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Read how some High Street dealers may try to deprive you of your rights.

The webmaster cannot give any advice or comment on the matters contained on this webpage.  The content is reproduced solely for the possible benefit of readers.  For further advice you need to contact the appropriate body.  That may be the Citizens Advice Bureau, your Local Authority, Government department or elsewhere.

2003 improved regulations came into force which ADD to those discussed below.  It is understood these allow you to return goods as FAULTY SINCE MANUFACTURE within six months.  If you feel this applies to you please check first with your Trading Standards Officer.

Added advice at the foot of the page.

EXTRACT by kind permission of WHICH?, the magazine of the Consumers Association, February 2001.  Applies to the UK only.


Staff in high-street electrical stores are not taking responsibility when goods they sell go wrong.

   We visited two branches of each of these chains. Allders, Argos, Comet, Currys, Dixons, House of Fraser, Index, John Lewis (including Peter Jones), Miller Brothers, Powerhouse, Scottish Power and Tempo.

If a product breaks down outside its guarantee period, you may think that you don't have any rights.  But, depending on the product and its fault, you may have the right to compensation from the store where you bought it.  Staff at most electrical shops we visited, though, would have you believe otherwise - that either the manufacturer is responsible or that you have to pay for a repair.

Under the Sale of Goods Act, retailers are responsible for faulty goods (that are not 'of satisfactory quality') for up to six years after you bought them.  In Scotland the period is five years after something goes wrong.  'Satisfactory quality' covers various aspects that could be wrong with the goods, including whether they've lasted as long as you could reasonably expect.  A 'reasonable' lifetime for different products is not defined in law and would ultimately be for a court to decide.  But, for example, you might reasonably expect a £600 television to last longer than 18 months, but you wouldn't necessarily expect compensation if a £20 kettle broke down in this period.

To see whether stores are shirking their responsibilities, we sent undercover shoppers out to 12 major UK chains, with a complaint about an 18-month VCR that had broken down (six months after the maker's guarantee had expired).  They visited two branches of each chain.  In 80 per cent of the visits, staff either stated or implied (wrongly) that the problem was nothing to do with them, and washed their hands of it.

If a store refuses to take responsibility for a faulty product, currently the only way to seek redress is through legal action, which involves proving the goods are faulty.  And this is exactly what Which? reader Brenda Robertshaw did when electrical giant Currys refused to fix her £400 washing machine free of charge, when it broke down after only 18 months and ruined some clothes (see 'Currys taken to the cleaners', Which?, October 1999, p4). Brenda won the cost of repairs, compensation and expenses, totalling £190.  The judge ruled that it was reasonable to expect a £400 washing machine to last longer than 18 months.  Sadly, though, some stores don't seem to have learned from Currys' ruling.

In each store, our shoppers explained the problem with the VCR to staff and checked who was responsible if they wanted to complain.  According to the electrical retailers' trade body, RETRA, a VCR should generally last around five years -longer if it is a quality brand.  So we think it is reasonable to expect a store to take this complaint seriously and investigate it further.  Shop staff ought to know that the store may be responsible for the VCR but, time after time, they fobbed off our shoppers.

At Currys in Cribbs Causeway, Bristol, the salesperson made an interesting, but utterly misguided, analogy to explain why the problem was nothing to do with the shop: “All we've done is sell it to you.  It's like a house.  If suddenly one of your walls fell down, you don't go back to the estate agent.  Your complaint is with the builder.”  Staff in other stores were equally adamant that the problem wasn't theirs.  At Powerhouse in Oldbury, West Midlands, a salesperson said, “It's nothing to do with us … we don't make them.  Several mentioned the one­ year guarantee as the end of the line for their responsibility.  A salesperson in Comet in Tottenham Hale Retail Park, London, said: “Once you're over a year, we can't help you.”  At Dixons in Brierley Hill, West Midlands, a salesperson said, “If there’s any issues after our 12-month guarantee, take it up with the manufacturer.”  Staff at branches of Argos, Comet, Currys, Dixons, House of Fraser, Index, Miller Brothers, Powerhouse, Scottish Power and Tempo echoed this wrong advice.  When we told a salesperson at Tempo, Brierley Hill, about our broken VCR, the response was, “Don't blame me ...we're not definitely responsible after 12 months unless you've taken out a guarantee.  The manufacturer is.”  This is wrong.  Your rights under a guarantee are in addition to your rights against the seller under the Sale of Goods Act.  When a one-year guarantee runs out, a shop cannot automatically wash its hands of responsibility for the goods that it sold to you.

