Coronavirus: Your Consumer Rights When Purchasing Goods
As Northern Ireland consumers may be purchasing more goods from home, including over the phone or online, as a result of COVID-19 (coronavirus), it is important for consumers to know their rights.
The information on this page was last updated on 26 May 2020.
During this time, more consumers will be shopping from home. It is therefore important to know your consumer rights at this time.
This includes shopping online, using apps, buying from TV shopping channels, on the phone, mail order or downloading digital content. Digital content includes e-books, apps, downloaded computer software or games, streamed services or music.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 consolidates previous consumer rights legislation, including the Sale of Goods Act 1979 and gives extra protection to consumers in the sale of goods and for the first time, services and digital downloads.
Purchase of goods and digital content
The law still says that any goods and digital downloads that you purchase from a trader must be:
- Of satisfactory quality
- Fit for purpose
- Match the description
Purchase of services
The law says any service provision must be carried out:
- With reasonable care and skill
- At reasonable cost
- Within reasonable time
What are my rights if something goes wrong?
- The right to reject the goods
- Can request a full refund
- Consumer must let the trader know as soon as possible and stop using the goods
- Some traders may offer longer than 30 days as part of their returns policy
- If a fault occurs in the first six months, the law assumes the goods must have been faulty in the first instance. If the trader disputes this, it is up to them to prove otherwise
- The trader has one opportunity to repair or replace within reasonable time and without causing any great inconvenience to consumer
- The trader must also bear any of the costs involved, such as returning the item to the manufacturer for repair
- The trader can decide which option (repair/replace) is the most cost effective
- If neither option is possible, you can request a refund. However, it may not be for the full amount as you may have had some use of the goods
- If a repair or replacement is not possible, you have the right to request a refund up to 100% of the price paid, further attempts at a repair or replacement, or you can keep the goods with a price reduction
If the problem occurs after the first six months, and the trader disputes there is a fault, you may need to take steps to prove otherwise. This may mean getting an independent expert report, or researching whether other consumers have experienced a similar problem.
- Both, The Consumer Rights Act 2015 that came into force on 1 October 2015 and the Sale of Goods Act 1979, which covers purchases made before that date, state you have up to six years in which to complain to the trader
- This will be based on what is a reasonable length of time to expect goods to last until. This would take into account what the goods are, how they were made, and what price was paid
- Other factors that will have a bearing include whether consumer followed care or installation instructions, used the goods in the way it was intended, and whether consumer has maintained them well
If you purchase faulty digital content, you may be entitled to a repair, replacement, price reduction or refund.
Occasionally, a digital content purchase can corrupt the operating system, device or other content, such as photos. In those instances the consumer has the right to have the damaged equipment or content repaired by the trader or receive compensation even if the content was a free download.
If a service is unsatisfactory, the consumer is entitled to have the service carried out again free of charge or be given a price reduction.
Where the service cannot be repeated (e.g. wedding photography) the consumer can claim a price reduction – up to 100% of the total cost depending on the circumstances.
- Perishable goods (eg flowers or food items) can have shorter period of time in which to request refund that takes into account the life-span of the goods.
- For motor vehicles, the trader can deduct money from the refund to reflect any usage you had of vehicle.
Consumer rights and cancellation rights (on the high street and online)
By law, the trader can refuse to give your money back if you change your mind about a product you have bought in the shops. However, if you buy it online, you have 14 days to return the product and get a full refund.
The law is different so you have a chance to properly inspect the item you bought.
What this applies to:
This applies to all distance selling such as mail order, over the internet, on the phone, shopping channels and using apps.
There are some exceptions when you cannot return items which include goods that you have been made to order like a T-shirt with your photo on it, and flowers and or foods that are perishable.
You have a 14 day ‘cooling off’ period from the date you receive the goods.
Refunds are issued within 14 days of the seller receiving the returned goods.
Refunds for goods bought online, by catalogue, phone or other forms of distance selling can be withheld until the consumer has returned the goods.
Traders can deduct money from the refund if it appears the item has been used.
