Your Consumer Rights Explained

Your consumer rights explained

By Amy Harker, Editor at Last updated 1st February 2023.

Amy Harker

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 protects you if you've purchased something and it's broken, faulty or isn't what you expected. 

What purchases does the consumer rights act cover?

The consumer rights act protects you when you buy goods or services; typically, these fall into four categories.

  • Goods - When referring to goods or products, we’re generally talking about something physical, from clothing to washing machines or furniture.
  • Digital content - Digital content is something you download from the internet, such as games, apps, films, books or music.
  • Services - Services refer to a company or person carrying out work for you, such as a hairdresser, public transport or a decorator.
  • Mixed contracts - This is where the purchase you’ve made is composed of more than one type, such as when you pay for something with installation, like a kitchen.

What are my consumer rights when purchasing goods?

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 is a law that protects consumers when buying products and services including digital content products bought from retailers and purchases made online.

If you’ve purchased something and it’s broken, faulty, or isn’t what you expected, you’re entitled to a refund, repair or replacement. Products whether physical or digital, should be:

Of satisfactory quality:

This one can be tricky to define, but a product should be of a satisfactory standard that a reasonable person would be happy with. Essentially, the product shouldn’t be damaged or faulty when you receive it.

Another aspect of ‘satisfactory quality’ is the product should last for a reasonable amount of time. This can vary depending on the product’s price point and product type.

For example, if you bought an inexpensive washing machine that lasts for four years; it’s durable considering the price point.

However, if you bought a high-end washing machine and looked after it properly but it broke after a month, it hasn’t lasted a reasonable amount of time, and subsequently isn’t of satisfactory quality.

Fit for purpose:

Can you use it for what it’s intended for? If you bought a phone charger that claimed it was suitable for your phone, but when you plugged it in, the charger doesn’t fit your phone; it’s not fit purpose.

However, buying the wrong charger without checking if it’s suitable for your phone is different; the charger is fit for purpose, it’s just you bought the wrong charger.

As described:

A product you purchase must match the description given to you at the point of sale; this could be a picture, model, sample or just a written description of the product.

For example, if you bought a t-shirt; both the picture and the description online state it’s a green t-shirt, but the one that arrives is pink; the product isn’t as described.

How long do I have to get a refund for a faulty product?

Your right to a refund changes over time, so it’s best to act quickly if a product arrives damaged or faulty. If, within the reasonable lifetime of a product, it develops a fault, you may be eligible for a repair, replacement or partial refund.

Within 30 days

Within the first 30 days of receiving a product, you’re entitled to a full refund if the product doesn’t meet the three criteria stated above. If you’d prefer a repair or replacement, you can ask the company you bought the product from for this instead; most will oblige.

Within 6 months

If, in the first 6 months of purchasing a product, it develops a fault or you find it doesn’t meet the three criteria stated above, you must give the retailer an opportunity to repair or replace the product.

If, however, they repair or replace the product and you’re still not satisfied that it’s fit for purpose or of satisfactory quality, you will be entitled to a full refund.

After 6 months

If the product you’ve purchased develops a fault after 6 months, the retailer has the right to try and repair or replace the product.

If the repair is unsuccessful, or you find the replacement is also faulty, you’re entitled to a partial refund.

It’s your responsibility to prove the product is faulty after six months and that it’s not damaged due to misuse but was faulty when you took ownership of the product.

Your rights for digital content and perishable goods are slightly different.

With perishable goods, like a bottle of milk, you don’t have 30 days to get a refund, as you wouldn’t expect milk to last that long. So in these cases, the return period is shorter, typically to the use-by date.

With digital downloads, such as music or games, the 30-day right to a refund doesn’t apply, but you can ask for a repair or replacement. If this is unsuccessful or impossible, you should get a partial refund up to the full amount you paid.

What about online purchases?

When you purchase something online, you have a additional rights; this is because of the Consumer Contracts Regulations. With online purchases, you have the right to cancel your order within 14 days of receiving it, with a further 14 days to return it.

The main reason for this is because you don’t get to see the item before you purchase it; when you buy something in a shop, you see it, you can feel the material, and you can even try it on. When you buy something online, you can’t do this.

There are some exclusions, such as personalised items, CDs or DVDs where you’ve broken the seal, and perishable items.

Can shops refuse to refund you?

Whether or not a retailer is able to refuse a refund, for the most part, depends on your reason for seeking a refund. If you simply changed your mind about a purchase, your ability to get a refund will depend on the retailer's returns policy.

