A simple question, but sadly consumer rights law means the answer is far from straightforward. So I thought I would put together a timetable to help you navigate through it. We’re talking here about any goods you buy in-store or online, be it an Xbox, dishwasher, breadmaker or Cabbage Patch doll – if it’s faulty, you’ve got rights.
Before we even begin to get into timings, it’s important to understand the Sales of Goods Act 1979 defines what a faulty good is. I prefer to remember it as the SAD FART rules (get a free consumer wallet guide so you’re permanently tooled up when you go into a store).
Goods must be of ‘Satisfactory quality, As Described, Fit for purpose And last a Reasonable length of Time’
If goods don’t obey these SAD FART rules, then they are faulty (see the full Consumer Rights guide for how to enforce your rights).
The returning goods timetable
Within seven working days – no-fault returns of goods bought online. Buy goods online or by mail order or catalogue from an UK (or EU) based business, then the Distance Selling Regulations mean you have a NO FAULT right to return goods, provided you tell them within seven working days.
In other words, unlike buying in-store, you have a legal right to send goods back even if they are not faulty.
Within a month – return faulty goods for a full refund. If goods are faulty, whether bought in-store or online, you are entitled to a full refund provided you haven’t ‘accepted them’. In a nutshell, this means you have had time to inspect the goods and reject them.
How long this takes depends on the goods – after all, fully inspecting a brand new £3 million pound yacht may take longer than a 10p plastic whistle. However, as a very rough rule of thumb, ensure you get things back in under a month if you want a refund (the Government is proposing to clarify this rule to give a fixed 30 days to reject everything but perishable goods).
Beyond this, you are only usually entitled to a repair, replacement or partial refund.
Within six months – proving fault is easier. If you return goods before six months and the dispute went to court, it would be for the store to prove the goods weren’t faulty when you bought them. After that, it’s for you to prove they were. So the burden of proof is far easier in under six months.
Within six years – the longest you have to claim fault. The English statute of limitations says you have six years to bring a claim (five in Scotland), so in effect, that’s the maximum time you have to take back faulty goods.
However people often confuse this and think it means goods must last six years – that just isn’t true.
In fact you’ll note the SAD FART laws specifically say goods should ‘last a reasonable length of time’ and that’s the key, if nebulous, time limit. ,
To work out what is a reasonable length of time, you have to simply imagine what a reasonable person would say was reasonable.
For example it’s likely you wouldn’t say it was reasonable for a £1,000 LCD TV to break after 18 months of normal use, but it’s probably fair enough if a 10p plastic whistle did.
So what the law actually says is goods must last a reasonable length of time – and if not, they’re faulty, and you have up to six years to bring a case about them being faulty.
If that’s confusing, a somewhat oversimplified way to explain it is that goods must last a ‘reasonable time’ – of which the maximum reasonable time possible is six years.
- There is no EU two-year rule. Many people often quote the urban myth that is EU guidelines saying electrical goods should last two years. Actually, that’s a confusion and it doesn’t exist. For why, see my EU minimum two-year rule is a myth blog.
Timing is only the beginning of the confusions when it comes to consumer rights.
There are many more, often not helped by the fact shops don’t train their staff in consumer rights, meaning shop assistants often misquote the law. To clear up more confusions, read my Is a shop telling you porkies? blog.