No we're not talking about your right to shop, we're talking stealthy shopkeepers and protecting your cash.
Buying on credit
Buying on credit gives you extra rights if, for example, goods are faulty. If a trader has a deal with a finance or credit card company to allow you to pay by credit, you have extra protection. This applies if the goods cost more than £100, even if you only pay a deposit. The credit company is equally liable for any claim you have against the trader. For example, if goods are not delivered or are not what you ordered, or are faulty, you may be able to claim from the credit card or finance company. It is best to approach the trader first, but you do not have to.
You may have fewer rights than when you buy from a shop and you cannot back out of a deal once the hammer has fallen. Auctioneers can refuse to be responsible for faulty goods. Read any notices and catalogues carefully and look out for any exclusion clauses. Check any conditions of sale such as terms and methods of payment, deposits and time limits for removal of goods.
When you buy secondhand from a trader you have the same rights as when you buy new goods, but you must bear in mind that secondhand quality is unlikely to be the same as new. You can, however, still claim you money back or the cost of repair if the goods are faulty (unless the fault is a matter of the wear and tear to be expected with secondhand goods, or it was obvious or pointed out to you before you paid).
You have fewer rights when buying from a private seller, for example, through an advert in the local paper. Goods only have to be 'as described.' Your rights will depend on what you are told by the seller about the value and condition of the goods. If the seller says anything misleading about the condition of the goods and you buy on a basis of what is said, then you will be able to take action. Take someone with you as a witness and get answers to the vital questions. You could also ask for a written description.
Watch out for traders who pretend to be private sellers. This is illegal. If you have bought faulty goods from someone you suspect may not be a private seller (for example, you see lots of adverts with the same telephone number, or the seller insists on meeting you at your home) contact your local trading standards service which should be able to tell you whether the seller is a trader. If this is the case, your statutory rights apply. The trading standards service can also take action against the trader.
It is an offence for a supplier to sell goods unless they are safe. This applies to both new and secondhand goods, but not to antiques or goods needing repair or reconditioning, provided you were clearly informed of this fact. If you believe you have bought unsafe goods, contact your trading standards service.
If new goods turn out to be unsafe and cause death, personal injury or damage to other property intended for personal use, you may have a claim against the manufacturer.
Unfair contract terms
If you have entered into a contract on the trader's standard terms of business, the law says that certain types of terms which act against the consumer's interest may be unfair and unenforceable. For example, a shop may display a sign saying No refunds given. Making a statement like this about goods is also an offence (unless there is also a statement that your statutory rights are not affected). The same applies to clauses which seek to exclude liability for death or injury resulting from negligence in making goods.
If you think you have entered into an unfair standard contract you may wish to seek advice from your local trading standards service or Citizens Advice Bureau. You can also write to the Office of Fair Trading. When they receive a complaint about a term which they consider to be unfair, they can take action in court to stop its use in future contracts. They cannot, however, get directly involved with individual cases.
Goods on order
If you order something not in stock or which requires delivery, you can arrange a date by which you must have it. If it does not arrive by then, you can cancel your order. If you do not arrange a fixed date, the seller must still deliver in a reasonable time. If you think enough time has passed, tell the seller that if the goods have not arrived by a certain date (perhaps within 14 days), you want your money back. But if you agree at that point to wait longer - say an extra month ... you cannot cancel in that time.
When you order goods, you should arrange a fixed price with the seller. You may agree to pay the extra if the price goes up before delivery. Make sure you know where you stand, preferably in writing.
Do not pay anything in advance unless you really have to. If the company goes out of business you will probably lose all the money you have paid.
Sometimes you will have to pay some or all of the money in advance, for example, for made-to-measure goods. Avoid paying up front to a firm you know little or nothing about, particularly if the address is just a box number and postcode. Try to find out something about the firm. For example, does it belong to a trade association with a scheme to protect prepayments? If the firm is local, is it in the telephone book? If you do pay in advance, get a receipt.
If you pay a deposit and then cancel your order, the seller may be able to keep your deposit and claim damages. Check whether a deposit is returnable and, if so, in what circumstances.
A guarantee can be a useful back up if you have to complain. This is in addition to, not instead of, your legal rights. With some goods, you get a manufacturer's guarantee but it is still up to the seller to deal with your complaint.
You may be offered an extended guarantee or warranty when you buy expensive goods, such as a washing machine or television. You may have to pay for this and, in general, it will be expensive compared to the amount you would be likely to pay out in repair costs. Check exactly what the warranty does and does not cover, and consider whether the peace of mind it gives is really likely to be good value for money.
Manufacturers cannot use guarantees to limit their liability for damage or loss where this results from a defect in their products, caused by their negligence.
It is a criminal offence for traders to make misleading price claims. For example, 'Was £120. Now £99.99' is misleading if the goods were never on sale at the higher price. If you feel you have been seriously misled about a price, tell your local trading standards service which may be able to investigate.
Traders should not mislead you with false descriptions about goods. If you buy a used car which shows 10,000 miles on the clock, this should be correct, unless you have been warned by the dealer that the reading may be wrong. If you have been seriously misled, tell your local trading standards service.
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