19th December 2013

Advice on a Faulty or Late Christmas Item?

This year is being characterised by one of the heaviest last minute Christmas shopping rushes in living memory.

Now, most people are familiar with taking an unsatisfactory article back to a shop for a refund.  But what do you do if you ordered it online?  Often the website you used will have a procedure set out, and hopefully, you will have the matter dealt with in a reasonable manner.  Inevitably, however, there will be some of you who will be unhappy at not being offered a refund, or any compensation for the failure to deliver an item before a specified date.

It is then that people start asking what their rights are, especially if an expensive, ‘big ticket’ item is involved or simply because they feel they have been denied natural justice. The same rules apply to all goods bought throughout the year and not just to delayed or unsatisfactory Christmas gifts.

Can I cancel the order?

Under the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000, you generally have a no-quibble right to cancel a “distance contract” (i.e. something ordered over the internet or phone or by post).

To ensure you have the information necessary for cancellation, the seller must tell you: the identity of the supplier and, where the contract requires payment in advance; the supplier’s address; a description of the main characteristics of the goods or services; the price of the goods or services including all taxes; delivery costs where appropriate; the arrangements for payment, delivery or performance; and the existence of a right of cancellation, with a few minor exceptions.  If the seller gives you this information you have seven days from receipt of the goods to cancel.  If the seller does not give you the information, you have three months and seven days from receipt of the goods to cancel.

These regulations usually apply only where the seller is a business and the buyer is not. Therefore they would probably not apply if the consumer was buying from another private individual on e-bay or a similar internet site.

Face to face purchases

When it comes to face to face buying (i.e. usually over the counter) the most frequently encountered complaint is about the quality of the goods.  Goods must be of satisfactory quality.  “Satisfactory” will depend on several circumstances but important factors are: fitness for purpose; durability; appearance and finish; safety and freedom from minor defects.  Everything turns on the facts of the case.  Anyone buying a very expensive brand is entitled to expect it to be perfect or nearly so, but the standard will be less exacting for a cheaper item.

If this standard is not achieved, you can keep the goods and claim damages, or you can return them and get your money back; but the goods cannot be returned after they’ve been “accepted”.  In effect this means that you should reject the goods as soon as you have had a reasonable opportunity to inspect them and found them to be unsatisfactory.  Difficulties may arise if you delay too long, or if you carry on using them after the defects have been discovered

When goods do not conform to the description expected, you can generally require the seller to repair or replace them within a reasonable period of time, at his expense.  A seller who fails to do that may be required to reduce the price of the item, or you can cancel the contract and get damages.

Should I seek legal advice?

We would advise most unsatisfied buyers of consumer goods to try to reach an amicable settlement without going to law, particularly if the article is low value. However the law is always an option and some people may feel they require legal advice on this issue, even if they don’t want to go as far as taking it to court.

Richard Godden 
Partner – Dispute Resolution 



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