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Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 19:02 GMT
An overview of consumer rights
So you feel hard done by as a consumer, but where can you complain and what are your rights?

Each individual case is different but below are the general rules and laws, as well as contact numbers should you need further information.

Laws affecting consumer rights

Sale of Goods Act 1979 (amended with Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994)

Goods must fit the description used in any advert, label, or packaging etc that relates to them - such as the year or make, type, colour, size or materials used. These must be accurate. The goods must also be of satisfactory quality - and should be fit for their purpose.
The retailer has a legal obligation to sort out your problem if the goods do not meet these requirements, as long as you act within a 'reasonable time'; the catch is that this period is not defined - it could be as little as a few days depending on the goods. If you complain after this period, you cannot reject the goods and get a full refund, but you are entitled to compensation for faulty goods - normally the cost of repair.

Consumer Protection Act 1987

This says that only safe goods should be put on sale. It also prohibits misleading price indications. The so called "28 day rule" is covered by this act. If you have any complaints about being charged more at the till than the price on the shelf, you should initially contact your local trading standards office, rather than the shop.

Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 (amended by Supply of Goods and Services Act 1994)

This states that work covered by the contract - which exists as soon as you ask someone to carry out some work for you, such as plumbing, dry cleaning, or building, must be carried out with reasonable skill and care, within a reasonable time, and for a reasonable price (if that's not stated) - but what is reasonable is not defined by law.
If something goes wrong as a result of the work done - ask the contractor to put the work right, and if s/he won't, you are legally entitled to employ another contractor to rectify the problem and claim the costs from the original contractor.

Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 (and Unfair Terms In Consumer Contracts Regulations 1994)

If terms in pre-printed contracts are unreasonable the Office of Fair Trading can make the company change the contract. The regulations apply only to standard (pre-printed) contracts.

Consumer Credit Act 1974

If you buy your goods with a credit card, then as long as the goods cost over 100 the credit card company is also liable for the faulty goods or services. If you buy on hire purchase or other credit arranged by the supplier and the supplier will not put things right you can claim from the finance company.
If purchasers sign a credit agreement at home, they are given a cooling-off period during which they can change their mind and cancel the agreement. Many credit cards also provide insurance for purchases (in case of accidental damage), but not all do. Check with your provider.

Useful addresses and telephone numbers

  • Citizens Advice Bureaux
    Check your local phone book or yellow pages. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau should have a list of useful leaflets and addresses of the organisations which supply them.

  • Consumers Association phone: 0800 252100
    Freephone number for sale of books on related subjects - you will need to be a member.

  • Institute of Trading Standards Administration phone: 01702 559922
    351 London Road
    SS7 2BT

  • Office of Fair Trading (OFT)
    Consumer Information Line: 0345 224499
    Fleetbank House
    2-6 Salisbury Square
    London EC4Y 8JX

    The OFT provides a free pack of booklets and leaflets on every aspect of consumer rights. They can also send you a publications list.
    The most comprehensive is "A Buyers Guide", your legal rights, how to complain, how to get help.
    Others include "Buying by Post", "Prepayments", "Buying Goods" (+ Scottish and Northern Irish editions), "Buying a Service" (+ Scottish and Northern Irish editions).
    The pack is free of charge and available from:
    PO Box 366
    UB3 1XB
    phone: 0870 6060 321
    fax: 0870 6070 321

Unfortunately, under the Financial Services Act, we are prohibited from providing personal investment advice by letter or telephone. We are only exempted when we broadcast this advice. The inclusion of any organisation on this fact sheet does not imply any endorsement by the BBC or Working Lunch.

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