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Consumer Rights

"Give me my money back!"

Consumer rights: Your knight in shining armourEver returned poor or faulty goods for the shop to simply dismiss your complaint? Now imagine walking down the high street, or phoning up, this time covered in a glistening suit of consumer rights armour.

We hope our guide will help you do just that. Read on to find out what to do if your purchases go wrong. Read it now and save it to your favourites for when it's needed.

The law changed in Oct 2015. The Consumer Rights Act came into force on 1 Oct 2015. This guide focuses on your rights for items purchased AFTER 1 Oct 2015 - but where the rules differ for items bought before then we've made it clear.

The things everyone should know

This should be taught at school. Everyone should know their basic statutory rights for shopping - in other words, the rights you have by law which a shop can't change.

Know these and you can enforce fair treatment. It's so crucial, you should actually memorise it. Our mnemonic is to call them your Sad Fart rights. When you buy goods they must be...Satisfactory quality As Described Fit for Purppose And last a Reasonable length of Time

This applies even if you buy things in a sale or with a discount voucher. Frankly, every customer-facing member of staff should be taught these rules before they're allowed to work. Yet as they're not, we need to be polite and persistent in quoting the rights.

Consumer rights: Quick dos and don'ts

Later in the guide, you'll get a much more detailed explanation of how consumer rights work. But let's start with a few simple dos and don'ts to help you protect yourself.

DO spend gift vouchers quickly

DO take things back as quickly as possible

DON'T assume you can exchange it if it's the wrong size

DO write 'it's a gift' on receipts

DON'T think buying online means fewer rights

DO check suitability before buying

DON'T think 'no receipt' means 'no return'

DO return it to the store, not the manufacturer

DON'T think eBay's different

DO ensure Christmas delivery's specified

DON'T think you've no rights with freebies

DO consider paying by credit card if it's over £100

DO remember it's about expectations as well as rights

Too much to remember?

To help, we've designed a special print-out to keep with you. It details and explains your basic rights so you're always armed.

Whatever you bought, don't just quote the rights, say this… "according to the Consumer Rights Act 2015".

Saying this can make a powerful impression (don't worry, that's on the print-out too). Yet if you're going to complain, especially about an expensive item, it makes sense to dig into the rules in even more detail – see the section below.

Bought something prior to 1 Oct 2015? Don't quote the Consumer Rights Act - it doesn't apply to things bought before 1 Oct. Instead, quote the Sale of Goods Act 1979 for goods, or if it's a service, the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982.

Understanding the law

If you've got a dispute going on, it's important not just to know your rights, but to understand how and why they work.

Every time you buy something, be it a mobile phone from a mate or a week in Cuba from a travel agent, you make a contract with the seller.

What does this contract really mean?

Both you and the other party agree to terms and conditions. The seller has agreed to provide your 'statutory rights'.

The nitty-gritty of the law depends on whether you're buying goods, digital content or services. It's also worth noting it only applies to consumers, not to something you're buying in the course of a business (eg, from wholesalers such as Costco). However, it does apply to everything bought in the UK regardless of where the retailer is based (though if you bought something from, say, Outer Mongolia, it might prove tricky to enforce).

Bought something prior to 1 Oct 2015? The laws only apply if the retailer is based in the UK or elsewhere in the EU - if you bought from elsewhere you're subject to the laws of that country. Digital content also wasn't covered separately prior to 1 Oct - it's just treated as a good or service.

Goods: Anything you can hold

Goods could be a T-shirt, toaster or a truck, whether new, second-hand or bought online.

Jump to the Goods buying rights section for full info on your rights.

Digital content: Data and anything digital

Officially described as “data which is produced and supplied in digital form” this includes things like computer games, films, downloaded music, ebooks or mobile phone apps.

Jump to the Digital content buying rights section for full info on your rights.

Bought something prior to 1 Oct 2015? Digital content wasn't covered separately prior to 1 Oct - it was just treated as a good or service. For example, a Blu-ray would count as a good, while downloaded music would count as a service.

Services: Everything from dentists to restaurants

Whether it's fixing your teeth or filling your tummy, a service is a contract where a company has carried out some work for you.

Jump to the Service buying rights section for full info on your rights.

Mixed contracts: A combination of any of the above

If something you buy is made up of more than one type you need to look at the rights for the part that’s faulty.

For example, the delivery (service) of a compact disc (goods) containing music (digital content) could use any of the rights available depending on what’s gone wrong.

Bought something prior to 1 Oct 2015? If you bought goods with a service (eg, a handset with a mobile contract), your service buying rights apply (under the Supply of Goods and Services Act) - even if it was the good (ie, the handset) that was faulty. The protection's the same as under the Sale of Goods Act, though - it's just that you need to quote the services law.

