Sale of Goods Act
Consumer Rights Act 2015
The Consumer Rights Act became law on 1 October 2015. This guide explains what it means for you when buying goods or services.
Sale of Goods Act (Faulty Goods). Pre 2015
Relevant or Related Legislation: Sale of Goods Act 1979. Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982. Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994. The Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002.
• Wherever goods are bought they must “conform to contract”. This means they must be as described, fit for purpose and of satisfactory quality (i.e. not inherently faulty at the time of sale).
• Goods are of satisfactory quality if they reach the standard that a reasonable person would regard as satisfactory, taking into account the price and any description.
• Aspects of quality include fitness for purpose, freedom from minor defects, appearance and finish, durability and safety.
• It is the seller, not the manufacturer, who is responsible if goods do not conform to contract.
• If goods do not conform to contract at the time of sale, purchasers can request their money back “within a reasonable time”. (This is not defined and will depend on circumstances)
• For up to six years after purchase (five years from discovery in Scotland) purchasers can demand damages (which a court would equate to the cost of a repair or replacement).
• A purchaser who is a consumer, i.e. is not buying in the course of a business, can alternatively request a repair or replacement.
• If repair and replacement are not possible or too costly, then the consumer can seek a partial refund, if they have had some benefit from the good, or a full refund if the fault/s have meant they have enjoyed no benefit
• In general, the onus is on all purchasers to prove the goods did not conform to contract (e.g. was inherently faulty) and should have reasonably lasted until this point in time (i.e. perishable goods do not last for six years).
• If a consumer chooses to request a repair or replacement, then for the first six months after purchase it will be for the retailer to prove the goods did conform to contract (e.g. were not inherently faulty)
• After six months and until the end of the six years, it is for the consumer to prove the lack of conformity.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q1. What is an inherent fault?
A fault present at the time of purchase. Examples are:
• an error in design so that a product is manufactured incorrectly
• an error in manufacturing where a faulty component was inserted.
The “fault” may not become apparent immediately but it was there at the time of sale and so the product was not of satisfactory standard.
Q2. Do I only have rights for 30 (or some other figure) days after purchase?
No. Depending on circumstances, you might be too late to have all your money back after this time, but the trader will still be liable for any breaches of contract, such as the goods being faulty. In fact, the trader could be liable to compensate you for up to six years.
Q3. Are all goods supposed to last six (or five) years?
No, that is the limit for bringing a court case in England and Wales (five years from the time of discovery in Scotland’s case). An item only needs to last as long as it is reasonable to expect it to, taking into account all the factors. An oil filter would usually not last longer than a year but that would not mean it was unsatisfactory.
Q4. I know I can demand my money back within a “reasonable time” but how long is that?
The law does not specify a precise time as it will vary for most sales contracts as all the factors need to be taken into account to be fair to all sides. The pair of everyday shoes may only have a few days before the period expires but a pair of skis, purchased in a Summer Sale, may be allowed a longer period by a court.
Q5. After the “reasonable time” has passed, what can I do?
You may seek damages, which would be the amount of money necessary to have the goods repaired or replaced. Frequently retailers will themselves offer repair or replacement. But, if you are a consumer (not making the purchase in the course of a business) you have the statutory right to seek a repair or replacement as an alternative to seeking damages.
Q6. Is it true that I have to complain to the manufacturer?
No. You bought the goods from the trader, not the manufacturer, and the trader is liable for any breaches of contract (unless he was acting as the manufacturer’s agent).
Q7. Do I have to produce a receipt to claim my rights?
No. In fact the trader doesn’t have to give you a receipt in the first place so it would be unfair to say that you had to produce one. However, it might not be unreasonable for the shop to want some proof of purchase, so look to see if you have a cheque stub, bank statement, credit card slip etc., and this should be sufficient.
Q8. Can I claim a refund on sale items?
It depends on why you want to return them. The Sale of Goods Act still applies, but you are not entitled to a refund if you were told of the faults before purchase, or if the fault should have been obvious to you. Also, you are not entitled to a refund if you simply change your mind about liking the goods.
Q9. Must I accept a credit note instead of a refund?
It depends on why you want to return the goods.
• If you have changed your mind, then the shop doesn’t have to do anything.
• But if the goods are faulty, incorrectly described or not fit for purpose, then you are entitled to your money back (provided you act quickly), and you certainly don’t have to take a credit note
• If you do accept a credit note in these circumstances, watch out, as there may be restrictions on their use.
• If the shop displays a sign stating they only give credit notes instead of refunds, they might be breaking the law and you could report them to Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06
Q10. What can I do to claim damages or if the retailer will not honour my rights?
The Small Claims Court procedure provides the means to bring a claim, for up to £5000 (in England and Wales), at modest cost and without the need for a solicitor. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can advise on how to make a claim.
Q11. The retailer has said that a repair is “disproportionately costly” and insists I accept a replacement as an alternative. Must I accept this?
Yes, and vice versa if you request a replacement and this is “disproportionately costly”. However, remember any remedy has to be carried out “without significant inconvenience” and within a “reasonable time” for the consumer. Remember that you could also seek damages instead.
Q12. Neither repair nor replacement of the goods are possible. What can I do?
You may either pursue the old route of damages or a partial or full refund. Probably either would give you exactly the same amount of money. You would seek a full refund in scenarios such as those where you had enjoyed absolutely no benefit from the goods. If you had benefited from them then you would seek a partial refund as a fair remedy. This is exactly the reasoning that would be employed if you sought damages.
Q13. What does the “reversed burden of proof” mean for the consumer?
It means that for the first six months the consumer need not produce any evidence that a product was inherently faulty at the time of sale. If a consumer is seeking any other remedy the burden of proof remains with him/her.
In such a case, the retailer will either accept there was an inherent fault, and will offer a remedy, or he will dispute that it was inherently flawed. If the latter, when he inspects the product to analyse the cause, he may, for example, point out impact damage or stains that would be consistent with it having been mistreated in such a way as to bring about the fault.
This reversal of the usual burden of proof only applies when the consumer is seeking a repair or replacement. After the first six months the onus of proof is again on the consumer.
Q14. Where can I get further advice?