Post-Christmas returns: What are the consumer’s rights?

By Amanda Hamilton, CEO of NALP

With Christmas behind us, there is still a potential hangover if you offer goods or services to consumers that make a great Christmas gift. Although you should have done well in recent months, once the gifts have been given, there is always a chance that there is someone who doesn’t like it, or something which turns out to be faulty?

But what rights do your customers have when it comes to returning items and getting a refund?

There’s not a great deal they can do without a receipt but, if they’re not shy about asking for a receipt, or the giver of your product has said they can change the item if so desired, then that is a whole different ball game.

Also, with many people shopping online now it’s not just a question of taking something back to the shop with a receipt. What are your customers’ rights in relation to items that have been bought online?

A new statute was introduced known as the Consumer Rights Act 2015 which became law on 1st October 2015. This statute was specifically introduced to simplify, strengthen and modernise the law, giving consumers clearer shopping rights.

Quality of a product

Under the Consumer Rights Act, as with previous legislation, all products must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described.  The rules also include digital content in this definition.

  • Satisfactory quality. Goods shouldn’t be faulty or damaged when received. You should ask what a reasonable person would consider satisfactory for the goods in question. For example, bargain-bucket products won’t be held to as high standards as luxury goods.
  • Fit for purpose.  The goods should be fit for the purpose they are supplied for, as well as any specific purpose you made known to the customer before they agreed to buy the goods.
  • As described.  The goods supplied must match any description given, or any models or samples shown at the time of purchase.

If what your customer has bought doesn’t satisfy any one of the three criteria outlined above, they have a claim under the Consumer Rights Act against the retailer (seller) as opposed to the manufacturer.

What your customer can claim depends on how much time has passed since they physically took ownership of the goods. They will also need proof of purchase such as the receipt.

30-day right to reject

Under the Consumer Rights Act, a consumer has an absolute legal right to reject goods that are of unsatisfactory quality, unfit for purpose or not as described, and get a full refund – as long as they do this quickly within 30 days of taking ownership. One takes ownership of the goods when one pays for them in a store and takes them away, or when the goods are delivered to a person who has paid online.

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Outside of the thirty days – repair or replace

If a customer is outside the 30-day right to reject, they have to give you, as a retailer, one opportunity to repair or replace any goods or digital content which are of unsatisfactory quality, unfit for purpose or not as described.

If the attempt at a repair or replacement is unsuccessful, the customer can then claim a refund, or a price reduction if they wish to keep the product.

The first six months

If your customer discovers a fault within the first six months of having the product, it is presumed to have been there since the time they took ownership of it – unless you can prove otherwise.

If they would prefer to keep the goods in question, they can request an appropriate price reduction.

Six months or more

If a fault develops after the first six months, the burden is on the customer to prove that the product was faulty at the time they took ownership of it. In practice, this may require some form of expert report, opinion or evidence of similar problems across the product range.

A customer has six years to take a claim to the small claims court for faulty goods in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Digital content

The Consumer Rights Act defines digital content as ‘data which are produced and supplied in digital form.’

Just like goods, digital content must be:

  • of satisfactory quality;
  • fit for a particular purpose;
  • as described by the seller.

If digital content does not conform to these criteria, a customer has the right to a repair or replacement of the digital content they’ve bought.

Effectively, the 2015 statute is a very useful piece of legislation to protect consumer rights not only relating to purchased items but also in respect of the supply of services as well.

But what if the item is not faulty; they simply don’t like it? Can they ask for a refund or exchange?

Most stores, online or otherwise, will give customers a period of time to get a refund in such circumstances. Some offer such a high level of customer service that they will give a refund on returned goods after a ‘reasonable’ period of time provided the returned item is as new and a receipt is produced. But be aware, you do not have to legally do so outside of your specified deadline.

As a supplier of goods or services, it’s important that you know your customers’ rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. This will keep you in compliance with the law.

If you do end up in a stalemate with a customer and feel you need additional help, then engaging a suitably qualified and licenced Paralegal can be a much cheaper option than using a solicitor.

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