For many years now in the United Kingdom we have had the various Sale of Goods Act 1979 and Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 now all fall under the Consumer Rights Act 2015
The former Sale of Goods Act obviously providing statutory guidance for the suppliers of goods (but not land or buildings-more of which later) and the latter Supply of Goods and Services Act extending the statutory provisions to the supply of services.
Many people will have heard the well worn phrases often bandied around from the Sale of Goods Act:
- Correspondence with description,
- Satisfactory quality
- Fitness for purpose
And from the Supply of Goods and Services Act:
- Reasonable care and skill.
However whilst they are the most common parts of the acts which are quoted, there used to be far more provisions.
However there is no point in going in great depth into these 2 pieces of legislation because both pieces of legislation (and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999) have been repealed and no longer apply, having been replaced by the Consumer Right Act 2015.
The original legislation still applies to contracts which were entered into prior to 1 October 2015 and hence, the application of the earlier legislation is going to beless and less as time goes on. For the majority of consumers and consumer problems, it will be the new Consumer Rights Act 2015 which is going to be the applicable legislation.
Sale of Goods Act 1979
Under the Act, goods must be as described and of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. Many people, including solicitors, very often get satisfactory quality and fit for purpose mixed up. Let us explain further.
Assuming there is a magic potion which claims to get rid of some particular ailment, the common cold for example. It may be wonderfully made, of excellent constitution, wonderful taste, and 100% good and wholesome. It is of satisfactory quality. However, if it does not get rid of the common cold, it is not fit for purpose.
In the same way, an electric lawnmower which has a motor which is of insufficient power would be of satisfactory quality but not fit for purpose. It might be fit for purpose as a fan but not as a lawnmower.
If you bought an item as a spare part for your car, it may be beautifully made but if it doesn’t fit, it is not fit for purpose.
The goods must also be as described which means that, for example, if it says that the lawnmower has a 14 inch diameter blade cutter, it must not have a 16 inch cutter nor must it have a 12 inch cutter. Minor variations such as a cutter which is 13.9 inches would not lead to a breach of the Act which would be actionable because in the whole scale of things it is still fit for purpose and although it is not exactly as described, the variation in the description would make very little, if any change, to the use.
Your consumer rights Liability under the Sale of Goods Act is against the retailer not the manufacturer. It is common for people who have bought faulty motorcars to try to bring a claim against the manufacturer is not the correct way of doing it because the manufacturer has no liability under the Act. There may be some product liability but that is a different issue altogether.
The Sale of Goods Act did not apply to goods on hire purchase because hire purchase places onus for the goods onto the hire purchase company under the provisions of the Supply of Goods (Implied Terms) Act 1973.
If you buy faulty goods, not of satisfactory quality or not as described or not fit for purpose, then you have a limited time to reject them and get a refund. However being entitled to reject the goods and get a refund and actually getting the refund out of the retailer are very often two completely different things if the retailer will not get their cheque-book out or open the till to refund. Many of the larger retailers have a most excellent refund policy and will observe your consumer rights impeccably.
Legally, a reasonable period of time for the return of goods for a full refund in respect of a major fault (NB “major fault”) is up to 1 month although many retailers will go much further than that. Whilst many will go much further, others, particularly smaller ones, will be reluctant to refund at all and this is where knowing your consumer rights will help you enormously.
With regard to motorcars, a reasonable period of time has been decreed by the courts as being 7 days. Motor traders will do everything within their power to try to have a motorcar purchaser with a substantial fault, hang onto the car much longer than that so that they lose their consumer rights to reject and refund.
However, whereas many other retailers have an excellent refund policy, the same cannot be said of car dealers who seem united in their reluctance to refund the purchase price of a car even with a major fault which manifests itself within the first couple of days and do everything to circumnavigate your consumer rights. In which case, there is no alternative but to take the retailer (once again, not the manufacturer) to court.
Thinking about ordinary goods with a one-month return time, after that the remedy is to have the goods repaired or replaced. It is up to the retailer what they do. However they have to do either repair or replace within a reasonable time and without causing significant inconvenience. Failure to do so means that a buyer would be entitled to claim a reduction of the price or money back minus an amount for the use the buyer had had.
If the retailer will not repair or replace, then the buyer is faced with either getting the item repaired at their own expense or buying a new one at their own expense and then seeking the cost from the original retailer, through the small claim court (or other court) as necessary.
Within the first 6 months after purchase, there is a presumption that the fault existed at the time of the sale. After 6 months, the onus is on the buyer to prove that the fault existed at the time of sale.
In respect of proving that a fault existed at the time of the sale, and that the problem wasn’t caused just by wear and tear, it is very often necessary to get a third-party report from someone who knows about the kind of goods in question such as an engineer, mechanic, plumber, electrician, etc.
It would be virtually impossible to bring a successful claim for something which doesn’t correspond with description after a protracted period, particularly if the item had been used and did not actually have a fault.
