You'll soon have 30 days to return faulty goods for a full refund, as part of major changes to consumers' rights which come into effect on Thursday (1 October). MoneySavingExpert.com explains what the new Consumer Rights Act means for you.

The Consumer Rights Act, which represents the biggest overhaul of consumer law for decades, sets out in one place most of the key consumer rights covering contracts for goods and services, and for the first time digital content as well.

It replaces a number of existing laws for consumers including the Sale of Goods Act 1979 and the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982.

It will only apply to things bought from Thursday though – the current rules will continue to apply to everything bought before then, even if the problem occurs after 1 October.

For full information on your rights, see our Consumer Rights guide, which will include all the changes when they come into effect on Thursday. Here are the key changes in brief:

  • You now have 30 days to return faulty goods and get a full refund.

    Under current laws, the time limit for being eligible for a full refund is vaguer – the crucial point is whether you're deemed to have 'accepted' the goods within a "reasonable length of time", which as a rough rule of thumb is typically around four weeks.

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  • If it's been more than 30 days, you now have to try a repair or replacement before asking for a refund.

    Under current laws, you can ask for a repair, replacement or refund.

  • If that repair or replacement doesn't help, you can now ask for a refund after just one attempt. If the item's still dodgy after just one attempt at a repair or replacement, the repair or replacement isn't possible or it hasn't been carried out quickly enough, you're entitled to ask for a refund – this could be the full amount within the first six months, or otherwise is likely to be a partial refund.

    Under current laws, you may have been fobbed off with multiple repairs or replacements – there's nothing to require the retailer to give you a refund after the first attempt at repair or replacement.
  • Digital content is now covered by specific new rights. There's no 'refund within 30 days rule' for digital content. Instead, you have a right to a repair or replacement when something goes wrong, or a refund if these remedies don't work the first time. This covers things like computer games, films, downloaded music, ebooks or mobile phone apps.

    Under current laws, digital content isn't covered separately – it's instead treated as a good or service. For example, a Blu-ray would count as a good, while downloaded music would count as a service.
  • The rules now apply worldwide. Traders based outside the UK but selling to UK consumers are expected to adhere to the Act (although in some cases it may be difficult to enforce).

    The current laws only apply if the retailer is based in the UK or elsewhere in the EU – if you bought from outside the EU you're subject to the laws of that country.

  • You now have clearer rights when services go wrong. You can ask for the service to be carried out again, or for a discount on the original service.

    Under current laws these rights aren't explicitly set out, although they tend to be offered in practice anyway.

Also see our consumer rights Q&A with former Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson on the changes, which includes some "real-life" examples to help you understand what's happening.

Your consumer rights are changing – what you need to know
Your consumer rights are changing – what you need to know

Haven't some changes to consumer rights already come into force?

Yes, some elements of the Act came into effect on 27 May.

  • New rules applying to the resale of tickets on online secondary platforms, such as ViaGoGo and others. These state what information needs to be provided to prospective buyers using these platforms, and restrict the ability of event organisers to cancel tickets that are being resold or blacklist the original purchaser for reselling.

    Under the rules ticket sales platforms must also report incidents of criminal activity. These rules came into force early in light of major sporting events happening over the summer and autumn.

  • New requirements on letting agents. Letting agents are now required to publicise their fees, clearly state whether they are a member of a client money protection scheme and state which redress scheme they are a member of.

What if retailers and traders don't follow the rules?

In some circumstances you may be able to take your case to the Consumer Ombudsman if you've not had any luck with the firm itself. From 1 October, businesses must also give consumers the details of a certified Alternative Dispute Resolution provider, such as an ombudsman, if one exists.

But ultimately, the only other way to enforce your rights is to take your gripe to court. See our Small Claims Court guide for more on this.

Martin Lewis on the Consumer Rights Act

Martin Lewis, founder and editor of MoneySavingExpert.com, says: "The most important change in the Consumer Rights Act 2015 is that you now have 30 days to take faulty goods back and get a full refund. In the past, the time limit was far too loosely defined as, 'you can take it back as long as you haven’t accepted the goods'. This new clarification on the time you have to return something is both welcome and important.

"Yet while that's a consumer gain, there's a slight loss after that time. If you return goods between one and six months after purchase, while it used to be that you were entitled to an exchange, a repair or a refund, now the onus is on the fact that the company must be allowed to repair or replace it first. Only if it goes wrong after that are you entitled to a refund, and that may be a partial refund where appropriate.

"However, that will work well for those people who've had a faulty washing machine and it gets replaced seven times and continues to have the same fault. Under the new act, it's one strike and you're out. If the company repairs and replaces it and it still doesn't work you can ask them for a refund.

"Yet we still suffer from the big problem that it's all very well knowing your rights, but if you and the retailer are in dispute over them, the only sure way to get redress is to go to court – and that's not something most people will want to do if buying a £40 toaster.

"The new Consumer Ombudsman offers a glimmer of hope here, and is a good scheme, but we need to compel the bulk of retailers to sign up to it."

Additional reporting by Wendy Alcock.

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