Christmas is nearly upon us & (unless you’ve been super organised) many of us will be manically buying last minute presents for family & friends over the next few weeks. Whether you’re buying from shops, over the internet or ordering from catalogues, it’s important to know what your rights are as a customer & what you can do if things go wrong.

Buying goods from a shop or street market:

The Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended) states that any goods you buy from a trader must:

  • be of a satisfactory quality & safe;
  • be of a satisfactory quality & safe;
  • not be damaged or defective unless the person selling them to you points out a fault or the fault would have been noticed if you had examined the goods before buying (note however that sale or ‘seconds’ goods can be sold with a defect);
  • be fit for the purpose for which the seller knows you are buying them
  • be as they are described by the seller, or on the package or display sign.

If any goods you buy are faulty at the time of sale you are legally entitled to request a full refund (note however that this remedy is only available if the goods have not already been ‘accepted’ i.e. you’ve told the retailer that you’ve accepted them, you’ve acted in a way that implies you’ve accepted them such as making alterations or you’ve kept them for longer than a ‘reasonable’ amount of time); compensation (damages) usually based on the cost of repair; repair or replacement; rescission or a reduction in price. If none of these remedies work you may also be able to make a County Court claim.

If there was nothing wrong with the goods that you bought you have no legal right to take it back. Many shops do operate an exchange or refund policy however that allows you take such items back – always check before buying if you think you might change your mind!

If you’re buying from a private seller you have far fewer rights but the item must still be as described – if not, ask for your money back straight away. Likewise you have fewer rights if you buy something secondhand. The seller is not liable for reasonable wear and tear and the price will be taken into consideration when assessing if goods were of a reasonable quality.

Buying goods over the Internet or from a catalogue:

The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 & the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) (Amendment) Regulations 2005 provide you with certain rights when you are shopping at a distance. These rights include the right to:

  • clear information about the goods, the trader, payment & delivery arrangements, the existence of a right to cancel and any other relevant information before you place an order;
  • written confirmation of your order (by email, fax or letter) along with additional information such as a contact postal address once you’ve placed your order
  • a ‘cooling off period’ (generally 7 working days after placing an order) during which you can cancel your order (note however that certain goods cannot be cancelled such as food, personalised items and sealed CDs/DVDs that you’ve received and opened)
  • protection against credit card fraud

If any goods are faulty (or develop a fault in the first 6 months), are not as described or are of unsatisfactory quality you can return them and are legally entitled to a full refund plus the cost of returning the goods. Alternatively you can ask for a repair or a replacement. If you receive goods that you didn’t even order (known as unsolicited goods) you are under no obligation to pay for them and can keep them. You are also entitled to a refund if the goods don’t arrive by an agreed date or are not what you actually ordered. Beware however if a trader goes out of business. If you’ve paid for but not received an order you are generally only likely to get your money back if the item cost more than £100 and you paid by credit card – in which case your credit card issuer will usually be liable to refund you.

If you’re buying new goods from an Internet auction site you normally have the same rights as when you buy goods elsewhere. Some Internet auctions however are actually only notice boards between private sellers and buyers, in which case you have far fewer rights although the goods must still be as described.

And finally, Christmas is often a time when we get carried away & spend far more than we can really afford but overspending will only lead to money problems that will last far longer than Christmas itself. Have a look below for some tips on ways to save money when doing your Christmas shopping:

  • decide how much you can afford to spend & don’t spend more
  • make a list & stick to it
  • shop around & compare prices
  • make use of online discount vouchers & promotional codes
  • redeem any shop loyalty card points for gifts
  • wait for the sales & get stuff cheaper

If you encounter any problems when shopping this Christmas, contact Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06 (www.consumerdirectgov.uk) or come along to a drop-in at the Student Advice Centre.

Student Advice Centre
1st Floor Falmer House
www.ussu.info/advice
advice@ussu.sussex.ac.uk
01273 877038

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The Badger

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