The Sale of Goods Act 1979 (c 54) regulates the quality of certain types of goods bought and sold. The Act brings together previous legislation, including the Sale of Goods Act 1893. Many minor statutory amendments and additions have been made since 1979.
The Act excludes goods bought on hire purchase, which are covered by The Supply of Goods (Implied Terms) Act 1973.
Note that the Consumer Rights Act (CRA) 2015 replaced the Sale of Goods Act 1979 from 1 October 2015, and hence, law within the older Act no longer applies. Under the CRA 2015, changes have been made to how customers can return faulty goods and obtain a refund, replacement or repair after buying a product which the customer believes to be faulty. Moreover, the CRA gives rights to consumers that buy digital content (such as music, films, books and legal documents).
The Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013 also give consumers rights when they buy goods and services - notably off-premises and at distance (such as online).
The Sale of Goods Act states that goods delivered or sold must be of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. Fit for purpose means that the goods will provide the benefit or meet the purpose advertised by the seller.
Goods sold must also be as described – that is they should match the product shown at the time of selling or they must meet the specifications and description provided in any brochure.
If any of these criteria are not met, then the customer can claim against the retailer (rather than the manufacturer) for breach of contract.
Time deadlines for returning faulty products
Customers must return faulty products within a reasonable time frame (usually three to four weeks) in order to claim a refund. The definition of reasonable time depends on the type of product and the nature of the fault.
The customer has the right to ask the retailer to replace or repair the product if it is not possible to refund it.
The retailer must repair or replace faulty goods within a reasonable time without causing significant inconvenience to the customer.
If the retailer is unwilling to repair the goods, the customer may:
- ask the retailer to reduce the purchase price
- ask the retailer to refund all the money back and deduct a usage payment – known as recision
Alternatively, the customer can hire a third party to repair the goods and ask the retailer to pay the repair fees either directly, or reimbursing the customer.
Time period to claim in court
In England and Wales, there is a maximum time period of 6 years in which the buyer may claim compensation for faulty goods via the courts. In Scotland, this time period is 5 years.
If customer has taken the matter to the court, it is their responsibility to prove that the goods are faulty or not fit for purpose.
If the customer claims that a problem arose within the six months of buying the product, then the retailer has to prove that the product they sold was as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose.
The retailer may be able to claim that the problem is not due to the quality of the product but because of unfair usage or accidental damage. Usage deemed to be unfair would be that in situations in which the labelling or instructions advise against.
If a problem arises after 6 months of use, the customer can still that a faulty product was sold to them, but that the fault did not become apparent until after 6 months had passed. It is then the responsibility of the customer to prove that they used the product fairly and that the damage or fault is not due to everyday wear and tear.
Seeking the help of an expert
An investigative report by an expert (such as mechanic or engineer) can support a claim about inferior quality of the product, whether the goods sold were faulty, and whether the product had been damaged by the customer. However, the cost of the report should be kept proportionate to the value of the claim.