Your rights when buying goods

The legal protection you have here is from Part 1 Chapter 2 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015. This sledgehammer cracks any nut.

At this point, it's crucial to understand each line of the SAD FART mantra and exactly how it works.

Bought something prior to 1 Oct 2015? Your legal protection's under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 rather than the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

'Satisfactory As Described'

Polar sweater as describedNow the latter part of this, as described, might sound pretty obvious. For example, a blue jumper either is or isn't. But other goods, such as a silk shirt or a cashmere sweater, must be made of that material, while a multi-region DVD player must play international DVDs.

It's easy to buy goods that don't measure up to what the label says. So "as described" is the foundation that makes sure you get what you pay for. Dangerous goods always break this rule, though.

Satisfactory quality is harder to define. The law says "satisfactory" is what a reasonable person would be happy with, looking at all of the information easily available to you, such as its price and condition. See more later on second-hand goods.

But what's reasonable? Now there's a question lawyers have rowed about for years and there's no set answer.

In a legal context and in a dispute with a shop, it means goods must be in a state that you, or any other normal, reasonable person would think was reasonable. Easy, eh?

Certainly if you bought an expensive music player and the sound was virtually inaudible, most people would almost certainly say it wasn't satisfactory. But let's say you bought a cheap garden trampoline, where you could bounce on it, but it moved around as it wouldn't bed into the soil. Would that be satisfactory?

Ultimately if you and the shop couldn't resolve it, you'd need to take it to court for a judge to decide. But hopefully, it wouldn't get that far.

Fit for purpose AND last a reasonable length of time

Car light bulbThis means stuff must work and not fall to bits after an hour's use. This might sound pretty basic common sense, but without it, you can find yourself exposed.

Say you buy some new car headlights without checking which car they're for – if you get the wrong ones, that doesn't make them faulty. Yet if you get them having asked the shopkeeper if they'd work in your car – even though the box didn't say yes or no – then they aren't 'fit for purpose' and you can get your money back.

Get a full refund within 30 days

This is a nice new addition to our statutory rights. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 changed our right to reject something faulty, and be entitled to a full refund in most cases, from a reasonable time to a fixed period (in most cases) of 30 days. After that, you lose the short-term right to reject the goods and you'll have fewer rights, such as only being able to ask for a repair or replacement, or a partial refund if this doesn’t work.

Bought something prior to 1 Oct 2015? Under the Sale of Goods Act, an item still has to be fit for purpose - but you have a 'reasonable length of time' rather than the fixed 30-day period to get a full refund.

Second-hand or 'on sale' doesn't mean second-rate

Even if the item's second-hand or reduced, it doesn't mean you get second-rate consumer rights, except where the seller pointed out the specific problems before you bought.

The same consumer rights rules apply to second-hand and sale goods from shops. They must be of satisfactory quality and, if they're faulty, you can return them.

If you buy a used motor from a trader or grab a £700 'sale' telly with 30% off and it goes kaput once you get home, then take it back and complain.

It's worth stressing that the second-hand price will be taken into account. So if you buy a car for a fiver, you wouldn't expect it to run normally. Second-hand cars are one of the most complained-about issues - see these Citizens Advice and guides for more.

Second hand car sellers and your consumer rights

Watch out too if the goods were uber-cheap because of a blindingly obvious flaw. In this case, the shop could refuse to refund you.

The rules change with private sellers

If you're buying second-hand goods from a private seller (someone who doesn't sell goods for all or part of their living), your rights are nowhere near as strong as when buying from a shop.

The only protection is that it's correctly described and the owner has the right to sell it. Here, it really is a case of caveat emptor or "let the buyer beware".

So if the seller says nowt or little about the goods and you buy it, then that's it. Even if it's shoddy, you weren't mis-sold, so have no comeback. Though if they lie to you – you do.

Know who's responsible

Can you prove it?

When returning items, beware shops trying the oldest trick in the book: saying they're not responsible for the shoddy goods and you must call the manufacturer. This is total nonsense!

If a company fobs you off by saying “go to the maker instead”, it's wrong. It's the retailer's job to sort it.

It doesn't matter if it's an iPod from a high street shop or a designer frock from a department store. If something's broken, torn, ripped or faulty, the seller has a legal duty to put it right as your contract is with it.

What proof do you need?

When goods are faulty, if you return them within six months, then it's up to the shop to prove they weren't faulty when you bought them. After this, the burden of proof shifts and it's up to you to prove they were faulty when you bought them.

