Week 2 on The Alan Titchmarsh Show and we’re already complaining. Faulty goods, poor service, bad food. We’ve all had reason to complain and some people seem to do it more than most, but what are our rights when we are dissatisfied? There are some things you should know and some basic rules to follow. Be polite, be confident, be clear and remain calm. Always make sure you are speaking to the most appropriate person and that person is someone who can resolve your complaint. If that fails, the law is there to protect you.
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When you buy a product from a store it must be of ‘satisfactory quality’, ‘fit for purpose’ and ‘match any description’ given. If the item does not meet these criteria then you will usually be able to get a repair, a replacement or a refund under the terms of the Sale of Goods Act 1979 or for breach of contract, where the goods don’t match their description or additional damage has been caused.
However, if there is nothing wrong with the goods and you have just changed your mind about wanting something then you will not have these statutory protections. Likewise, if there was an obvious fault at the time of purchase or it was pointed out to you, you have damaged the goods yourself or they have reached the end of what could be expected as an appropriate lifespan the protection will lapse.
You should always keep your receipt or proof of purchase and check the store’s returns and refunds policy for enhanced terms, including ‘no quibble’ money back promises. There may also be manufacturer guarantees in place which offer exchange or repair, but your first call is the seller.
If you have retained the product for too long or tried to repair the goods yourself (or used an unauthorised repair service) you are unlikely to be entitled to a full refund but you may be entitled to a replacement or partial refund. Which? provides some example letters and further advice here.
Buying with a credit card
Under clause 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, if you’ve bought something with a credit card over the value of £100 but not more than £30,000 (including VAT), the credit card company and the seller may be jointly and equally responsible for compensating you if the product is faulty or there is another problem. It is not necessary for the whole of the cost by credit card to gain this protection.
Although it’s usually best to sort out your problem directly with the seller, there may be times when it’s best to get in touch with your credit card company such as if the trader has gone out of business or has failed to reply to you.
Buying with a debit card
If you buy with a debit card (or for credit card items worth less than £100) then you may have the right to get a refund from your card provider through the Chargeback Scheme, particularly if you are unable to sort out the problem with the seller. To benefit from the Scheme, you may have to prove there’s been a breach of contract and must make a claim within a certain time limit, usually within 120 days of when you bought the goods. You should check the terms of your chargeback agreement to find out the time limit for your card provider.
When you buy goods or services without face to face contact (for example shopping by internet, mail order, phone or television) you are protected by The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 in addition to the Sale of Goods Act.
The regulations say that you:
- Must be given clear information about the goods or services before you buy
- Must receive written information after you have bought the goods or services
- Have a right to cancel your order within a seven day cooling-off period
- Have a right to receive goods within 30 days after the order was sent, unless otherwise agreed
- Can get a refund if items aren’t delivered on the agreed delivery date (or after 30 days of placing the order if no date is given)
- Have a right to a refund if someone has used your payment card without your permission
It is worth noting that if you are buying from an online auction site, such as eBay, you will not be covered by the Distance Selling Regulations unless you use a ‘buy now’ function, rather than bidding. You should read the terms of any online auction site you are using.
Further details about your rights and how to enforce them are available here.
Complaining in a restaurant
When buying food in a restaurant it must be of satisfactory quality, be safe and must match its description. For example, if the food is served cold (when it shouldn’t be) or some ingredients are missing from your order.
If you’re not happy with your food stop eating it and make a complaint to the waiter or waitress. If you have eaten most of the meal, your complaint will be less successful. You can either ask for a replacement or order something else or ask for the meal to be deducted from your bill. You should not be charged for a meal you reject, though you should pay for a replacement meal and would be entitled to pay less as a result.
If you are unhappy with the service you receive in a restaurant, you should again make a complaint, probably to a manager. The law says a service must be carried out with reasonable care and skill and in a reasonable time.
Complain on the spot to the waiter or waitress. If they don’t sort it out, ask to speak to the manager and tell them why you are unhappy. The restaurant may offer to reduce the bill or give you a complimentary drink but you can’t refuse to pay the bill because the service was poor. If your complaint is still not satisfied, write a letter to the restaurant manager or, if a chain restaurant, the head office.
However, it stands that if the service was poor you are not obliged to pay a service charge, even if the restaurant says it is compulsory.
The contents of this post are not intended to be a substitute for individual professional advice and you should consult a solicitor or the Citizens Advice Bureau if you have any queries.