Returning Faulty Goods: A Buyers Guide to Unsatisfactory Purchases


Faulty goods are items which either do not fit their pre-sale description, are of unsatisfactory quality, or are unfit for purpose. Even the most careful consumer occasionally finds that an item they have purchased is not up to standard, and may rightly seek a remedy of some kind.

Recent buyers are protected from faulty goods through legislation, including the Consumer Rights Act 2015. This legislation replaced the Sale of Goods Act 1979 although the latter may still be applicable to faulty goods purchased up to the 30th September 2015. These laws make you eligible for the repair, replacement or refund of faulty goods by the retailer. It is important to note that your dispute is with the seller, not the manufacturer.
Eligibility for faulty product compensation is dependant on a number of factors. To ensure your success, seek professional advice as early as possible to avoid costly legal disputes with unsatisfactory outcomes.

When is a good “faulty”?

Broadly speaking, you will have rights regarding a faulty item if:

• The product is damaged, broken, or “not of satisfactory quality”
• The product is unusable or “not fit for purpose”
• The product does not match the sellers’ description or advertisement

However, your rights are wavered if:

• The item was damaged or altered by you through misuse, an accident, personalisation or
 general wear and tear
• You were aware of the fault in the product when you made the purchase
• You have simply changed your mind about the purchase (some sellers may still give an
 exchange out of goodwill but there is no legal requirement)

In accordance with the 2015 Consumer Rights Act, if your purchase fits the above criteria you are legally justified in rejecting the item. If you do so within 30 days of buying the product you are legally entitled to a full refund. If a fault shows after this deadline but within the first 6 months of the purchase it is assumed the fault is with the product and the retailer must offer either a replacement or repair. It is the sellers’ prerogative to decide which option they choose, and their decision will normally be based on what it most cost effective, but you are able to state your preference for their consideration.

Should the problem persist after this action you again have the option of a refund or further attempts to fix the product by the retailer. Price reductions can also be offered after a failed attempt at repair or replacement should you wish to keep the faulty goods.

How to returning faulty goods:

When returning faulty goods your rights and responsibilities, as well as those of the seller, will vary depending on the nature of the sale. While whether you bought it online or in a store has little impact on your rights, it can affect your ability to meet refund conditions such as return deadlines. Perhaps more important is whether your purchase was from a registered business or an individual. Before attempting to return a faulty good, you must first identify where in this legal quagmire your situation falls and how best to proceed.

Items from a registered business:

Businesses can include high-street shops, online stores, and even some market sellers. These are the cases where your rights are clearest and you have the strongest legal standing. When trying to return a faulty product ensure that you keep detailed records of all correspondence and actions between yourself and the retailer.

Initially, contact the seller and ask to return the item, explaining your reason for returning it. You will be required to provide some proof of purchase but this does not have to be a receipt. Bank statements, check stubs, and witnesses are just some acceptable alternatives.

If you made the purchase using a credit or debit card, you may be able to get a refund from your bank using either a “chargeback” scheme. In the case if credit card purchases over £100, another option is to make a “section 75 claim”. You can talk to your bank or a legal advisor for more information on this option.

Should the seller refuse and you are unable to defer to your bank, write a letter of complaint. Refer to the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and clarify the reason you are entitled to a refund, e.g. the product was unusable or not as described.

If the seller continues not to comply, confirm whether they are part of a trade association. If so, contact the Trade Association directly and seek advice to resolve the issue. Your next step is to inquire as to whether the seller is a member of an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme, an independent third party who can provide mediation for free. If so, attempt to go through them and solve the dispute outside of the courts. Alternatively, choose an ADR scheme yourself and try to resolve the problem. Should you receive no response from the seller, or if they are not part of an ADR scheme and refuse to use one, keep a record of your enquiry and their response. This will prove essential should you go to court.

In the worst-case scenario, you can take your case to a small claims court. This is a solution of last resort and does not guarantee a satisfactory outcome. Should you face this eventuality, ensure you take professional, legal advice.

Private sellers:

A private seller is anyone selling as an individual rather than a registered business. They could have sold you the item online through a site like eBay, or in person e.g. at a market.
When it comes to a private sale, your rights are reduced to instances where the goods are “not as described”. You are not entitled to a refund if the product is simply faulty. The item must be true to the advertisement, so it is worth keeping a copy of the original advert in your records. Should the product be different to what was described by the seller, you are entitled to a refund as long as you have not altered the product since the purchase e.g. through customizing it.

The law is less clear regarding the time limits or returns for private sales, stating that refunds must be sought within a “reasonable” period of time. If your case is strong, you should be entitled to a refund within the first 2 months of purchase but the earlier the better.

To claim a refund, repair or replacement on goods purchased from a private seller, follow the steps outlined for registered businesses with the following alterations:

During initial contact and further communication with the seller, e.g. letters of complaint, refer to the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and your right to return products which do not fit the description given by the seller.

An individual will not be a member of a Trade Association and the onus is on you to choose and attempt to use an ADR scheme.

It remains very important to keep a record of the dates and nature of all correspondence and attempts to resolve the dispute between you and the seller.

Additional advice:

Sales: Even if you bought a product on sale, your right to return faulty items remains intact as long as you return the item within 30 days and have not altered the product. Whether or not a shop has a “No Refunds” sign up during a sale, the only time you right to a refund is waved is if the fault was pointed out to you before you made the purchase and you continued regardless.

Gifts: To return a faulty gift you will require proof of purchase in order to return it. This can be a gift receipt from the person who bought the item for you.
Downloads and digital goods: If you purchase a digital product, such as online games, music or apps, you’re right to refund no longer applies. However, you are entitled to ask for a product to be repaired or replaced and if the seller is unable or unwilling to do so you have the right to a price reduction.

Second hand goods: The Consumer Rights Act 2015 applies to items purchased second hand, with some reductions to your rights. For second hand goods, the law that the product be of satisfactory quality no longer applies if you were made aware of the defect prior to purchase, or if you were able to inspect the product prior to the sale and failed to notice a fault that should have been obvious.

When to seek legal advice:

Although legislation such as the Consumer Rights Act 2015 has attempted to create a clear framework protecting buyers from faulty goods, it can quickly become complicated and difficult to access the compensation you deserve. Retailers can be reluctant to comply, or simply non-responsive, while collecting relevant evidence and meeting the 30-day deadline can become overwhelming. Even the use of an ADR or the small claims court can bring outcomes which are unfavourable for you. The strength of your case can be affected by a number of factors including:

  • the nature and severity of the fault
  • how long you had he product
  • whether the fault was immediate or became apparent over time
  • whether you can be said to have “accepted” the product

Ensuring you have a strong record of correspondence and are seen to have done all you can to resolve the dispute is critical to a successful case. It is therefore advisable to seek legal advice as early as possible, ideally from the first point of correspondence with the seller.


Returning Faulty Goods: A Buyers Guide to Unsatisfactory Purchases 1

Gill Laing is a qualified Legal Researcher & Analyst with niche specialisms in Law, Tax, Human Resources, Immigration & Employment Law.

Gill is a Multiple Business Owner and the Managing Director of Prof Services - a Marketing Agency for the Professional Services Sector.

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