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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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.

But this right 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). 

After the initial 30 days, you can't demand a full refund in the first instance, but you still have the right to a repair or replacement - including electrical faulty goods.

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 quick do I have to return a faulty item?

  • 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.

You can choose whether you want the goods to be repaired or replaced.

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 6 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 6 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?

Which? found that only 13% of people knew that six months after buying a product, the onus is on you to prove a fault was present at the time of purchase in order to claim a refund, repair or replacement.

When we asked people how they would prove a fault was there when they bought the product, 68% said they wouldn’t know how to do this.

The truth is, the law doesn't explain how you can prove this, 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?

If your item is faulty and you need to return it, you don't need to pay postage costs for the return of the faulty item. 

If you are asked to return an item that arrived damaged, not as described or faulty, the retailer should refund you the total cost of the return.

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. 

Proof of purchase, like a bank statement, is enough evidence to provide 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 or electrical good 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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