Under the Limitation Act 1980 a consumer has 6 years from the date of purchase to bring a claim.
Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982
Whereas the SGA is involved with the supply of goods, the SGSA extends the provisions to where the goods are supplied as part of the service. If example, a plumber supplies a bathroom suite, then because he is providing the service of fitting the bathroom suite, then the applicable legislation (prior to October 2015) was the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982.
However, to be covered by the SGSA, there does not have to be the supply of goods, it could be the supply of services only.
Services provided without goods would be those of an estate agent and a solicitor, dry cleaning, parking, dental treatment, etc.
In this case, it is implied into all contracts that the service will be carried out:
- with reasonable care and skill
- in a reasonable time (if there is no specific time agreed); and
- for a reasonable charge (if no fixed price was set in advance)
If no price had been agreed then the price must be reasonable and if no delivery time had been agreed then the delivery time must also be reasonable. Unfortunately, there is no definition of “reasonable”. Reasonable is what is reasonable in all the circumstances. It is likely that reasonable with regard to price would be a similar kind of price that a similar item would be available on the open market. In that respect, if a consumer has to bring a claim, to support the claim, it would be wise to get 3 estimates with regard to delivery time and cost and take the average of those as the basis for any claim.
Any goods supplied as part of the overall job must be:
- as described
- of satisfactory quality
- and fit for purpose
…in exactly the same way as they must be under the Sale of Goods Act.
Opportunity to Remedy
A disgruntled consumer must give the trader the opportunity to put the job right and then, if that attempt fails, get other contractors in to finish the job and seek the cost of the rectification from the original contractor through court if necessary.
If a consumer reasonably rejects the traders suggestions for rectification, it can mean that the consumers claim would fail in whole or in part.
Under the SGSA there are certain practical difficulties because of a job has been half finished (bathroom suite for example) it’s virtually impossible to reject the whole job and ask for a complete refund.
Many consumers feel as though the trader has them over a barrel particularly (using the well tried example of the bathroom once again) if there have been “extras” which the price was not agreed. Although the price must be reasonable if not agreed, the consumer has two options, either pay under protest to get the job finished and then seek the non-agreed cost back from the trader or withhold part payment.
In circumstances like this, many people withhold the whole price for the job. This is never recommended. A disgruntled consumer should only ever withhold enough money from the price that would be reasonable to put the job right.
If a job is undertaken by a trader work is not going satisfactorily, it’s wise to keep a diary of exactly what happened and when and to take lots of close-up photographs, using something in the image to provide scale. In that respect, a 2p coin is 25 mm diameter. If a third party expert is needed, they would normally charge for any kind of report but a claimant would not normally be able to recover any report cost which amounted to more than £200. Even then, the full cost of the report may not be recoverable if for example it is disproportionate to the amount being claimed.
If there was a dispute over a plumber fitting a tap washer and he charged £200 it would obviously be unreasonable to try to recover the (estimate) hundred and £50 overcharge plus £200 for the expert report.
Consumer Credit Act 1974
Wherever possible, a consumer would be well advised to pay by credit card. NB credit card, not debit card. The reason for this is that section 75 of the Consumer Credit 1974 places liability onto the credit card company along with the trader and its possible to file a section 75 dispute with the credit card company and they will then take the trader to task. They can do so up to the point of refunding the consumer and clawing the money back from the trader.
Consumer Rights Act 2015
So, prior to this, you have all the background which is led up to the recent shakeup in the form of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 .
The CRA 2015 replaces not only the Sale of Goods Act and the Supply of Goods and Services Act but also the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999
Whereas some of the provisions in the previous legislation were quite “wishy-washy” these have now been defined in the CRA 2015
Specific provisions such as the following have now been included in this recent legislation:
Pre-Contract Information: any information provided by the trader including that which makes introduce a consumer to buy, must be accurate in exactly the same way that under the Sale of Goods Act, goods must correspond with description
Full refund with no deduction: any refund within the first 6 months has to be made in full without any deduction for use. In respect of a vehicle however the retailer can make a deduction for the use of the vehicle.
Failed repair: the retailer has one attempt to repair or replace the defective item and if that doesn’t work for any reason, (faulty second item) your consumer rights entitle you to a full refund. Once again, that is without deduction.
30 day refund timescale: whereas under the Sale of Goods Act the timescale to get a refund had to be reasonable, it is now set out as 30 days. The 30 days does not however apply to digital content such as downloaded computer programs, games, films, books, etc. Nonetheless, it’s still possible to ask for these to be repaired which in effect means replaced because it’s unlikely that a digital download could be repaired! Interestingly, if any downloaded digital content damages (for example) computer, the consumer is entitled to compensation for the damage. Even more interestingly, it applies even if the digital content was supplied free of charge!
Other provisions such of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described remain in place as with the earlier legislation.
Similarly, the consumer’s right is against the retailer and not against the manufacturer.
About the author:
This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.