Happy Returns

Published Tuesday, 24 January 2012
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The Consumer Council explains how to return faulty goods and assert your consumer rights.

If you buy something that's faulty, doesn't do what it's supposed to do or isn't as it was described, depending on the circumstances, the law says you may be entitled to a refund, partial refund, repair or replacement.

Often consumers don't make use of these rights - either because they don't know about them, they're not confident enough to assert them or they believe the excuses sometimes given by the retailer.

"You need a receipt"

A receipt shows 'proof of purchase' so it's a good to keep your receipt somewhere safe. If you paid via credit or debit card, the card statement will act as proof of purchase.

"The goods are outside their warranty/guarantee period"

The warranty or guarantee does not have any relevance when returning faulty goods. The Sale of Goods Act 1979 says that goods must:

- Be of satisfactory quality;

- Be fit for purpose; and

- Be as described.

The law also states that goods must continue to be in good condition for a reasonable amount of time. What is reasonable will depend on the nature of the item and how much you paid for it. For example, a cheap pair of flip-flops will not be expected to last as long as a plasma TV.

"You'll have to contact the manufacturer"

Your contract is with the retailer, not the manufacturer. It is up to them to put things right.

"You're too late to complain"

The Sale of Goods Act applies for up to six years if it's reasonable to expect something to last that long. It might be that your TV worked well for the first ten months and then developed a problem. You should report the fault as soon as you become aware of it and try to avoid continued use as this may make the problem worse.

"No refunds"

"No refunds" or "Sold as Seen" signs break the law as they attempt to take away your consumer rights. Report these to Consumerline on 0300 123 6262.

Note: You have exactly the same rights regarding goods bought at sale times as you do normally.

What you're entitled to

If you spot the fault straight away or within a few days and contact the retailer as soon as you notice it, the law says you can reject the goods and ask for a full refund.

If the goods develop a fault within the first six months the law assumes they were faulty when you bought them and you're entitled to a replacement or repair. The seller can decide which option is the most cost effective.

If neither is possible, you can claim a refund. (This might only be a partial refund as you will have had some use from the goods).

If more than six months have passed since you bought the item, then it's up to you to prove that the goods are faulty due to their manufacture.

When you don't have rights

If you change your mind the shop doesn't have to take the item back. However, you may be offered an exchange or a credit note as a gesture of goodwill.

You also don't have rights if the fault was pointed out at the time of purchase, should have been obvious on inspection, or developed a fault because you failed to follow the instructions properly.

How to complain

- Explain the problem and tell the seller how you expect the problem to be resolved;
- Be polite but firm;

- If you're making your complaint by phone, make a note of the name of the person you speak to each time;

- Confirm your visit or phone call by writing to the manager or customer services team. Note any promise or response made. If the shop is part of a chain then write to the head office;

- Keep a copy of all correspondence.

Note: the law differs slightly for second-hand goods, goods bought at auction or bought from a private individual.

Contact Consumerline for free and impartial advice - telephone 0300 123 6262 or visit www.consumerline.org

Get a free copy of the Consumer Council's Receipt Wallet and Shoppers' Rights card - telephone 028 9067 2488 or email info@consumercouncil.org.uk

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Consumer Council
Consumer Council

The Consumer Council is an independent consumer organisation, working to bring about change to benefit Northern Ireland's consumers.

They aim to make consumer voices heard and make them count.

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