Problems with a purchase
If a purchase is wrong don't just write it off - take action. Here's how.
If you're an unhappy customer, read up on your rights and get your story straight before you stomp up to the customer services desk with all guns blazing.
Your rights as a customer
The law says that goods should be free of faults, even minor ones. They should be fit for purpose, meaning they should do what they say on the packet and match their description. If they aren't it's the trader, and not the manufacturer, who has responsibility to put things right.
Remember, these rights only apply if the goods are damaged, faulty, or have been sold in a misleading way. They don't apply if you damaged the product yourself, if the damage is caused by normal wear and tear or if the goods have reached the end of their natural life. Shops don't have to give you a refund just because you hate the colour/all of your Christmas presents, so always check individual policies.
Making a complaint in person
If you've bought something from a shop and it's faulty or broken, you need to get back to the shop as soon as possible, taking the item with you. You do have a right to a full refund, but this only lasts a short time. You may also have the right to repairs or replacements - make sure you decide which you want before you set off.
Make sure you take a receipt or proof of purchase, like a credit card slip. If you paid on plastic and you want a refund remember to take the same credit/debit card back to the shop as they'll often only put money back onto the same card.
Ask to speak to the manager or owner and explain the problem calmly, saying clearly what you'd like done about it. Set a time limit for sorting the problem out.
You won't be able to get a refund if:
- You leave it too long before complaining.
- You try and repair the product yourself.
- You continue to use what you've bought after it breaks.
But you will be eligible to get the product repaired or replaced for up to six years after you bought it (five years in Scotland). If you take it back within six months, the trader must accept your request for repairs or replacement and it's up to them to prove it if they think the item wasn't damaged when they sold it to you.
The trader may offer you a credit note - but if you have the right to refund, repair or replacement, you don't have to accept it. Check the trader has goods you want to buy before you accept credit.
You actually have more rights shopping online, by phone, through a catalogue or shopping channel than when you buy face-to-face. The most important of these is the 'cooling off period' - the right to cancel your order within seven working days without having to pay anything. You should receive the goods within 30 days.
Putting together a complaint
Now you've swotted up on your consumer rights, collect together the following:
- A description of the product, including anything said to you, and adverts or anything given to you in writing.
- Details of the problem, including when you first noticed it, and what, if anything, you've done about it.
- Proof of purchase and copies of any documents relating to your purchase, like instructions.
- Send an email or letter (make sure you keep a copy) explaining the trouble and including as much information as possible, and scans of any relevant paperwork to show you mean business. Set a firm date by which to reply, between 7 -14 days, and inform them you will take legal action if this is not done.
Still not a happy bunny?
In rare cases where a trader refuses to believe that the customer is always right, there are several approaches.
Write to them again, saying you're considering legal action.
If they belong to a trade association with a code of practice, contact the association and ask them to pressure the trader on your behalf.
Consider reporting the trader to Consumer Direct.
Finally, if all else fails, you may have to go to court. In England and Wales and Northern Ireland this would usually be through a small claims court, and in Scotland through a Sheriff court. Before you take drastic action, contact your local Citizen's Advice Bureau to make sure you have a case.
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