.

Can I take my claim to court?

Court should be a last resort and you should do everything you can to resolve the dispute before taking this step. 

If all your attempts to exercise your rights fail or the retailer doesn't respond, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the trader still trading?
  • Do I have a good chance of winning my case in court?
  • If I win, will I be able to recover the money from the other side?
  • Is the amount at stake worth the cost of the court case?

Anyone considering starting court action in England and Wales (even in the small claims court) has to follow the Practice Direction on Pre-Action Conduct.

This gives you and the party you're in dispute with clear steps to follow to help you resolve the dispute. And, if this isn't possible the Practice Direction tells you the necessary steps to take your dispute to court.

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