But that's not all. There's another piece of legislation called the Limitations Act (it's the Prescription and Limitation Act in Scotland) that can help you out.

You have up to six years after you bought a good to complain. (In Scotland, it's five years after you first realised there was a problem.)

This comes in handy if you buy goods, but don't use them for a few months or if something breaks after the six month rule and the fault was likely to have been there all along. Yet the longer it's been and the less durable the item, the harder it'll be to fight for a full refund. In such a case, you might have to accept a partial refund or credit note.

Bought something prior to 1 Oct 2015? You have the same rights but they are under the The Sale And Supply of Goods To Consumers Regulations 2002.

This is the law BUT in reality shops usually give you more leeway (though this is often suspended in sales)

Many of us have bought something only to later decide it's unsuitable or not needed and shops are under no obligation to take your goods back, just because you've changed your mind.

But even when you don't have legal rights, plenty of companies do STILL give refunds even if the item isn't faulty. These are mainly high street stores allowing you to simply take back whatever you want within a set timeframe. Here are some examples:

John Lewis

* John Lewis. If you're unhappy with a purchase, you have up to 90 days to return it. There are some exclusions including perishable goods, personalised or made-to-order products, opened computer software or iTunes giftcards, which must be faulty or not as described to be refunded or exchanged.


* Waterstones. If you're unhappy with your purchase you can return it in a resalable condition with proof of purchase within 30 days. Book tokens and some specially ordered items are excluded.

So what about my 'extra rights' during sales?

Many shops often revert back to the basic statutory rules during sales, so you may not be able to enjoy any extra rights if the item you bought has been discounted.

But remember, if goods are faulty you can still use your Sad Fart rights. This applies whether you bought something in a sale or not, unless the retailer told you about the fault before you bought it and part of the reduction in price was due to this. Plus, online orders always get the 14 day cooling-off rights from the Consumer Contracts Regulations, subject to the standard exclusions, wherever and whenever you bought them.

Your rights when buying digital content

The new Consumer Rights Act has introduced specific new rights to protect you when buying digital content (it's Part 1, Chapter 3, if you want to look it up).

Digital content

Before the Act came into force on 1 Oct 2015 (or still, for anything bought before then) you didn't have separate rights for digital content - you had to use the goods and service rights, which didn't always apply well to digital items.

The new law applies to any digital content, whether it’s a Blu-ray disc containing a film that can be physically touched, or a downloaded film that can’t be. It also applies to any updates and modifications made to the content for six years after you’ve had it.

The SAD FART rules still apply to digital content - it needs to be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for the purpose and last a reasonable length of time. But there are a few differences with digital content as well.

There’s no automatic right to a full refund within 30 days

If the digital content doesn’t measure up you can ask for a repair or replacement. If the repair or replacement doesn’t work, or isn’t possible, you can then ask for a reduction in price instead.

The law says that a full refund may be given “where appropriate”, so act quickly and you may actually get all of your money back - but in general this is likely to be a partial refund.

Compensation is available if the content damages your device

If you can show the faulty digital content has caused damage to your device or other digital content you’re also entitled to compensation for the damage caused, or to get the damaged item repaired.

This might be apply if, for example, a downloaded music track caused your MP3 player to play up, or an updated app deleted movie files from your mobile. Any repairs needs to be done in a reasonable time and compensation paid within 14 days.

It doesn’t cover free content, unless you paid for something else to get it

You need to have paid for the content, either with cash or something like a gift voucher, token or virtual money in a game, to be eligible to use these rights. This includes buying something that includes free digital content, like software with a computer.

If something was free, and it damages your device, you won't be able to use the Consumer Rights Act. But you might still be able to get compensation via a different route- complain to the retailer in the first instance, but ultimately you might have to go to court.

Bought something prior to 1 Oct 2015? Digital content wasn't covered separately prior to 1 Oct - it was just treated as a good or service (for example, a Blu-ray would count as a good, while downloaded music would count as a service). So the usual rights for goods or services apply instead.

Your rights when buying services

Whether it's a shop, restaurant, bank, insurer, public and private transport or healthcare (we could go on!), top-notch service is the least you should expect in today's super-competitive climate.

Of course, things still go wrong and when they do, you've powerful protection from Part 1 Chapter 4 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Quite simply, it demands that any service should be carried out with...

Reasonable care and skill,
Within a reasonable time,
At a reasonable price.

Bought something prior to 1 Oct 2015? Prior to 1 Oct you had essentially the same rights but they were under the The Supply of Goods and Services Act.

What is 'reasonable'?

