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13 Problems with Goods and Services

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1. Introduction

2. What is the difference between ´goods´ and ´services´?

3. Dealing with problems with goods (products)

If you have a problem with a product, you should first complain to:

  • the seller or retailer (the place you bought it from); or
  • if it is under guarantee, the manufacturer.

They may offer to give you a refund, fix it for free or replace it without argument. When you contact them, be clear which of these you want.

You may also want to ask for compensation if you have lost money because the product was faulty (for example, you may have had to throw out food that had spoilt because your freezer broke down).

If the retailer won’t do what you want, don’t be fobbed off. Sometimes just letting a shop know that you are aware of your legal rights is enough to make them sort out the problem.

However, if a retailer still refuses to sort out your problem or won’t deal with you at all, you may have to take legal action. The threat of legal action or the first stages (like getting a county court summons) may be enough to get the shop to act.

Your legal rights

There are several laws you can quote when making a complaint. The most important is the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (later strengthened by the Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994).

The law says that goods must:

  • fit any description given, for example, on the label or packaging or in an advertisement (so, for example, a leather jacket really must be made of leather and not plastic);
  • be of satisfactory quality, meaning they must be in good condition, safe to use and strong enough to last a reasonable length of time, and must have no faults;
  • be fit for their purpose, which includes any purpose you made clear when you bought or ordered the goods (so, for example, if you told a shop that you wanted a printer that would connect to your type of computer, the printer should do this);
  • match any sample you were shown (so if you order a sofa, the fabric must match what you were shown when you ordered it); and
  • come with adequate installation or self-assembly instructions (if needed).

These rights are against the retailer, not the manufacturer. The retailer is the shop or company that sold the goods to you, and this includes:

  • market stalls;
  • mail-order companies; and
  • websites.

The retailer cannot pass the buck by telling you to contact the manufacturer about a fault. However, you can complain to the manufacturer if you want, and this may be a good idea if the product is covered by a guarantee. (For more about guarantees, see ‘How do guarantees and warranties work?’.) But you cannot use the Sale of Goods Act to take the manufacturer to court.

Advertising is part of your contract with the retailer, even if the manufacturer or importer of a product did the advertising. This means that if you are misled by an advertisement, you may have a claim against the retailer.

4. What the law says a retailer must do about faulty goods

5. What if a product hurts someone or damages something?

6. What if I buy by phone or mail order, or over the internet?

7. What if something is wrong with the food I have bought?

8. What are my rights if I buy on credit ?

9. Dealing with problems with services

10. What the law says a service provider must do

11. Ways to sort out your problem

12. Further help

13. About this leaflet


This leaflet is published by the Gurkha Free Legal Advice (LSC). It was written in association with Sue Bloomfield, a freelance consumer affairs writer.

Leaflet Version: November 2007

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