The Consumer Rights Act came into force on 01 October 2015 and only applies to items bought AFTER 1st October 2015.
This new act replaces three key pieces of former legislation – the Sale of Goods Act, Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations and the Supply of Goods and Services Act.
30 day refund
The most important change under the Consumer Rights Act is the right to a full refund, for a faulty item, within 30 days (from the date you purchased the product), whether you shopped online, in a high-street store, or at any other retailer, and the money must be returned to you within 14 days. Previously the law simply defined the time limit as a “reasonable length of time”, allowing retailers to set their own time periods, in some cases they made it as short as seven (7) days.
Sometimes, however, you won’t become aware of a fault until after the 30 days has passed. In this case (provided you are within 6 months from the date you purchased the product) you can still return your item to the retailer and they have to repair or replace the faulty product. You, the consumer, can choose whether the item is repaired or replaced however the retailer can object if it can be shown that your choice is disproportionately expensive compared to the alternative. If the attempt at a repair or replacement is unsuccessful, you can still claim a refund or a price reduction if you still want to keep the product, or if you don’t want a refund and still want your product repaired or replaced, you have the right to request that the retailer makes further attempts at a repair or replacement. Faults discovered within the first six (6) months are presumed to have been there from the time of purchase unless the retailer can prove otherwise. Faults discovered after the first six (6) months are not presumed to have been there from the time of purchase and its down to you, the consumer, to prove that the item was faulty the whole time.
You are not entitled to a refund simply because you have changed your mind about your purchase, the goods have to be faulty. That said, many retailers do allow you to change your mind but they are not forced to do so by law.
Please be aware that this 30 day right doesn’t apply to digital content or perishable goods. The period for perishable goods will be determined by how long it is reasonable to have expected the goods to last. For example, milk would be expected to last until its use-by date as long as it’s stored correctly.
This Act also introduces two new areas of law, one of which covers digital content.
Digital content under this Act means items that you download or stream and includes online games, apps, music and movie downloads and e-books, and applies to any digital content that is paid for, any digital content that is supplied free with other paid for items and any digital content that is supplied on a physical medium, such as a DVD.
If you the consumer purchase digital content that is faulty you have a right to a repair or replacement and if that repair or replacement doesn’t fix the problem, you can ask for a price reduction which can be up to 100% of the cost of the digital content. Special rules apply if goods and digital content are provided together in one product, for example a DVD or mobile phone. Section 16 of the Consumer Rights Act makes it clear that if either the digital content or physical product are faulty, then your rights are the same as if you had purchased faulty goods and you would be entitled to the 30 day right to a full refund. Digital content can be deemed to be faulty if it isn’t of satisfactory quality, if it isn’t fit for a particular purpose, or if it isn’t as described by the seller.
Example of faulty digital content:
You pay to download a TV series which is described as containing all 13 episodes. When you download it you find that the final episode is missing.
Under the Act, the digital content is not as described. You are therefore entitled to a repair or replacement of the digital content, to bring it in line with the description. In this instance, an appropriate remedy may be a download of the final episode.
The other new area of law cover by the Act is Services.
A Service means work that is done by others as a business or occupation and can include a minor repair on your car to major building works. Services can be provided on their own such as hair dressers, estate agents, or with goods, for example, the building of an extension or double glazing. The Act states that Services should be carried out as agreed, using reasonable skill and care, at a reasonable price (where the price is not agreed beforehand) and in a reasonable time.
If the Services you have received don’t meet the conditions of the Act you are entitled to request that the trader either re-does the unacceptable piece of work again or re-performs the whole service at no extra cost to you, within a reasonable time and without causing you significant inconvenience. There are however some occasions where re-performance isn’t impossible or can’t be done within a reasonable time or without causing significant inconvenience and in these circumstances you can claim a price reduction. Depending on the severity of the failings this could be up to 100% of the original price. Claiming under the Act doesn’t preclude you from seeking other remedies such as damages or specific performance provided, of course, that you don’t claim for the same loss twice.
