The main piece of legislation determining your statutory rights as a customer is the Consumer Rights Act 2015. The Act consolidates outdated laws in this area and supplements newer legislation such as the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013, simplifying and updating your statutory rights.
The Act was drafted to reflect modern shopping habits and addresses four main areas: digital content; goods; services and unfair terms.
It applies to any contract entered into on or after 1st October 2015.
What are Statutory Rights?
When you buy any goods or services from a retailer, you are entering into a contract with them. Put simply they undertake to provide you with goods and services of a certain quality. If they fall short of this standard, then the law steps in to protect you by providing you with a whole raft of rights.
These are referred to as statutory rightsbecause the Acts of Parliament that set out them out are also known as statutes.
If you are unsatisfied with goods or services that have been supplied to you what are your statutory rights, and how can you enforce them?
Your Statutory Rights: Digital Content
Statutory rights in relation to digital content is a new area of law. The Consumer Rights Act defines digital content as “data which are produced and supplied in digital form”.
This can include things such as:
As a customer, you will acquire these rights when you buy digital content, or it is supplied along with other paid for goods or services. As a general rule, you will not acquire rights when the content is delivered free of charge.
However, where digital content damages your device or other digital content and has been supplied under a contract, you may have rights against the supplier, whether you paid for that content or not.
Digital content must be of satisfactory quality; fit for a particular purpose; and as described by the seller.
If the content does not meet these criteria, then you have the right to a repair or replacement. If that isn’t possible, then you can ask for a price reduction or refund.
Under the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013, you also have 14 days to change your mind and get a full refund without meeting any of the criteria set out above. This right to cancel does not apply once the download has started if you have been told this and have acknowledged that condition.
Your Statutory Rights: Goods
Goods under the Consumer Rights Act means any tangible moveable item, and covers all contracts for their supply, such as sale, hire and hire-purchase.
As with digital content, all goods must be of satisfactory quality; fit for a particular purpose; and as described by the seller.
If the product fails to meet any of these standards, within the lifetime of the item, then you can invoke your statutory right to either reject, repair, replace or request a price reduction.
These remedies are tiered and apply at different stages of your complaints journey.
Within 30 days of receipt – you are entitled to reject the item and receive a full refund.
Within six months of receipt – if a fault has developed, it is presumed to have been there since the date of purchase, and the onus is on the retailer to prove otherwise. You are entitled to request a repair or a replacement. If that fails, or can’t be done then, in most cases, you should receive a full refund.
After this six month period, you can still exercise your statutory rights and request a repair, replacement or price reduction if the product does not last a reasonable amount of time (indicating unsatisfactory quality) or develops a fault. However, it may be more difficult to prove these failures, and the onus is on you to do so. The retailer may be more reluctant to accept a complaint outwith the six month period outlined in the Act.
If you purchased your goods online, then you have the additional right to change your mind and receive a full refund within 14 days of receipt, whether your item is faulty or not.
Your Statutory Rights: Services
Statutory rights in relation to services are another new advent of the Consumer Rights Act.
Before this date remedies relating to poor quality services were dealt with at common law under breach of contract.
Now in relation to the supply of services to consumers (including financial, telecommunication and utilities), the contract must address the following:
- that the trader will perform the service with reasonable skill and care;
- that information that is spoken or written pre-contract, and during it, is binding where the consumer relies on it;
- where there is no price agreed, a reasonable price will be charged;
- where there is no timescale agreed, performance will be within a reasonable time frame.
Where the services you have been provided with do not meet these criteria, you are entitled to request a repeat performance. Where that is impossible, or the trader has failed to re-perform within a reasonable time, you are entitled to seek a price reduction or refund.
What do you do if a retailer doesn’t accept that there is a fault with your goods or the service that they have provided?
If you find yourself in dispute with the retailer about goods or services they have supplied, then there are a number of things that you can do. The Consumer Rights Act now makes it compulsory for a business to make you aware of a relevant certified Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) practitioner, and whether they would be prepared to use them to facilitate a resolution to your complaint. However, it is only mandatory for a business to use ADR in certain sectors – for example, financial services.
If the retailer does not wish to use ADR, or ADR fails to resolve the dispute, then you can raise a claim in court against the trader. Most claims for faulty goods or services can be dealt with in the small claims court, which has a claims limit of £10,000. You have six years to claim in this court in England and Wales.
Even if your claim falls within this limit, if it is complex it may be that it requires to proceed under a different court procedure. You may also have additional claims over and above refund of the goods or services you have been supplied with. Seeking legal advice can assist in presenting your claim for the full amount, and in the correct court.
Your Statutory Rights: Unfair Contract Terms
As a customer, the Consumer Rights Act has vastly simplified the law surrounding unfair contract terms. When you buy goods and services from a retailer, you are entering into a contract. These are known as consumer contracts. On most occasions, you will not have to sign a document, as the transaction is straightforward. However, contracts for mobile phones, laptops, utilities, or bespoke services are examples of consumer contracts where you may have to sign on the dotted line.
Previously governed by the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and the Unfair Contract Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999, the rules relating to consumer contracts have been developed and strengthened to assist you. They now apply to both standard and non-standard contracts. In other words, it does not matter whether the contract involves standard terms and conditions, or terms that you negotiate yourself.
The changes made by the Consumer Rights Act mean that it is now possible to challenge hidden fees and charges. Key terms of a contract, including price, can be assessed for fairness unless the clause relating to it is both prominent and transparent.
Terms may be considered unfair if:
- they are contrary to good faith, in other words, terms require to be negotiated and agreed in an open and fair way; or
- they cause a considerable imbalance between the rights of the customer and retailer, weighted in the retailer’s favour.
The Act also allows you to challenge ‘consumer notices’ which is an important development. Consumer notices are communications that are intended to be read or heard by customers. These include things such as customer promotions, notices disclaiming liability of premises and, in the realm of digital content, end user licence agreements (EULA).
The term ‘consumer notices’ is so broadly defined in the Act that it also potentially covers website terms and conditions.
When should I seek legal advice?
Only a court can decide whether a term is unfair. If you think that a clause in your contract is unfair, and the retailer doesn’t agree, then you should seek legal advice before you break the terms of your contract.
A solicitor can advise on your prospects of success in court, and also help you consider what steps you can take to resolve the issue with the retailer that may keep the dispute away from the courtroom.