In John Lewis in Cribbs Causeway, Bristol, and in one of its sister shops, Peter Jones, in Sloane Square, London, staff pointed out the store's policy of giving a two-year warranty on VCRs, and suggested that the shopper brought in the VCR to be repaired.  However, the assistant at Peter Jones claimed that, ultimately, the manufacturer was responsible.  The assistant at the House of Fraser, in the Lakeside Shopping Centre, Purfleet, told us: “You could go to the manufacturer, but they'll only tell you to come back to the store.”  When pressed as to who was responsible, the salesperson admitted that it was the store,

Staff in Allders in Redditch suggested that we wrote to the manager at the store as well as to the manufacturer.

A salesperson at Comet in Arnison Retail Park, Durham, told us to talk to the manufacturer, but another added that Comet customer services or head office would look at individual cases.

Some stores we visited took a customer complaint as a cue to extol the merits of extended warranties.  Our research has shown that, in general, these are a waste of money because you spend more on the warranty than you would on any repairs needed.  Out of 24 visits, 14 stores took the opportunity to mention an extended warranty.  Five of them claimed that extended warranties exist for this exact type of problem.

Within the last few weeks, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has launched a consultation detailing plans to strengthen consumers' rights, by bringing into force a

European Directive covering the sale of goods and their guarantees.  The new law must be implemented in the UK by January 2002.  For it to have any impact, though, it's vital that shop staff are made aware of it and what rights it gives to customers.  But, as our investigation shows, many staff don't have much grasp of current law, let alone any new legislation.  We'll be sending our findings to the DTI and pressing for shops to give staff more thorough training.

We informed the stores about our findings, Argos, Comet, Dixons Group (which includes
Currys), House of Fraser, John Lewis, Littlewoods (Index Stores) and Scottish Power

Replied.  All said that consumers' rights are part of their in-store training programmes but they would take action, either through more training or by alerting staff about giving correct advice.  A Scottish Power spokesperson admitted, “Our staff ought to have done more to take ownership of the enquiry.  Then we would have arranged to get the appliance examined and ascertain who was responsible for this repair.”

We'd like stores to stock leaflets about customers' rights on faulty goods - our shoppers couldn't find any when they visited the stores.  The DTI publishes a leaflet Unsatisfactory goods - your rights as a consumer, which you can order from its hotline on 0870 150 2500.  You can also get advice on its website ­


The Sale of Goods Act 979, amended in 1994, say that when you buy goods from a trader they must fit the description, be of satisfactory quality - which includes lasting a reasonable length of time - and be fit for their purpose.  If goods aren't of satisfactory quality you're entitled to compensation, which is normally the cost of repairs.  The retailer, not the manufacturer, is legally obliged to sort out a problem if the goods don't meet these requirements.

A manufacturer's one-year guarantee is in addition to these rights - many offer free repair or replacement without quibble.  Extended warranties are an extension of this.

December, 2003 - Internet Shopping Tips for Spenders

Get UK Government advice here,

Safety advice has been given to people who would rather shop on the Internet than fight against the crowds on the high street.

The rate of Internet shopping in the UK has doubled to a new all-time high, so the Office of Fair Trading has provided some online shopping tips.

* Cooling-off period. One-off the the main rights you have when shopping online is a cooling-off period - at least seven days after receiving the goods. This means you have the unconditional right to cancel your order if you change your mind, unless the goods you have ordered are made to a personal specification or you have removed the packaging from CDs, DVDs, videos and software.

* Refunds. If you do change your mind for whatever reason within the cooling-off period you are entitled to a refund-including any delivery charges.

* Credit Card Protection. If your credit or debit card is used fraudulently to shop online, you can cancel the payment and the card issuer must refund any money to your account.

* What about delivery? Unless otherwise stated, delivery should be within 30 days. If the order is not delivered within this time, you can cancel the order.

* Before you buy. Before you buy online you are entitled to certain information including a description of the goods or services, the price including any taxes, arrangements for payment, delivery costs, delivery arrangements, name of the company (and address if payment is in advance).

* After you buy. After you have placed an order you should receive written confirmation of it. You should also be given written confirmation of how you can cancel the order, a complaints address and details of any after-sales services / guarantees.

* General shoppers' rights. When you shop online you still have the same protection under the Sale of Goods Act that you have when you shop on the high street. So goods should be of satisfactory quality, fit for their purpose, and as described. If goods are faulty or mis-described you are entitled to a refund provided you return the goods within a reasonable time. Online shoppers have the statutory right to a seven-day cooling-off period as they have not had a chance to see the goods before purchase.

* What about sale items? You have the same rights even if the goods you buy are in a sale. Be careful of items with slight defects. The seller is not obliged to give you your money back if you complain about defects that were pointed out prior to purchase.

* A 'restocking' fee is illegal in such circumstances.

(Most of this article is reproduced from the Dundee Courier & Advertiser newspaper.)

These articles are provided in the public interest.


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