10 consumer rights to know about
You can't expect everything in your life to go smoothly all the time. Mistakes happen, and some people are just out to scam you if they can.
Either way, knowing your consumer rights is the best way to protect yourself and ensure that you are not taken for a ride.
So here are our top 10 consumer rights that you really need to know about.
1. Retailer refunds
The law states that any goods you buy from a UK retailer should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable amount of time.
This applies even if you buy items in a sale or with a discount voucher. You may have to insist on these rights being respected, though.
Useful phrases to use when you want to show you mean business include, "according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979" and, if it's a service, "according to the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982".
Some shops will allow you to exchange goods without a receipt, but they can refuse to should they wish.
If the goods are faulty, however, another proof of purchase such as a bank statement should work just as well.
3. Refund timeframes
If you attempt to return goods within four weeks of the purchase, your chances of getting a full refund are much higher as you can argue that you have not "accepted" them.
After this point, you can only really expect an exchange, repair or part-refund.
4. Credit card refunds
The updated Consumer Credit Act states that card companies are jointly and severally liable for credit card purchases of between £100 and £30,000 (whether or not you paid just a deposit or the whole amount on your card).
Anyone spending between these amounts on their credit card is therefore protected if the retailer or service provider goes bust, their online shopping never arrives or the items in question are faulty or not as described.
5. Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) compensation
The FOS settles disputes between financial companies such as banks and consumers.
If a financial organisation rejects a complaint you make about its services, you can therefore escalate that complaint to the FOS - as long as you have given the company in question at least eight weeks to respond.
The FOS will then investigate the case, and could force the company to offer you compensation should it see fit.
Bailiffs are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.
They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles. However, they cannot take essentials such as fridges or clothes.
What's more, they can only generally enter your home to take your stuff if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.
You are therefore within your rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity. If they try to force their way in, you can also call the police to stop them.
7. Debt collectors
Private sector debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, whatever they tell you.
They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.
In fact, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt. As with bailiffs, you can also call the police if you feel physically threatened.
8. Debt management plans
When you cannot afford to meet your debt repayments, it can feel like there is nowhere to turn.
However, debt charities such as the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (0800 138 1111) offer free advice and can often solve your repayment problems by setting up a debt management plan with your creditors.
Not only will this mean smaller payments - generally over a longer period of time - it will also put a stop to the threatening letters, visits and calls.
9. Online/phone purchases
Thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations, you actually have more rights buying online or by phone than on the High Street.
You can, for example, send most goods back, for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault - as long as you send them back within seven working days of receipt.
You will usually need to pay for the return delivery, though. The seller must then refund you within 30 days.
10. Cooling off periods
We enter into contracts all the time, whether it be to join a gym, switch energy supplier or take out a loan.
In most cases, once you've signed a contract, you are legally bound by it. In some situations, however, you have the right to cancel it within a certain timeframe.
Credit agreements, for example, can be cancelled within 14 days. And online retailers must tell you about your cancellation rights for any contract made up to stand up legally.