What are your consumer rights?
Avoid getting ripped off for hundreds (if not thousands!) of pounds by getting to grips with your rights as a consumer...
Whether you're thinking about buying something, returning a faulty item or making a complaint (and winning), learning your consumer rights will help you know exactly what you're entitled to.
With this guide, you'll have all the info you need to be the savviest of savvy consumers and make sure you never get taken for a mug again.
What's in this guide?
What is the Consumer Rights Act?
In October 2015, the Consumer Rights Act was modernised to fit into the world of online shopping.
By combining three separate Acts (the Sale of Goods Act, Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations and the Supply of Goods and Services Act), the 2015 Consumer Rights Act was created to make the rules clearer and easier to follow.
Under the Consumer Rights Act, every time you buy something from a seller, you enter into a contract where they agree to honour your 'statutory rights'. This is the law and is separate from a company's own returns policy, even if they try to tell you otherwise.
Below, we'll go through all the info you need to know about your consumer rights for items bought in-store and online, as well as services you have paid for.
Will Brexit affect your consumer rights?
Brexit shouldn't impact your rights as a consumer.
However, when shopping online, check the seller's terms and conditions to find out what consumer protection is offered by them and their country in case it's different from the level of protection offered in the UK.
Please note that if you buy something from an EU-based seller following 1st January 2021 and want to challenge a decision about the sale, it could be very difficult for you to pursue your case through UK courts.
Are you entitled to a refund, exchange or repair?
Whenever you buy anything, there are certain consumer rights that protect you from getting ripped off. If a product is not up to scratch, you could be entitled to a refund, exchange or repair by law (this includes reduced items and things on sale, too).
Basic consumer rights
Wondering if you're entitled to a refund? If you buy anything in the UK or anywhere in the EU, it must meet the following criteria, according to the Consumer Rights Act:
The product is fit for purpose
Put simply, this means that any item you've bought must do what it's meant to (and not fall apart within minutes of you using/wearing it). If a product doesn't meet this basic requirement, you're entitled to get your money back.
For example, if you buy a new set of speakers from a sales assistant who says they'll work with your TV, and when you get home you find that they don't, you're entitled to a refund.
Be careful though – if you make the mistake yourself and buy a set of speakers that don't work with your TV, you won't necessarily be entitled to a refund (they may only offer an exchange if that's their policy).
Its quality is satisfactory
Goods should never be damaged or faulty when you buy them.
This is unless a prior agreement has been made between you and the seller in order to receive a discount, like if you agree to buy a jacket with a missing button for a 10% discount. However, this should always be marked on your receipt.
When you buy products without any awareness of faults, it should last for a 'reasonable' amount of time.
This is where you have to use your common sense. You would expect a £30 bicycle tyre pump to last for well over a year, whereas a £5 pump is likely to have a comparatively shorter life span. It's reasonable to expect this, and it's right as a consumer to buy a product with a price tag that reflects its quality.
The product is as described
This is a pretty straightforward one and should (in theory!) be easy for sellers to respect: selling something that doesn't fit its description is against the law.
This is particularly relevant to online shopping, where you won't know for sure what you've bought until it arrives in the post.
For example, you might buy a phone that is described online and on the packaging as being white, but is actually black. In this case, you're entitled to a full refund.
Although this isn't really an example where you'd be getting less for your money, the important thing is that it's not the exact item you spent your money on.
As for clothing, you can get a refund on anything from something with incorrectly labelled materials, to something as simple as the colour.
Returning products that are not covered by consumer rights
Contrary to what you might think, shops on the high street have no legal obligation to let you return something if you've changed your mind.
However, in the interests of customer relations, most stores will offer a 'goodwill returns policy'. This allows you to return the product if you change your mind but, as it's not legally binding, you should never assume this is the case. Instead, always make sure to check returns policies before you buy anything.
Whether they offer a refund, exchange or store credit is entirely up to the retailer, and it's up to you to ask what the policy is before you part with your cash. The returns policy is often also printed at the bottom of your receipt.
If you do decide to return your purchase, you'll be expected to bring proof of purchase – but if you've lost the receipt, all is not lost.