In a legal context, and in any dispute that you might have with a retailer or company over standards of service, it means the level of service must be one that you or any other normal reasonable person would also consider to be reasonable.

The best way to think of it is to imagine what a sensible, unbiased, friend would say who knew both you and the person providing the service – would they agree it was reasonable?

Of course this can stray into difficult territory. If you get a mobile phone in Scotland and have told them you'll use it there, but it only gets a signal in Wales – no one would consider that reasonable. Yet if you get the phone and the only place it doesn't get a signal is in your home – is that reasonable?

But what do the 'reasonable' rules actually mean?

  • Care and skill

    Care and skill

    This means a business should look after you and your property properly as, by being a business, it is saying it is capable of doing so. So a hairdresser would be expected to NOT ruin your hair and a builder NOT to forget to lay foundations.

  • Reasonable time

    Reasonable time

    If the time taken to complete a job is unclear, it should be carried out as soon as possible and not drag on for years. If you need something doing by a certain date, eg, a wedding cake to be made in time for your special day, you can make your contract 'time is of the essence', which'll give you stronger rights if there's a problem.

  • Reasonable price

    Reasonable price

    This is about the price of work that hasn't been agreed in advance, not the overall price of the service. If you get an estimate to fix your boiler for £200, have the work done and problems mean you end up being charged £2,000, the trader would need to prove this was reasonable, usually meaning what other plumbers would charge.

Do note you can't be unreasonable and also expect rights. So if, at the start of a new conservatory job, you agree a price and timescale, you can't come back later and substantially change your order – although you can if there were new charges, or the work was taking longer than agreed.

Buying on the web, mail order or from home

On top of all the other protections described above, there are major advantages to buying on the web, mail order, or simply from home. Thanks to the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013, in most cases you have the right to cancel your order and get a refund - even if you've just changed your mind.

When do I have the right to cancel?

The Consumer Contracts Regulations apply to contracts for goods or services (including digital content) of any value ordered from an EU-based business via mail order, phone or online. You're also protected if buying something costing more than £42 away from a normal seller's premises (usually at your home or work).

How long do I have to cancel?

How long do I have to cancel?

Here it depends what you're buying:

  • Goods: 14 days from the day after you receive all goods in an order (unless it's for regular delivery such as a magazine subscription, when the first delivery counts). Once you've cancelled an order you then have a further 14 days to send the goods back.
  • Services and digital content: 14 days from the day after the order is made. If you want to start a service within the 14 days, you will usually be asked to give your agreement in writing. This then means you can't cancel. However you are able to get a refund minus the proportionate cost of anything you have used.

If you aren't told about your cancellation rights in writing, you have up to a year and 14 days to cancel the contract.

What ISN'T covered?

There are quite a few exceptions, but they are usually in niche areas.

Show me the excluded items.

How do I cancel a contract?

How do i cancel a contract?

The business will give you a cancellation form, which it must acknowledge receipt of (see an example here). You can use this if you like, or you can write to seller instead. Some businesses may allow you to cancel by phone.

Your time to cancel starts from the day you send a form, letter, email or fax, not the day the seller receives it. It's your responsibility to prove you cancelled on time so ensure you get a confirmation from the company.

As soon as you've cancelled, take good care of all of the goods, as you have to return them in reasonable condition (but not necessarily in the same packaging) and within 14 days. If the goods are damaged the seller can take the relevant cost from your refund.

How do I get a refund?

How do I get a refund?

The seller must then pay back any cash within 14 days of it receiving the goods or being told you want to cancel a service or digital contract.

Your refund must include the least expensive delivery option but if you chose a more expensive delivery you'll need to cover the difference. Be sure to specifically ask for delivery to be included as some stores don't add it automatically.

You'll also usually be asked to pay for return delivery, unless the seller doesn't say this in its T&Cs, or the goods were faulty.

Quick questions:

What about 'click and collect'?

What about specific deliveries?

What if I'm buying on eBay?

What if I'm taking out a financial agreement?

How does this apply to package holidays and timeshares?

How to make 'em pay up

While the legal protection is strong, it doesn't matter what the rules are if the seller won't obey them. Yet this isn't always easy with consumer law, you need to sort out your own problems.

How to make 'em pay up

Don't go militant unless you have to. The first easy step is to go back to the shop or phone the call centre and explain the problem and your suggested resolution.

If you go in with gusto, saying you know what your rights are, chances are the store will sort your problem in a flash.

Sadly, many customer-facing staff in stores have no idea about the statutory rights, so you may come up against a brick wall. Stay calm, if possible find them the law (use the consumer rights print-out to help) – and politely ask to speak to a supervisor.

Before you go though, there's some rules to follow...

