Sale of goods claims

The UK law on sale of goods has evolved over many years and is now set out in a series of statutes, including:

  • The Sale of Goods Act 1979 as amended by
  • The Sale of Supply and Goods Act 1994 and
  • The Sale and Supply of Goods and Consumers Regulations 2002.
  • The Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 applies similar principles to the installation of goods and together with
  • The Supply of Goods (Implied Terms) Act 1973 provides protection to those who hire goods, or acquire them under hire purchase or conditional sale agreements
  • The Unfair Contracts Terms Act 1977 controls attempts to restrict liability for breach of contract e.g. by saying "We do not give refunds".
  • The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 apply to the sale of goods at a distance e.g. over the internet.

This briefing note will concentrate on the main remedies a consumer has in relation to the purchase of goods with which they are dissatisfied, and does not deal with the supply of services, distance sales, or the position of business customers.

Do you have a claim?

Buyers are entitled to goods of satisfactory quality, taking account of any description given at the time of sale, the price and other relevant circumstances. Goods must conform to the contract, which means that:

  • They should match the description given of them e.g. if something is described as "waterproof", then it must be waterproof.
  • They should be of a satisfactory quality i.e. they should meet the standard a reasonable person would regard as satisfactory. "Quality" includes elements such as appearance and finish, freedom from minor defects, safety and durability.
  • They should be fit for the purpose for which they were supplied, including any particular purpose made known to the retailer by the purchaser.

A buyer cannot expect a legal remedy in relation to:

  • Fair wear and tear;
  • Misuse or accidental damage;
  • A decision that the item is no longer required.

Items may have defects at the time of sale which only become apparent later (these are known as "latent" or "inherent" defects). A buyer can complain about such defects when the defect is discovered.

If you cannot resolve your claim satisfactorily with the retailer, you have 6 years from the date of purchase to bring a claim to Court.

What rights do I have in relation to defective goods?

If a product that was faulty at the time of sale is returned to the retailer, the buyer is entitled to:

  • a full refund if the goods are returned within a reasonable time of the sale - "reasonable time" is not defined in law, but is often quite short (this is known as the "right to reject" the goods); or
  • a reasonable amount of compensation (or damages) for up to 6 years from the date of sale; or
  • a repair or replacement, although the retailer can decline these if he can show they are disproportionately expensive compared with the alternative remedies referred to above.

By law, the retailer is not permitted to limit these rights.

Proving the fault

Normally you must be able to prove that the goods were faulty at the time of sale, especially if you want an immediate refund or compensation. If, however, you return the goods within 6 months from the date of sale, and ask for a repair or replacement, then you do not have to prove they were faulty at the time of sale, as it is assumed that they were. After six months, then the usual rule about proving they were faulty at the time of sale applies.

How we can help

Often sales of goods claims involve small amounts of money and can be resolved directly with the retailer, or by using a trade association. If however the sums involved are substantial, or the defective goods have caused other losses, then our team of experienced litigation solicitors will be pleased to advise you on the options available to you. It is important that legal advice is taken promptly to ensure that all your legal rights are protected (in particular, the right to reject the goods).

For information of users: This material is published for the information of clients. It provides only an overview of the regulations in force at the date of publication, and no action should be taken without consulting the detailed legislation or seeking professional advice. Therefore no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.