Example of Services not carried out with reasonable skill and care
You contract with a catering service to provide a buffet for your birthday for 6pm on a given Saturday. You pay £25 per head for the service. There is a clause in the contract stating that the maximum discount for any service problem caused by the supplier is £70. However, the buffet is delivered late, at 10pm, as the party is ending. Under the Act, the catering service has breached the information in their contract by not delivering at 6pm. The term limiting the price reduction is invalid. The catering cannot be repeated, as the party has happened. You are entitled to a reduction in price (possibly up to 100%) due to non-compliance with the information provided.
2nd Hand Goods
This Act also covers second-hand goods when bought through a retailer.
When buying 2nd hand goods through a retailer or online from an Ebay trader you have the same rights as if you were purchasing the goods as new. This means that the item must be of satisfactory quality, based on what a reasonable person would expect, taking into account the price, it must be fit for purpose and it must meet the expectations of the consumer, bearing in mind of course that the item is 2nd hand and so reasonable wear and tear should be expected. If it doesn’t or the item is faulty, you can demand a refund and the 30 day right applies.
If, however, you are buying from a private seller the goods sold just have to be as described, the private seller doesn’t even have to disclose faults. For example, if you are buying second hand baby clothes and the private seller tells you they’re “blue” and they turn out to be blue with lots of baby stains on them, you’ve got no claim. If however, they had described the clothes as “blue and like new”, and they’ve got some kind of stain on them, they’ve misrepresented the items – even if the stains aren’t baby-related – you can ask for a refund or replacement.
A 2nd hand retailer – just like any other – is under no legal obligation to provide a refund or even a return because you have simply changed your mind about a purchase. That said, many retailers (including 2nd hand dealers) do allow you to change your mind but they are not forced to do so by law.
Unfair Contract Terms
The section of the new Act that replaces the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations now introduces a test of ‘fairness’ around key terms in a contract including the price, excessive early termination charges, clauses that limit your legal rights and disproportionate default charges and makes it easier to object to hidden fees and charges. Under the Act a term may only be excluded from an assessment for fairness where it is both transparent and prominent. A term is transparent where it is expressed in plain and intelligible language and (when written) is legible. The prominence of the term will be determined by how it was brought to the consumer’s attention (in such a way that the average consumer would be aware of it).
Under the previous legislation provided the contract was written in plain English there was no additional challenge, however under the new Act a term is deemed to be unfair ‘if, contrary to the requirement of good faith, it causes a significant imbalance, in the parties’ rights and obligations under the contract to the detriment of the consumer’. The Act also states that some terms in consumer contracts and consumer notices are automatically unenforceable and are referred to as ‘blacklisted’. An example of a ‘blacklisted’ term is that a trader cannot exclude or restrict liability for death or personal injury resulting from its negligence.
If you think a contract term is unfair, you should raise the issue directly with the trader. If the trader doesn’t agree, then you should seek legal advice. Depending on the details of your case you could take the trader to court an and the court will decide whether a term is unfair. If the court decides that a term is unfair you may be able to ignore the term or even cancel your contract without having to pay a cancellation fee. Retailers who don’t abide by these new rules could face prosecution.
Example 1 Unfair contract terms
You sign up to a mobile phone contract with a mobile dealer for £20 a month. After you agree to the deal you discover your next-door neighbour has got the same package for £15. You challenge your dealer, arguing that their deal is unfair.
The monthly price and the texts and minutes available were clearly explained, in plain English, when the contract was agreed and were prominent and transparent in the contract. Under the Act, it is easier for the dealer to understand what should not be left to the ‘small print’. In this case, you would not be able to challenge the deal for fairness, as the terms were transparent and prominent.
Example 2 Unfair contract terms
You purchase an airline ticket and see a phrase on the last booking screen that “extra fees may apply”. You tick the box next to it and book your ticket. But when you arrive at the airport you find that you have to pay an excess baggage fee.
Because the amount of the fee was not brought to your attention when you booked, it was not sufficiently transparent and prominent, therefore under the terms of the Act it can be challenged for fairness.