The complaint checklist:

  • Know what outcome you want

    When complaining, don't get mad. Be cool, calm and rational and you'll be more likely to get results than ranting and raving. Throw a temper tantrum and the company may be perfectly happy to lose your custom so it gets rid of you.

    Decide the answer to these three questions before you start:

    • Do you want to exchange the goods/keep the digital content/continue the service? If you could get the goods fixed, the digital content replaced or have the service improved, would you be happy to accept that? If the answer's yes, life's easier.

    • Do you want a full refund? While you may want a full refund, you're not always entitled to it if they can fix the problem. Having said that, sometimes it's just easier for them to pay up to have the problem solved.

    • Do you want compensation and, if so, what kind? Do you want money over and above just fixing or replacing a product, for the time you've spent sorting it or the distress you've been caused? While this can happen, it certainly complicates things. Be reasonable and be sure you genuinely feel you've been unfairly put out.

Bought something prior to 1 Oct 2015? Digital content wasn't covered separately prior to 1 Oct - it was just treated as a good or service (for example, a Blu-ray would count as a good, while downloaded music would count as a service). So the usual rights for goods or services would apply.

  • Act as soon as possible

    In a nutshell return something in 30 days and in most cases you’ll get a full refund. Miss this and your rights reduce.

    Therefore the best route is simple...

    Complain the instant you realise there's a problem. The longer it's left, the more likely you'll lose your rights.

    The longer it's been and the less durable the item, the harder it'll be to fight for a full refund. Yet whatever you request, the retailer must sort it within a 'reasonable' time. So while two weeks to fix a car brake fault is acceptable, two weeks to clean it isn't.

    What if you've taken longer to return the goods?

    If you take longer than 30 days to return the item, you'll have to choose between a repair or a replacement. The retailer can veto either though if it's impossible to carry out a repair or the cost of a replacement is much higher than that of a repair.

    If the item is 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 then 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.

Bought something prior to 1 Oct 2015? You still need to act as soon as possible - but the crucial point here is whether you've been deemed to have 'accepted' the goods. Read more

  • Stop using it as soon as you can

    This could be tricky, especially if it's a car or your bank. But the less you use something because of your annoyance, the more it adds weight to your complaint.

    Do be careful about payment here, though. If you've not paid in full, beware cancelling payment as the company could continue to chase you for money, which may end up affecting your Credit Rating.

  • Keep a diary

    Note down what went wrong, who you spoke to and when and what you agreed, if anything. This is more important if your original agreement was made verbally, as your complaint will be harder to prove.

  • Collect evidence

    Stash pics and other evidence to back up your case, such as receipts or terms and conditions. Receipts are not essential to have (or give, although nearly all stores do), but proof of purchase - a cheque book stub, bank statement or credit card statement - usually is. Don't post originals to sellers, because you'll need a back-up.

  • Keep a log of any extra costs

    Note down any extra costs you've had to pay, such as phone calls or replacing damaged items, so you can ask for the cash back. Ask to be reimbursed for additional costs. In the case of holidays or fun activities, it's possible to get extra cash for inconvenience or distress.

  • If you're forced to pay, do it 'under protest'

    If the seller is forcing you to pay for something you're not happy to cough up for, you have two options. One is to refuse and suggest they take you to court for the rest. The other - possibly a better option if they have something of yours, such as a PC in for repair - is to say you are "paying under protest". This will help your case if you need to take your complaint to court.

Still not happy?

If you've followed all the tips in this guide, hopefully things have been resolved. Yet if your complaint to the seller has fallen on deaf ears, there are several other steps you can take to fight back. See the full How To Complain guide to see which is best for you, or the Small Claims Court guide on how to take legal action for up to £10,000.

Free tool if you’re having a problem

This tool helps you draft your complaint and manage it too. It’s totally free, and offered by a firm called Resolver which we like so much we work with it to help people get complaints justice.

Resolver can raise pretty much any kind of complaint with over 5,500 firms and public bodies, including shops, energy firms, banks and insurance providers.

Also, if your complaint is initially rejected Resolver can help you escalate it, with the company first and then an external regulator or ombudsman.

For more information see our Resolver guide.

Consumer rights Q&A

What does "this does not affect your statutory rights" mean?

If I've bought something, can I change my mind?

If I pay in Scottish notes, do they have to take it?

If goods are mispriced – can I force them to sell it me at that price?

Do I have rights if a freebie was faulty?

Can I return goods that are a gift?

Do I have to accept a credit note if a shop offers it?

Can a company ever say my rights don't apply?

Are terms allowed to be unfair?

Do I have the same rights with financial companies?