Consumer Rights on Faulty out of Warranty Goods under UK Law

There is nothing more irritating (or some would say, predictable) than goods going wrong just after the manufacturer’s warranty has expired. In fact, many electronics stores make hefty profits by selling consumers expensive (and high margin) extended warranties to take advantage of this very fear. Fortunately, a vast majority of manufactured goods will give the user a long and productive service life, but what are your rights if it fails and you find yourself without a warranty?

The key legislation for consumers of goods under UK law is the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (the Act). The Act introduced the concept of “satisfactory quality”, which essentially means what a reasonable person would find acceptable, having regard to things such as the price you have paid, safety, durability, fitness for the purpose for which it is sold and its appearance and finish. There is no “on size fits all” definition, so there is a subjective element in the interpretation. Also, keep in mind the rights described below only apply to transactions between a consumer and a commercial entity – it does not apply (fully) to private sales.

For instance, if you buy a no-brand DVD player from the supermarket for £50, your expectations of its durability and quality would be lower than if you spent £200 on a marquee brand. If both items had a one year manufacturer warranty, it would be easier to argue that there is a reasonable expectation that more expensive machine would last more than a year.

Stores and traders will often have a no-quibble money-back guarantee specified for a particular time – such as 14 or 30 days – usually on production of a valid receipt. However, a store receipt is not definitive – as long as you have some proof of purchase (such as a cheque stub or credit card bill) the seller is obliged to entertain your claim. The key thing to remember is that your rights do not terminate at the end of this period. The only thing you lose is the ability to get all of your money back (as an alternative to replacement or repair). Similarly, the end of the manufacturer guarantee does not extinguish your rights to a remedy.

A favourite trick by the retailer is to blame the manufacturer and tell you to contact them direct to rely on the warranty that may have been provided with the goods. However, under the law, as a consumer, your contract is with the seller, and as such , it is the seller of the goods that is responsible for compensating you for breach of that contract – not the manufacturer (the retailer will have a separate right to seek compensation from the company that makes the goods). Don’t be fobbed off by this often used and dismissive excuse.

Depending on how long it has been since you purchased the goods, you will be entitled to one of the following: (a) all of your money back; (b) some of your money back; (c) repair of the goods; or (d) replacement with an equivalent of the original is no longer available. Helpfully, the Act (as amended) reverses the burden of proof on to the retailer, so that if  goods go wrong in the first six months after they are bought, they are presumed to have been faulty in the first place.

However, what you get depends largely on the amount of time that has passed and whether the items can be economically repaired. Keep in mind that whether you get anything will depend on how reasonable it is to expect the goods to have lasted longer than they did. If a credit note is offered instead of cash, be wary of any restrictions (some may expire after a stated time).

Certain factors will prevent you from claiming, the most obvious being if you damage the goods yourself, simply change you’re your mind about wanting them, or knowingly bought them damaged in the first place – such as part of a manager’s clearance where the fault is either clearly described or was so obvious that you should have noticed it. Normal wear and tear is also not covered.

If the retailer refuses to honour his obligations under the law, you have the right to bring a claim in Small Claim’s Court (for items under £5000). You have up to six years to bring a claim in England, but don’t confuse this with how long goods should last – the six years is simply the statute of limitation. Remember that from the end of six months (when the reversed burden of proof applies) to the end of the six years, it is up to the consumer to prove that the goods did not conform to contract.