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Buying goods - Sale of Goods Act

The most important law on the sale of goods is the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended). This is the Act you can quote if you have a problem with goods you have purchased.

The Act is part of the civil law - this means that problems you have with any goods you have purchased are not a criminal matter, so the police will not be involved. You have to take action yourself. To do this you need to know what your rights are and to understand your own responsibilities.

Wherever you bought your goods (a shop, market, catalogue, the internet), and even if they are second-hand they should meet three tests. Are they;

If a seller breaks any of these conditions then you:

  • have the right to ask for your money back
  • do not have to accept a replacement; if you do accept a replacement, ask for written agreement that if the replacements are faulty you will still get your money back
  • do not have to accept a credit note
  • if you agree to a repair and it is unsatisfactory, then it will not stop you claiming your money back.

The seller is liable for up to six years after purchase of the goods.

If you have a valid complaint then it is the seller who has to deal with it, not the manufacturer.

Satisfactory quality
What a reasonable person would find satisfactory taking into account the cost and age of the item.

This means that the goods should work. For example, the zip in a skirt should not stick.

They should also be:

  • of reasonable appearance and finish
  • safe and durable
  • without defects

You should take account of the age and cost of the goods. Remember, 'what would a reasonable person expect?'

  • Second-hand goods will not be as good quality as new.
  • 'Seconds' will have faults.
  • You will not get good quality goods for rock-bottom prices.

Tip: If a defect has been pointed out or there is an obvious defect on the goods, what can you do? You cannot complain about the defect at a later date, so you buy the goods at your own risk.

Fit for purpose
What are the goods for? For most things, this is obvious. If you buy a second-hand car for scrap, you cannot expect it to be roadworthy.

It also covers any questions you ask about the goods. If you needed a printer for your computer and you asked if it was compatible with your computer (because the packaging gave no clear indication), and you subsequently found it was not compatible, you would have cause for complaint.

Don't make assumptions about the purpose of the goods you are buying. Check if the waterproof jacket is rainproof if you need it for hill walking.

The responsibility to ask is yours. When you ask a question, take the name of the person you asked, so you can refer to them in future if you need to.

As described
Goods should meet the description given by the seller. The description on the packaging must also be accurate. In some cases, you buy goods after seeing a sample; the goods you receive must match the sample.

If a jacket is described on the label as 100% cotton, then it should be exactly that. If you buy meat that is described as fresh then it should not have previously been frozen.

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