How to resolve consumer disputes the right way

In General disputes

Your consumer rights protect you when you’ve bought faulty goods, items that weren’t as advertised, or received otherwise poor service. If you’re involved in a consumer dispute, you could be entitled to a refund or replacement.
 

Find out more about legal disputes in our guides: 
Financial disputes: How, why, and when to make a claim
How to deal with neighbour disputes

 

What are my consumer rights?

Your consumer rights are covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Its purpose is to strengthen and clarify your rights as a shopper.

Before being introduced, consumer rights and laws were spread across 10 different parliamentary Acts. Most were written in what the government called, ‘legalistic language’ and none of them made allowances for rapidly changing technology.

The purpose of the Consumer Rights Act is to protect you after receiving shoddy services, goods, or digital content, giving you the right to recompense.
 

What’s covered in a consumer dispute?

Whether it’s a used car or a digital download, anything and everything you buy should be:
  • Fit for purpose
  • Of satisfactory quality
  • As described
Deliveries are also covered by your consumer rights. So, if you paid for something that didn’t arrive, you’re well within your rights to take further action.

It doesn’t matter where you bought the goods or services, if a product doesn’t meet one or all of these standards, then your rights have been breached.

You have a set time to deal with the problem. The way the law deals with goods, services, and digital content differs slightly.
 
  • Consumer disputes over goods bought at home or in a shop

Once you take ownership of your goods, you have 30 days to get a full refund if its faulty. If purchased in a store, you’re entitled to an immediate refund.

If your goods can’t be repaired or replaced after 6 months, then you’ll likely qualify for a full refund.

Goods should last a fair amount of time – depending on what you’ve bought, this could be up to 6 years. If they don’t, you could get some of your money back.
 
  • Consumer disputes over digital content

Digital content like games, apps, movies, and music is governed under the Consumer Contracts Regulations, giving you 14 days to raise the issue with the supplier.

But there’s a catch.

When you buy digital content, you’re granted the usual 14-day cooling off period – but the moment you download it, you waive your right to this. This stops people seeking refunds right after purchase.
There’s often a grey area between buying digital content and downloading it.

If you purchase a pre-paid download code but don’t input it, you’re still entitled to your 14-day cooling off period.
In most cases, though, the act of buying it leads to a download – for example, purchasing an eBook that’s automatically downloaded to your tablet or a video game that instantly installs on your computer.

When that happens, the provider’s terms of services will state that when buying the content, you’re waiving your rights to the cooling off period.

At that point, you can get a repair or replacement if the digital content is faulty.

If the fault can’t be fixed, you can get a full or partial refund.

And if the digital content broke another device – like crashing your computer – the company may have to repair it or provide compensation.
 
  • Services paid for in a shop or ordered at home

Services covers everything from restaurants to building work. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 makes it clear that any service must be performed with reasonable care and skill, at a reasonable price, delivered within a reasonable time.

You can cancel within 14 days of purchase to get a refund.

If a service fails the ‘reasonable time and skill’ test, you can ask for the service to be repeated or fixed. If it can’t be, you can get a partial refund.
 

Who can help when my consumer rights have been affected?

Taking a consumer complaint to the courts should be the last resort – the law expects you to have tried solving the issue before the dispute reaches them.
 
  • Contact the seller first

When you’re involved in a consumer dispute, your first step is to contact the seller. Take that broken microwave back to the shop you bought it from (and make sure you pack proof of purchase); call the national helpline over that poor tyre-fitting.

If this yields no results, or you didn’t buy it in-store, make a complaint in writing. Outline the issue in your complaint, how it breaches your statutory rights, and explain how you’d like it to be resolved. Send letters via recorded delivery, for extra insurance.

In most cases, the company will want to sort this out as quickly as possible with a replacement or refund. You may be asked to return the faulty product if ordered online or through a catalogue – and, if you haven’t had the product long, you’re entitled to a refund on shipping costs here.
 
  • Contact an ombudsman and Trading Standards

If the company or seller doesn’t respond to your complaint, or you choose to reject their solution, it’s worth checking if you can lodge a report with an ombudsman or Trading Standards.

An ombudsman is an independent, impartial adjudicator that oversees complaints in their specific sector, e.g., banking or law. Use the Ombudsman Association to see if there’s one for you.

Trading Standards is the organisation that investigates complaints about dodgy business practices or selling illegal goods and services.
 

How can I resolve a consumer dispute through court action?

If you’re just not getting any joy, it’s time to consider taking the seller to court. This is a big step, so it’s worth discussing your claim with a consumer disputes solicitor.
 
  • If you want to claim up to £10,000

Claims under £10,000 are considered small claims.

Before making your claim online, you should send another letter or email to the seller letting them know you intend to take the matter further.

This letter must also detail your name, address, the complaint, how much you believe is owed, and the expected resolution (even if you’ve already sent a letter saying much the same). Give them a deadline to respond – usually, 14 days.

The government’s online claim form should only be used when requesting a specific amount of money. Other claims, typically for services, should be made by printing and posting the N1 form.

When making a small claim, you’ll also need to pay a fee, which ranges from £25 for claims up to £300, right up to £410 to claim up to £10,000.

You can find out more about fees and processes in our article, ‘Financial disputes: How, why, and when to make a claim.
 
  • If you want to claim between £10,001 and £100,000

Claims that exceed the ‘small claims court’ threshold should be discussed with a solicitor.

Use the Money Claim Online, administered by HM Courts & Tribunals Service. This can be completed either by you or your solicitor. You may also be entitled to interest on the money owed, too.
 
  

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