Your new consumer rights explained
The new Consumer Rights Act provides shoppers with much greater protection than they had previously.
The Act stretches to over a hundred pages and includes many additional areas, such as unfair terms and conditions - in other words, surprises in the small print.
But claiming for a refund under the new Act is an untested area, particularly through the new Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) providers, and it may not prove quite as easy as the government hoped.
However the Act does establish several new principles.
When am I entitled to a refund?
If the goods are faulty, and you bought them from a UK-based retailer, you are entitled to ask for them to be repaired - or to get a full refund. The Act says you can now get that refund up to 30 days from purchase. The money must be returned to you within 14 days.
What if I bought the product more than a month ago?
Even if you bought the product more than 30 days ago, you are still entitled to a repair or a replacement. The retailer has one chance to make the repair. If you are still unhappy, you have a right to a refund.
This right extends to 6 months after the purchase.
If you bought a pair of walking boots five months ago, for example, and found they were leaking, you can ask for them to be repaired or replaced. If they are still leaking, you can ask for a full refund.
What if I bought something more than six months ago?
Even after six months, you still have a right to ask for a repair or a replacement. But the retailer now has a right to deduct some money for the use you have had out of the goods. If the product is a car, the retailer can deduct money after just a month.
In the longer term there are still protections, but they depend on the kind of product, and the price paid. These protections extend for up to 6 years in England and Wales, and 5 years in Scotland.
Am I entitled to a refund if I have changed my mind?
No. The goods have to be faulty. Many retailers do allow you to change your mind, and will exchange goods if they are in good condition. But this is down to individual shops, and they are not forced to do so by the law.
Am I covered for buying goods online?
In most cases, buying goods on line is covered by the Distance Selling Regulations, which provide further protections over and above the Consumer Rights Act. But for the first time, digital goods like downloads, films, games, music and ebooks are covered by the legislation.
However, if the downloads will not play on your computer or mobile device, you will be entitled to a replacement, but not a refund. This is because of the difficulty of proving that a download does not work. However, the retailer may, in some circumstances, offer a partial refund. They may also stipulate that you need to have certain software to play the film or music.
What if I buy something second-hand, such as from an auction site?
The Act covers second-hand goods, where they are bought from a retailer, not an individual. On a site like Ebay, it would be the individual business that would be liable, rather than the website itself.
Second-hand goods bought on the High Street are also covered, but refunds would reflect the lower value of the product.
What if a download damages my computer?
If you download something which carries a virus, and you need to get your computer repaired as a result, you are entitled to compensation.
What if I am unhappy with a service?
The Act covers all services - from washing machine repairs to facial treatments. The Act says that such services must be delivered "with reasonable care", after consultation with the consumer. If you are unhappy with the service you have received, you can ask the provider to put it right, or give you a refund if you prefer.
What do I do if a retailer refuses to give my money back?
You can take them to a small claims court, but that is an expensive process. New Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) providers have been set up, which can handle additional products like energy contracts.
These services are free to consumers, but are paid for by the retailers. Many retailers have not yet signed up to these schemes, so it may prove difficult to use them.
Help for businesses is available here
Or business owners can speak to an adviser via the Business Support helpline, on 0300 456 3565
Advice for consumers is available from Citizens Advice here
A list of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) providers is available here
Help with unfair contract terms is available from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) here