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Author Buying goods: Your legal rights explained
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Registered: 21st Apr 00
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12th Feb 03 at 13:09   View Garage View User's Profile U2U Member Reply With Quote

Buying goods: Your legal rights explained
Taken from (UK)



The law gives you certain rights as a consumer when buying goods. These are standards that apply to all sales of goods by traders, whether you buy from a shop, a catalogue or a market trader. If these standards are not met, you will be entitled to return the goods and get your money back or, in some cases, seek compensation.


Your legal rights

Whenever you buy from a trader you enter into a contract. The seller agrees to sell the goods at the advertised price and the buyer agrees to pay the asking price. The law, however, implies certain other terms into a contract for the sale of goods that are beneficial to the consumer. These are that the goods must be:

1) Of satisfactory quality
2) Fit for their stated purpose
3) As described by the seller


Of satisfactory quality

This means that the goods you are buying must be of a reasonable standard, considering the price of the goods and the way that they are described. This rule applies to the durability of the item, its appearance and finish and its safety.

A reasonable standard is that which a reasonable person would find acceptable in the circumstances. This is often just a case of applying your common sense to the facts. For example, if you paid 10 for a television set, then it may be reasonable for it to have poor picture quality and for it to start experiencing defects after 6 months, bearing in mind the amount you paid for it. If, on the other hand, you paid 250 for it, then you could reasonably expect better quality and a more durable product.


Fit for their stated purpose

If you were to have a front door key cut, it is an implied term of your contract that the key be fit for its purpose, namely opening your front door. If it is not, there has been a breach of contract and you can return the key and ask for your money back.

This legal right also applies to the situation where the seller tells you that the goods can be used for a particular purpose, or where you make it known to the seller that you desire the item for a specific reason. For example, if you were to buy a satellite television package and you expressly stated to the seller that you wished to have access to a specific channel, then if you later found that you did not, your television would not be fit for its stated purpose.


As described by the seller

You have the legal right to receive the goods as described to you by the seller, or as stated in an advert or as described in a catalogue. For example, if you are told that a car has a 2 litre engine by a salesman, then you are entitled to this. This may be particularly relevant when buying via a catalogue and you have not had chance to view the goods.


Bear in mind

When considering exercising your statutory rights, it is important to bear in mind:

How much you paid for the particular goods. For example, was it cheap or expensive for an item of this kind?
How they were described. Do the goods match the description and if not, how different are they?
Whether they are new or second hand. New goods should be of a better quality than second hand. If they are new, do they look new?
The appearance of the goods. You may get an indication from the appearance of whether or not they are of satisfactory quality. For example, what is the finish like, how does the material feel and does it feel comfortable and safe?


Refund policies

In many cases, the shop from which you bought the goods will have a refund policy which goes further than your basic statutory rights. This is particularly true if you have bought them from a large chain store. For example, many shops will let you exchange goods, or even obtain a refund for goods that are not faulty or sub-standard. This may be where clothes do not fit or where goods are bought as a present for someone who does not like them. It may be wise to ask a shop what their policy is on refunds and exchanges if unsure when buying a present.


Returning goods

If you feel that your legal rights have been breached, you can return the goods to the seller and receive your money back. This is because the seller has broken the contract between you.

However, you must return the goods within a reasonable period of time. If you fail to do this, you may be legally bound to keep the goods. If you keep them for a period of time in which you could reasonably be expected to have examined the goods and realised that they are defective in some way, then you will be taken to have accepted them if you fail to complain or do not return them. It is important, therefore, that you examine the goods as soon as possible following your purchase and make any problems known to the seller, or you may risk losing your legal right to return.

If you are taken to have accepted the goods owing to your delay, although this means that you cannot return them, you can still expect the seller to put them right. For example, by carrying out repairs or providing you with the cost of repairs.



If the breach of your statutory rights has resulted in you suffering some loss or damage, you may be able to claim compensation. For example, a new washing machine that damages your clothes when first used, will entitle you to claim compensation for the damage done to your clothes. This may be the cost of replacement or the cost of having them re-cleaned. This is because the seller's breach of contract in selling a washing machine that was not of satisfactory quality and not fit for its purpose has caused you loss.

If you suffer damage and have not lost your right to return the goods, then you may get a refund and seek compensation as well. If you are no longer able to reject the goods, you will only be able to claim compensation.



In many cases, the goods you buy will have a guarantee from the manufacturer allowing you to return them for repair when they prove defective. These are very handy when your legal rights have run out, for example, you cannot return goods to the shop as you have had them for so long. Some guarantees may last for substantial periods of time following purchase.

For extended guarantees or warranties which may allow you to have goods repaired over a longer period, you may have to pay extra. You should check exactly what rights they give you before you buy one. For example, you may have to pay the first 25 with the rest of the cost paid by the manufacturer.

Often, returning goods to the manufacturer is easier than complaining to the seller.


Sale goods

The fact that goods are in a sale does not affect your legal right to a refund if the goods are unsatisfactory.



The fact that you do not have a receipt does not affect your legal right to a refund for unsatisfactory goods. However, it is important to keep all receipts as evidence of when and where you bought the goods in the event of dispute.


Private sellers

It is very important to realise that you do not have the same legal rights when you buy privately. When buying from a private individual (not a commercial trader) you have fewer legal rights. Goods only have to be as described and do not have to be of satisfactory quality or fit for purpose.

When buying privately the main rule is known as 'caveat emptor'. This means 'buyer beware' and you should take note of this. For example, it is not an implied term of a purchase when buying a car that it is free from defects or even that it has an engine at all, provided that it was not described as such. A seller cannot mislead you, but you take the goods as they appear and there are no guarantees.

It is very important, therefore, when buying privately that you thoroughly examine the goods. It may be helpful to take someone along with you, for example, someone who knows about cars when buying one etc. If you get an item home and it does not work properly or collapses you will not have any legal rights to rely on. The exceptions to this are where the defects were not apparent on examination, where the seller misrepresents that the goods are fit for a particular purpose, or where defective goods cause injury or damage to property worth 275 or more. In these situations, you may return the goods and/or sue for compensation.

[Edited on 12-02-2003 by Tim]

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