Although you're not likely to get a refund in this case, most stores will still offer an exchange or credit note. However, if the item you're returning has gone on sale and you have no proof of purchasing it at a higher price, you'll probably only be entitled to a refund/exchange/store credit at its new, reduced price.
For the best chance of getting a refund, you'll need these things:
- The receipt
- The bank card you bought the product on (if you bought it with cash, you don't need to worry about this!)
- The original packaging (even if it's a label that you've cut off).
Deadline for claiming refunds
Before you start collecting up your purchases from over five years ago to see if they're 'satisfactory', it's worth knowing your time limits for requesting a full refund under the Consumer Rights Act:
- Within 30 days – You can expect to receive a full refund on any goods that don't meet the above criteria. After this time, you may not be eligible for a full refund and could get an exchange, part-refund or repair instead.
- Within six months – The retailer or seller has to prove that the item was not faulty at the time of purchase, otherwise, they'll have to repair or replace it. If repair or replacement isn't an option, you're entitled to a full refund.
- More than six months – After the six-month mark, it's up to you to prove the fault was there at the time of purchase/delivery.
Please note, items bought online are covered by the Consumer Contracts Regulations (CCR) which have slightly different rules around returns. We go into this in more detail in the next section...
Extra rules on returning online purchases
The rules are a bit different if you make a purchase online, as you're automatically covered by the Consumer Contracts Regulations (CCR).
The good news is, the CCR actually gives you additional rights as a consumer on the premise that you bought something based only on a short description and photo. As a result, you're given more flexibility to return something if you realise it's not what you were looking for when it arrives.
Your rights under the Consumer Contracts Regulations
Under the CCR, you have 14 days to return something from the day it arrives in your hands (although a lot of online retailers offer more than this, 14 days is the minimum requirement by law). The retailer also has 14 days from the day of return to pay you back your cash.
The cost of returning the item won't necessarily be covered by the retailer, unless the item is faulty or not as described, in which case the seller is obliged to cover postage. And, some purchases like food and other perishable goods cannot be returned.
Returning click and collect purchases
So, what if you bought or ordered something online and then picked it up in-store?
The determining factor in this equation is where in the process you parted with your cash. If you paid online, you're covered by CCR. If you paid in-store, the regular consumer rights laws apply.
Online price glitches
Every now and then, a website makes a small mistake and misprices a product, like listing it at £1.99 instead of £199. Or, sometimes, a checkout error might make the item free – and often, if they do, we'll feature it in our deals section.
But again, contrary to what some sites tell you, the seller doesn't have to honour the price.
The law states that the seller can argue that it was an obvious mistake and the buyer should have guessed this, meaning they don't have to sell you the goods at that price. And, if this is the case, you should be issued with a full refund of the price you paid.
However, in some cases, a glitch may not be as obvious. Imagine an online retailer put a jumper on sale and accidentally labelled it as £20 when it was meant to be £200. Here, you could reasonably argue that you believed this was the sale price – and as soon as you bought it, the contract was in place.
Returning online orders that arrive later than promised
If you order an item online and the seller specifies a delivery date, you're entitled to a full refund if it doesn't arrive on time because, again, you're covered by CCR.
You're able to ask for a full refund up to 14 days after making your purchase (just note that you won't be covered by CCR if you paid in-store).
No specific delivery date? They have 30 days to get the item to you before you can start throwing your toys out of the pram.
And, if you had to lose a shift at your job to wait for a time-specific delivery that didn't show up, you could be able to claim compensation.
Reasons you could get a refund for poor service
Although there's an obvious difference between purchasing goods and paying for a service, the Consumer Rights Act applies to both (it's just worded a bit differently for each thing).
A 'service' covers anything you pay for that requires the skill of another person, be it a massage, a haircut, dry cleaning or anything else you can think of.
Your consumer rights for services are:
- They must be provided with 'reasonable' care and skill
- The prices should be 'reasonable' if they aren't agreed beforehand
- They should be done within 'reasonable' time if the timescales aren't agreed on beforehand
- Any information written down or said is binding (so if a price is agreed ahead of the service taking place, the service providers need to stick to it).
