The Sale of Goods Acts
Under this Act, goods sold to a consumer must be of a reasonable quality, fit for their intended purpose and must match any descriptions which have been given on the product. It is common thought that there is a fixed time limit for rejecting goods which are not of reasonable quality for instance. However it is important to be aware that there is no such time limit and the only obligation required is to notify and claim against the seller within a reasonable time.
The Sales of Goods Act also covers services, which requires that the service is provided with reasonable skill and care within a reasonable time. The right to return goods based on the consumer not being happy with the product is also a myth. Although the vast majority of retailers will accept returns even when the goods are not faulty or as described, they are not any under obligation to do so. This type of returns policy is more of a goodwill gesture.
With this in mind, traders should be aware that if they do not offer a returns policy for non-faulty items, then that time limit will not apply if a consumer wishes to return goods which are faulty and the consumer has notified the trader within a reasonable time.
Distance Selling/Consumer Regulations
The supply of goods and services 'at a distance' which include products bought over the internet or phone for example are now covered by the Consumer Contracts Regulations (Consumer Regulations). It is important to be aware that Consumer Regulations can be rather complex and traders should be aware that:
- there is an obligation as a business supplying goods or services at a distance to give consumers a no questions asked 14-day right to cancel their order.
- an easy way to cancel their order needs to be provided
- a specific form for cancelling must be given to consumers
- traders must make consumers aware about a consumers right to cancel
If a trader fails to inform consumers of their right to cancel, the consumer will be entitled to up to a year to cancel the contract and receive a full refund. It is a criminal offence if they fail to tell consumers about their cancellation rights.
Delivery costs can also be confusing. The consumer is required to pay for the return shipping but must be refunded for any delivery costs paid.
If a consumer asks for services to commence during the 14 day cancellation period, whilst they still have a right to cancel, the consumer will lose their right to a refund for the services which were provided up to the cancellation. However it is important that the consumer agrees to this.
The regulations also prohibit pre-ticking boxes for additional charges and there are separate regulations which prevent charging an exaggerated mark up for credit card payments.
Unfair Contract Terms
The Unfair Contract Terms Act and the Unfair terms in Consumer Contract Regulations help to protect consumers against unfair contract terms. Unfair terms cannot be enforced against a consumer.
Unfair terms can include:
- unreasonably excluding liability
- unreasonable timescales given to consumers for complaints and disputes
- biased cancellation policies
- supplier changing the price of goods without consumers knowledge