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Guide to the Sale of Goods Act

The Sale of Goods Act 1979 is a piece of legislation designed to protect UK consumers when purchasing goods from retailers; whether that is on the high street, over the internet, or over the telephone.

Under the Act, goods must be:

As described; which refers to any adverts or verbal descriptions.

Of satisfactory quality; meaning that the products should not have any defects, and they should last a reasonable amount of time.

Fit for purpose; which means that the product should cover both the obvious purpose of the product and any assurances given by the retailer.

In the event that the goods do not meet the above conditions, the retailer has breached the contract and so the consumer has the potential right to return it for a full refund, and compensation to cover the purchase of similar goods from another retailer if it will cost more.

Who is responsible?

Under the Sale of Goods Act, the consumer’s rights are against the retailer that sold the product, not the manufacturer that made it. Therefore, any claim under the Act must be made against the retailer.

Goods purchased on hire purchase finance deals are not covered by the Sale of Goods Act, but the Supply of Goods Implied Terms Act 1973. Under this, the hire purchase company is responsible.

Do you need a receipt?

Contrary to popular the belief, consumers to not need a receipt to claim under the Sale of Goods Act. This is because it’s possible that the retailer didn’t provide a receipt in the first place. However, consumers will be expected to have some proof of purchase; this could be a bank or credit card statement, or cheque stub.

Getting a full refund

The window of opportunity to reject the goods purchased and receive a full refund is quite small. This area of the law is open to interpretation as the official line states the item must be returned within a reasonable amount of time.

What is classed as reasonable depends on the goods in question and how obvious the problem is. For example, equipment for winter sports purchased in the summer may be granted longer than a pair of trainers.

It is usually best for the consumer to assume that they will have no more than three or two weeks to do so.

Getting a repair or replacement

When it is too late to reject the goods for a refund, the consumer has the right to get the goods repaired or replaced. Whether the item is repaired or replaced is up to the retailer, and they will usually opt for the cheapest option.

The retailer must repair or replace the goods within a reasonable time and with causing as little inconvenience as possible to the consumer.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, consumers have six years to take a claim to court for faulty goods, but in Scotland, it is only five years. This does not mean the item is expected to last this long.

Getting a partial refund

If the retailer does not repair or replace the goods within a reasonable time frame, the consumer can claim some of their money back. They will only be able to get a partial refund, as the price will be reduced to account for any wear and tear, and to cover the time the consumer had the product.

Proving your claim

When goods are expected to last at least six months, but don’t, it is presumed that the retailer is in breach of the contract, unless they can provide otherwise. In all other situations, the consumer has to prove that the problem being complained about existed at the time the goods were purchased.

Although consumers have up to six years to make a claim, it is hard to prove that there was a problem when the goods were purchased when a long time has passed.

To prove that the problem is not down to wear and tear, or damage caused by the owner, consumers may need to approach an expert to report on the product in question. For example, if the product is car, a mechanic may be able to tell whether a particular part should have lasted longer than it has.

When does the Sale of Goods Act not apply?

This legislation is designed to protect consumers from rogue retailers, and so it only applies in certain situations. Consumers will not have the right to receive a refund, partial refund, or replacement, if any of the following apply:

  • There is nothing wrong with the goods purchased.
  • The consumer was made aware of the fault at the time of purchase.
  • The consumer examined the goods when buying them and should have noticed the defect.
  • The goods were damaged by the consumer.
  • The problem is down to wear and tear.
  • The goods have lasted for a reasonable amount of time.

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