More often than not, your consumer rights for services rely on both parties having the same idea of what's 'reasonable' in a particular context.
Aim to be objective about the situation, and be completely honest. If you think you have grounds to make a complaint, here's how to get results.
Consumer rights FAQs
Still got a few questions? Here are the answers to some of the most common questions about consumer rights:
Can you get a refund on a gift?
As the gift-giver, you should always ask the shop assistant for a gift receipt or to add a note that the item is a gift for someone, as the rights can be transferred to the receiver.
What's more, some stores only allow the person who purchased the gift to return the item (unless a gift receipt has been added). If the person who received the gift doesn't have a gift receipt, they may not be able to get a refund of any kind.
Are there some clothes that can't be returned?
Due to hygiene issues, you'll likely not be able to return underwear, swimwear and earrings.
Can you return personalised, perishable or opened items?
Legally speaking, unless the item is faulty, a retailer has no obligation to refund personalised or custom-made items, perishable goods (like food), newspapers, magazines or opened CDs, DVDs and computer software.
However, individual retailers may have their own policies where they will allow returns as a gesture of goodwill.
Similarly, if you've damaged or caused a fault to a product, the company is not required to refund your purchase – as long as it's your fault.
For example, if you bought a plastic chair that broke as soon as you sat on it, that's probably the company's fault and you have a fair case to ask for a refund. But, if you bought a jumper and shrunk it after washing it on completely the wrong setting, that one's on you.
Who should you return a product to?
It's down to the retailer who sold you the product to offer you the refund.
Some stores attempt to shift the blame to the manufacturer, but your complaint should be dealt with by the shop that you bought the item from.
What is the safest way to buy things?
If you're paying for something over £100, paying by credit card can be the safest option (legally speaking) as you have more rights.
Purchases over this value are covered by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, meaning that if anything goes wrong, the credit card company is jointly liable alongside the retailer.
Crucially, you don't even have to have spent over £100 on the credit card. As long as the overall value of the transaction was over £100, the credit card company is liable – even if the amount you paid using the credit card was below that threshold.
What are your consumer rights on freebies?
The exact same consumer rights apply to freebies as regular paid-for purchases (i.e. they should fit the description and not be faulty, etc.).
What are your rights when offers are out of stock?
If, for example, you see 12 tins of beans advertised for the price of six in your local supermarket, but then discover they've sold out, the shop doesn't legally have to do anything. However, you may find some big names will try and make it up to you.
For example, Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury's have offered vouchers to customers in the past to make up for issues like out of stock offers. But, as not all employees are informed about the policy, you might need to ask for a senior member of staff in order to get your hands on these.
It's also worth mentioning that these vouchers are handed out at the store's discretion, so be super nice when you're asking.
Do consumer rights apply to second-hand purchases?
If you buy something second hand, you still have all the same rights as if you're buying something new – but, obviously, there may be wear and tear that the seller has warned you about beforehand.
If you've been told in advance of buying something that it's damaged, you can't complain later. But otherwise, you could still be entitled to refunds if products aren't up to the standards you would reasonably expect.
Are price changes covered by the Consumer Rights Act?
Let's say you saw some cheap cleaning products on special offer and decided to put them in your basket, only to discover at the till that they're more expensive than you first thought.
This is undoubtedly very annoying. But, despite the rumours you may have heard, shops do not have to honour the price on the ticket if it comes up differently (at least not legally, anyway).
Both online and offline, it's always worth flagging the difference to the shop's staff or customer services department before you hand over your cash, or later if you don't notice at the time.
They may honour it as a gesture of goodwill. But the key thing to remember here is they're under no legal obligation to do so.
If your receipt says one amount and your card was debited differently, this is an entirely different matter and one that you should take up with the retailer ASAP.
Having said all that, if you manage to find and buy a mispriced item (e.g. an item comes up as 2p instead of £2 at self-checkout) then you have already entered into a contract with the store and the item is yours for the price you paid.
Now you know your consumer rights, you can head to your favourite shops knowing what you should and shouldn't expect.