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Your Guide to Consumer Rights – Buying from Retailers

If you’re unhappy with goods you’ve bought from a retailer, or with the service you’ve received, you may be entitled to a refund. In some circumstances, your right to a refund may depend on the retailer’s policy, but there's also a set of consumer rights that everyone is entitled to by law.

Faulty goods and goods that are not as described

If an item you’ve bought is broken, faulty or not what was advertised, you have rights under UK law. This applies even if the item is second-hand.

You have legal rights if any item you buy is:

  • Not of satisfactory quality – If the item was broken or damaged when it arrived
  • Not fit for purpose – If the item doesn’t work for the purpose it was intended for
  • Not as described – If the item is significantly different to how it was advertised, either through words or pictures

For example, a picture frame that arrived with cracked glass is not of satisfactory quality, while swimming goggles that leak would be considered unfit for purpose. A pair of shoes in the wrong size or colour would be not as described.

Normally these definitions are straightforward, but sometimes they can be contentious. This is especially true with used items – a seller’s definition of “light scratches” on a second-hand phone’s screen could be quite different to yours. If in doubt, it’s best to ask for pictures before making a purchase.

Bear in mind that you won’t have any legal rights if you knew about a fault before purchasing the item, if it was damaged through wear and tear, or if you simply changed your mind. Retailers might still refund or exchange the item in these cases, but it’s at their discretion.

Retailers and return periods

Under the Consumer Rights Act, you can return any faulty goods (as described above) within 30 days for an automatic refund. If the goods aren’t faulty but you still want to return them, you’ll need to check the retailer’s policy.

Many retailers offer a “goodwill” period, such as 14 days or 28 days, during which customers can return goods for any reason for a refund or a credit note. This period may start from the day the item was delivered, or the day the purchase was made.

If you have problems with a retailer over their returns policy, keep a note of important dates, such as the day you ordered the item, the day it was delivered and the day you returned it, as well as any evidence of your purchase.

While retailers aren’t obliged to offer a no-fault returns policy, they do have to stick to it if they have one. You may have legal rights if they fail to uphold the policy they describe.

Who to contact about missing items

If your item hasn’t been delivered, your first contact should be with the retailer. It’s their legal responsibility to ensure the item is delivered, and it’s up to them, not you, to chase the issue up with the delivery company.

If you’ve been waiting more than 30 days to receive your item, you’re legally entitled to cancel the order and get a refund so again contact the retailer to make this happen,

When you return an item to the retailer, the roles are reversed: it’s your responsibility to ensure the item gets there. If the retailer claims not to have received it, you should deal with the delivery company to find out what happened. If you use the CollectPlus returns service your receipt will give you free end-to-end tracking so you can see when your parcel gets back to the retailer. If you download the CollectPlus app you can easily scan your returns parcels and they will be added automatically to your CollectPlus account so you can see all your parcels in one place.

Making a complaint

If you have an issue with faulty goods or missing deliveries, and the seller either isn’t responding or isn’t resolving the issue to your satisfaction, your first action should be to make a complaint directly to them.

You can contact them by letter or by email, usually to their customer service or complaints department if they have one. Outline the issue you are having, including any significant dates and details (such as the date of purchase, the expected date of delivery, the price you paid and so on). Say how you expect your complaint to be resolved (for instance, a full refund).

Include copies of any documents that may support your claim, like receipts and relevant emails or letters you’ve received from them. You should give the seller up to 14 days to respond.

Citizens Advice provides a number of complaint letter templates that you can use to complain about faulty goods, late deliveries and other issues.

Escalating a complaint further

If you’ve tried dealing directly with the retailer to resolve the problem and you’re not satisfied with the result, you may have to escalate the complaint to a higher authority. The retailerr should have been given a reasonable opportunity to resolve your complaint before you go ahead with this.

If the retailer participates in a scheme operated by an intermediary like the Consumer Ombudsman or RetailADR, you can take your complaint to the intermediary. Include all the details and evidence you originally supplied to the retailer, and they will act as a neutral party and attempt to resolve the dispute.

You can also try the Citizens Advice consumer helpline. They won’t intervene on your behalf, but depending on the nature of the complaint, they might recommend that you take the issue up with Trading Standards or pursue a claim in court.

Taking the claim to the small claims court should be your last resort. It may cost you more money than simply admitting defeat and buying the item from a different retailer in future. However, if you’ve exhausted all options and you’re determined to take the claim to court, Citizens Advice also offers a step-by-step guide to doing so.

What if the retailer goes out of business?

If you want to get a refund on a faulty or missing item and the retailer has gone out of business, first you should try to simply cancel the payment.

If you paid with a credit card and the item cost over £100, you can apply for a Section 75 claim from your card provider to get the charge reversed. Similarly, you can do this using the chargeback scheme if you paid with a debit card.

If this isn’t possible, you might be able to get a refund from the administrators handling the company’s debts. This means you may have to register a claim as a creditor, as detailed on the .GOV website.

Unfortunately, when a retailer goes out of business you’re not always guaranteed to get your money back.

If you are dealing with a private seller, rather than a small business or retailer, a buyer's rights differ. Read our guide on consumer rights for private sales for more information.