Consumer Rights When Things Go Wrong

Consumer rights – What to do if things go wrong

If as a consumer, you make a purchase but you are not happy with the item that you have received you may have certain consumer rights but only if you act quickly. The product may break down, fall apart, cause damage to you or your property or stop working. In any of these situations you need to document what happened, decide what you want whether this is a refund or an exchange and take action.

Information Gathering

If you have an item that is not working properly, the first thing that you need to do is to stop using it and don’t attempt to repair the product yourself because this could invalidate any consumer rights that you may have. If it is practicable to do so, wrap the item in its original packaging and return it to the store where you bought it or notify the company you bought it from to arrange a return.

It is important that you keep all the necessary documentation including receipts of purchase, order forms, advertising materials, credit or debit card records, delivery notes, instructions and any warranty or guarantee forms.

The final record that you will need to create is an account of what happened. This should include the date of purchase, what you were told when you made the purchase (if anything) whether there were any special requirements and when you became aware of the problem. You should also note down what the problem was and what you have done about it.

Making a Decision

The next step in the process is to decide what it is that you want. This could be a replacement, repair, refund, cancellation, credit note, a reduction in the full price of the item or if you wish to claim under a warranty or guarantee. You could also, depending on the nature of the issue request that the trader meets the cost of any damage or injury that was caused by the product being faulty.


Depending on your course of action it is important to act quickly. As soon as you become aware that a product is faulty, determine what your legal rights are and contact the company. When you write to the business, make sure that you keep a copy of the letters and if you send them by post, make sure that you get a proof of postage.

If you don’t get what you want from the first contact, write again or ask to speak to a senior manager. If you paid for the item on a credit card, let your provider know. Keep accurate records of what happened, who you spoke to, when and what was discussed.


When making a complaint, it is important that you are aware of occasions when the seller may not be liable for the defective product. Sellers cannot be held accountable for products that have stopped working because of general wear and tear or if the damage was intentionally caused by the buyer.

Furthermore, a seller can only be held accountable for a certain period of time after you make a purchase and it will depend on how well the item has been treated. If, for example you mistreat a laptop, spill tea over it or drop it, the seller cannot be held liable for any faults that may arise.

Credit Notes

There may be instances where you need to accept a credit note. If you buy something that is faulty, not fit for purpose or it is inaccurately described, under the law you can request a partial or full refund or a repair or replacement free of charge.

Retailers cannot decline these legal rights and they are not permitted to implement a no refund policy by only offering to provide you with a credit note. As an example, if you purchase something incorrectly, the colour or size of the item isn’t right for example, the retailer is within their rights to decline an refund or exchange but they can offer a credit note for something of equal value in the store.

If you accept a credit note you cannot change your mind and request a refund.

Consumer Rights: An Example

If you purchased a washing machine and it worked perfectly well for eight weeks after you bought it, but then all of a sudden it floods your kitchen because of a faulty seal on the machine and causes damage to your kitchen floor.

You would be within your consumer rights to not only have the faulty washing machine fixed, but you would also be able to ask for compensation to repair the flooded kitchen floor because it was caused by the faulty product. It is sometimes possible to pursue the supplier and the manufacturer of the machine who will be accountable for the faulty washing machine if the cost of fixing the damage is more than £275.

If you made the purchase using a credit card or through a loan, your provider also need to be notified because they may have legal accountability.

One of the best ways that you can record what happened is to take photographs. So in this instance, when you found that the washing machine had flooded the kitchen, take photographs of everything including any damage. Also make sure that you keep all quotations and invoices for any work and ask the expert to write a statement about the damage.

If you have problems obtaining a replacement machine and compensation for the damage you can consult your local trading standards office or the Citizens Advice.

Late Complaints

Sometimes you may buy a product but you may not use it straight away, perhaps because it is a seasonal item or a garden tool. When you take the product out of its box and start to use it, you find that it’s not working as it should.

Even in this situation it may still be possible to complain. However, under the Sale of Goods Act 1979  you should check your items within a reasonable amount of time and report any faults to the retailer, otherwise you might have owned the product for too long before you can ask for a refund.

That being said, you can request compensation for a product within six years of purchase if the product was faulty when you bought it. Although you probably won’t be able to claim a full refund you can ask for the cost of the repair.

Consumers are entitled to a free repair or replacement if a product develops a fault within six months of purchase. The only exception to this rule is if the retailer can prove that the item was not faulty when you purchased it.

Once you have owned the item for six months, the onus is on you to prove that the item was faulty when you bought it. If the store refuses a refund or repair that you are entitled to it would be prudent to consult your local Citizens Advice Bureau or trading standards.

About the Author
This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers team and posted by Lloyd Barrett, Admin & Customer Services Manager for online advice service Expert Answers. Expert Answers provides legal advice to users in the UK who post a question on their secure platform.

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