Consumer rights legislation
Worryingly, we still hear stories regarding unscrupulous traders taking advantage of older or vulnerable people when selling products or services.
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.
Here, we summarise the overall protection provided by different pieces of legislation and give examples so that you’re 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’re 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 (eg online, by phone or mail order) or away from their business premises (eg 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).
For further guidance, read our article on your consumer rights when you change your mind about an item you have purchased.
Defining ‘goods’ and ‘services’
Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, 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 Complaint 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 template 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 retailer to repair or replace faulty goods and it failed to do so) and get a full or partial refund (depending on the circumstances).
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.
Your rights depending on where you shop
The Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013 explained on our Consumer Rights website, 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.
- 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’s also advised that you keep a record of all information in case you need proof of non-compliance.
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