You should be able to find a shop's returns policy on your receipt or online. Shops don’t have to have a returns policy but must stick to it if they do have one. Return policies will normally offer conditions for accepting the return of non-faulty goods, such as a time limit, having the receipt, or the item being returned unopened.

If, however, you’re returning a product because it's faulty, isn’t fit for purpose or isn’t as described, a retailer shouldn’t refuse a refund, though this will depend on how long ago your purchase was made.

What about second-hand goods?

When buying second-hand goods, your rights will depend on who you bought the product from.

If you buy something second-hand from a retailer or trader, then you’re covered by the Consumer Rights Act (and the Consumer Contracts Regulations for online purchases).

However, if you buy something second-hand from a private seller, on a platform like Facebook marketplace, or eBay, then the same rules won’t apply, as long as the product has been accurately described.

What are my consumer rights when buying services?

The customer is king, and most service providers will try to offer the best possible service, even if only to manage brand reputation. But this isn’t always the case, and if you’re unsatisfied with a service provided, you’re protected under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. By law, services you pay for must be:

Carried out with reasonable care and skill

Is the service being performed carried out to the same standard that other professionals would be happy with?

Let’s say you’re paying a decorator to paint your living room, but he doesn’t tape off the skirting board and it gets covered in paint, plus he misses patches of the walls, then the work isn’t of reasonable quality and hasn’t been carried out with reasonable care or skill.

Finished within a reasonable time

If you haven’t agreed on a timeframe beforehand, service providers have a duty to make sure work is carried out in a reasonable timeframe.

Looking at our decorator example; If you’ve agreed and paid for him to paint your living room in January, and he doesn’t start until April, and then the work isn’t completed until December, when other professionals could have carried out the work in two days from starting, the work hasn’t been carried out in a reasonable amount of time, plus will have inconvenienced you significantly.

Charged at a reasonable rate

This is relevant where you’ve not agreed on a price beforehand. Would any reasonable person be willing to pay that amount for the service?

Let’s go back to our decorator example; he’s painting your living room, but you didn’t agree on a price beforehand, it takes him two days, and you supplied the paint. But once the job is done, he tries to charge you £10,000. That’s not a reasonable amount, and most people would not agree to that price before the work was carried out.

Information that you’ve been given beforehand, whether verbally or in writing, is binding. So if you’re told beforehand that your service will cost a certain amount, they can’t change how much they charge you once the work is completed, unless, throughout the course of the work taking place, the work carried out changed from what was originally agreed.

With our decorator example, let’s say your agreed before hand to pay him £600 to paint your living room, but whilst he was carrying out that work, you asked if he could also paint your dining room and kitchen. He would then be within his rights to charge you a reasonable amount more.

If a service you receive isn't satisfactory...

If you receive a service that you don’t feel satisfies the criteria laid out in the Consumer Rights Act, speak to the company who provided the service. Under certain circumstances by law you have the right to:

Repeat performance

If you’re not satisfied with the quality of the work carried out, you have the right to require the trader (person providing the service) to try and remedy the situation by redoing the work at no extra cost. The repeat performance mustn’t cause significant inconvenience to you.

An example of this is paying for a company or tradesperson to fit a new bathroom, but the work carried out wasn’t of a decent quality. The company or tradesperson you used would have to redo the work, within a reasonable timeframe, without charging you extra.

Price reduction

Of course, in some cases, it’s not possible to remedy the situation by redoing the work, in these instances, or if the work wasn’t carried out in a reasonable time or for a reasonable price, you would be entitled to a price reduction, or refund. This can, in some circumstances be a full refund.

How do consumer rights work with mixed contracts?

Mixed contracts are a little complicated, typically, the rights you have depends on which aspect of the contract is unsatisfactory.

For example - you’ve bought a new kitchen and paid to have it fitted, the kitchen itself, the cabinets, flooring, tiles and appliances are goods, but having someone fit the kitchen is a service.

If your new kitchen has been fitted and two months later, the oven stops working, you’d be able to get it repaired or replaced for free.

However, if while fitting your new kitchen, the fitter doesn’t attach the cabinets to the walls properly, that’s a problem with the service you’ve received, so you’d be entitled to have the kitchen refitted for no extra charge.

Further help

If you’re experiencing difficulties with goods or services you’ve paid for, or think you’ve been treated unfairly, you can contact Citizens Advice for help.

You can also complain to the relevant ombudsmen using the Ombudsmen Association.

The information provided does not constitute financial advice, it’s always important to do your own research to ensure a financial product is right for your circumstances. If you’re unsure you should contact an independent financial advisor.