Consumer Responsibilities

The Consumer Council

As these previous sections have shown, you have a multitude of consumer rights to protect you when buying goods and services. However, you also have responsibilities. Some of these are set out by law, and some are just steps that you can take to protect yourself against financial loss, disappointment, or, in some cases even fraud:

Always take reasonable steps to inspect, try on, or examine the item before you buy. If the sofa you have bought is too big to get through the living room door, by law the trader does not have to take it back and refund you!

Sometimes it is not possible to inspect goods until you have the items at home, but do try to inspect your purchase as soon as possible so that you can take prompt action if the goods are not of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose or as described. Remember: Your rights will differ depending on how long you have had the goods.

Consider how you pay. Your method of payment (credit/debit card, cash or cheque) will affect the level of protection you have if something goes wrong with your purchase. If you purchase a single item costing between £100 - £30,000, you can claim your money back from your credit card provider if you paid some or all of the amount on the card.

If you have bought an electrical household appliance such as a tumble dryer, oven or fridge freezer, register it with the manufacturer using the number provided in case there is a product recall or safety alert.

A receipt is not the only way to prove purchase, but it is the easiest. Get into the habit of keeping your receipts, especially now you know you have rights for up to six years after purchase, if it is reasonable to expect goods to last that long.

Do your research first. If you are buying a product or service from a company you have never used before, to find out what other consumers think. There are plenty of review magazines, websites and online forums that can help, but watch out for fake reviews. 6. Be wary of scams, including fake websites and counterfeit goods.

If goods you have bought develop a fault, do not attempt to fix them yourself as this will invalidate your consumer rights. Stop using the item in question and notify the trader as soon as possible.

Always follow the instructions that come with the goods you have purchased. Failure to do so, or to look after their general upkeep can also invalidate your consumer rights if something should go wrong.

If you are organising a tradesperson to carry out work in your home, check that the tradesperson has the correct qualifications. If they display an endorsement, such as Gas Safe Register, they must be authorised to do so. It is a criminal offence to falsely claim you are endorsed by an approval scheme. In the case of building work, it is also your responsibility to ensure the correct public liability and employer’s liability insurance is in place.

Making a complaint to the trader

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to complain about goods or a service, the following steps will help make this process more effective, whether you are making the complaint face-to-face, by telephone or in writing:

  • Make sure you have good grounds for complaining, and know what your consumer rights are. Also check the trader’s complaints handling process and/or returns policy.
  • Express yourself in a calm, assertive and polite way. This may mean spending a little time in advance preparing what it is you want to say.
  • Explain clearly what the situation is, and if possible, refer to the relevant law.
  • Explain what you would like to be done to remedy the situation, but be open to working with the trader to find an alternative solution if that would be more practical.
  • If the complaint cannot be resolved straight away, keep a record of every conversation, email or other correspondence sent in connection with your complaint. Take a note of names, dates and times of people spoken to in the course of trying to resolve your complaint.

If your complaint is getting nowhere, you may need to escalate it to someone within the company, possibly at head office. At this stage it is advisable to put the complaint in writing, and if your first letter does not receive a response within say 14 days, follow it with a second letter, sent by recorded delivery so you have proof it was received.

Useful resources

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