Many of us are mixed up about what our consumer rights really are. Serena Cowdy separates the fact from the fiction.
When I was a student, I used to work in a central London shop selling adventure gear. Almost every day, I would meet customers with big misconceptions about their consumer rights.
Certain shopping rights issues came up time and time again. And when I recently asked some of my friends, it turned out they were harbouring most of these misconceptions, too.
Here, I'm going to tackle three of the most common myths and separate the fact from the fiction - so you can speak with confidence when you ask for redress.
Myth # 1
"If I change my mind about an item, I'm entitled to a refund"
Many of the customers I met seemed convinced of this. As long as the goods were in perfect condition and complete with proof of purchase, they would argue vehemently that they had a 'right' to a refund.
Some said the items were unwanted gift, some explained that when they got home they found they didn't fit with the rest of their kit, and others admitted they'd simply changed their minds.
Their claims were often accompanied by shouts of "my husband/wife/brother/sister is a lawyer, so I KNOW I'm right!". Another common cry was "but I only bought it ten minutes ago!"
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Unfortunately, the reality is totally different. In fact, you aren't entitled to anything if the goods are as described and in good order. Nope, not even a credit note.
If a particular retailer has a clear and specific policy that says it is prepared to give you a refund/credit note/exchange, then it has to honour that commitment. If it doesn't, it's best not to assume anything.
This misconception has arisen because so many UK retailers go beyond the call of duty and offer refunds, credit notes or exchanges for unwanted goods. It's a nice gesture, and arguably it's good business, because you're likely to think more highly of them as a result. But it's not obligatory.
So, always find out about a store's returns policy before you buy an item!
It's worth noting that distance selling regulations (for example those governing internet sales) are quite different.
In a nutshell, as a 'distance buyer' you're allowed a period of time (after you've received the goods) to cancel the contract and return them - whether or not they're faulty. This gives you a chance to inspect them, as you would have been able to in a high street shop.
To find out more about your online shopping rights, read this guide on the Consumer Direct website.
Myth # 2
“The goods are faulty - I want my money back”
In very simple terms, you're entitled to 'remedy' if there has been a breach of contract on the part of the retailer. There are several ways in which this could occur.
For example, the goods may be faulty; they may be not 'as described'; or they may not be fit for the purpose highlighted by the seller.
You can find out more about the rules governing goods you're unhappy with here.
So, let's assume there's been a breach of contract with regard to the quality of the goods. Many people believe this means they are entitled to get a full refund and walk away.
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In fact, the situation is much more complicated and depends on several different factors. Let's take the example of a television that stops working after three months.
If you ask for a total refund, the retailer may well refuse and argue that you have 'accepted' the item.
'Acceptance' is a rather complicated concept - but it rests substantially on the amount of time you've had the item in your possession. This timescale is not clearly defined, but anything over a month is likely to be classed as acceptance.
What you are entitled to ask for is the repair or replacement of the item. Which of these you end up being offered depends on the circumstances, not on which option you'd prefer.
For example, if the retailer doesn't have the individual part to undertake a repair, a replacement may be offered instead.
If repair or replacement proves impossible, causes you significant inconvenience, or if the trader takes more than a 'reasonable' period of time to sort it out - you are then entitled to ask for a refund.
But sadly, in the case of the broken TV, you may not be entitled to all of your money back. You had the 'benefit' of the TV for three months before it broke - so your refund may be reduced accordingly.
Still with me? Make a nice cup of tea and we'll tackle myth # 3!
Myth # 3
"If an item has been mispriced, you have to sell it to me at that price"
Let's say you come across an item that's obviously been mispriced. Perhaps a bottle of drink priced at 1p instead of £1... or a camera labelled as being on sale for just £2.99, when the normal price is £299.
You rush to the till excitedly... and the person serving you realising the error and refuses to sell you the item at the lower price.
"But it's my right!" you cry. "You have to sell me the goods at the price that's on the label!"
Unfortunately, that's not how it works at all. The contract you're entering into involves an offer (to buy the item, made by you) and an acceptance of the offer (made by the trader when they take your payment).
Before your payment has been made, either one of you can back out of the situation and walk away. You're not obliged to buy an item just because you've turned up at the till holding it... and the seller is not obliged to sell it to you. Annoying, isn't it?
In a single article, it's only possible to touch the tip of the enormous 'consumer rights' iceberg.
To find out more, visit the Consumer Direct website. And if you decide you want to make a complaint against a trader, I recommend you check out the clear and extremely useful template letters on offer. Find out more on how to complain.
This is a classic article that has recently been updated.
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