- If you did not follow the instructions
- If you were made aware of the fault when you bought it
- If you try and fix the problem yourself
- Fair wear and tear
- Fault was evident
- Accidental damage
- Inappropriate use
Paying for goods online and how to stay safe
If you buy a single item costing more than £100 using a credit card then you are entitled to your money back from the card provider if something goes wrong, such as a retailer going bust or the item not arriving.
If you use your debit card for a single item costing £100, you can claim money back using under the card provider’s Chargeback scheme if something goes wrong. This must be completed within 120 days.
Many websites use third party payment processors, such as PayPal, Google Checkout, or WorldPay.
You need to be aware that if you use your credit card to purchase items via these payment processors, you no longer have the joint liability protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 for goods costing between £100 and £30,000.
Online payment processors have their own protection arrangements but these are not covered by law. Please ensure you have read their terms and conditions carefully.
If you are unsatisfied with the way your claim is being handled by any e-money firm, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service (0800 023 4567).
There are a number of ways you protect yourself when shopping online such as:
- Before entering your payment details, look for ‘http’ appearing in the browser bar. The ‘s’ stands for secure
- Ensuring the padlock icon only appears in the browser bar of the website
- Doing your research before buying from a website you have not used before
- Checking reviews or previous customers’ feedback
Events - Cancelled or Postponed
The government has banned any gathering of more than two people, with the exception of funerals.
If you have purchased tickets for upcoming live events, or booked venues for personal events such as a wedding, please read the below information.
If you bought your tickets directly from the event organiser or primary ticket retailers, such as Ticketmaster, you will benefit from some consumer protections.
These firms are required by the industry’s self-regulatory body, the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR), to refund the ticket’s face value price when an event is cancelled.
But it is unlikely you will get the delivery costs or booking fees back.
You may have fewer protections if you purchased tickets from a secondary ticket seller, such as Viagogo or StubHub. Check the terms and conditions on its website as some companies offer guarantees or other protections.
Whichever way you bought your tickets, in the first instance you need to contact the company that sold them to you and request a refund if it does not offer one automatically.
If you are taking part in something like a marathon, you may lose your entry fee. Check event organiser’s terms and conditions.
If an event you have tickets for is postponed, hold on to those tickets until a new date is announced. If you are unable to attend the rescheduled date, you can claim a refund of the ticket’s face-value price. Again, it’s unlikely you will get the delivery costs or booking fees back.
Again, you will have fewer protections if you purchased tickets from a secondary ticket seller, such as Viagogo or StubHub. Check the terms and conditions on its website, as some companies offer guarantees or other protections.
If you cannot attend the new date, it may be that the only way to recover some of your money back will be to resell the ticket to someone else who can.
And if an event like a marathon is postponed – and you cannot make the new date – a refund of your entry fee is not guaranteed. You will need to check event organiser’s terms and conditions.
Can you claim back accommodation and travel costs?
If you have paid for transport or accommodation that you do not need anymore because your event has been cancelled, get in touch with the companies you have booked with. They might be able to refund you or re-book your plans for a later date. But there are no guarantees.
If your hotel and travel plans are also cancelled due to the outbreak of coronavirus you will also be entitled to a refund of those costs.
If you have appropriate travel insurance you might be able to claim back the entire cost of your trip.
Can you get a refund if an event is not as advertised?
It depends. If you have bought a ticket for a single headline gig, and the headliner does not perform, you should get your money back.
But if it is a festival with multiple acts, you will have a ticket for the festival and not an individual performer. In that instance, do not expect a refund.
Weddings, parties and personal events
All wedding or parties booked in the next few weeks will be cancelled following government action to ban all public gatherings of more than two people – with the exception of funerals.
If you are concerned about an upcoming personal event such as a wedding, your first port of call is to speak to the venue and any suppliers you have agreements with to try and negotiate an agreeable way forward – for example agreeing a new date.
If your venue or supplier cancels – You will be entitled to get the money paid back for what has been cancelled. If you have wedding insurance speak to your provider and check the terms and conditions of your policy to determine exactly what is covered.
If you choose to cancel or postpone - Speak to your venue and suppliers, and try to agree a postponement to a later date. If this isn’t possible and you have to cancel, you could be on the hook for any fees already paid – especially if you’ve only given a short amount of notice. By law, deposits can’t be ‘non-refundable’; if a company keeps your money ask for a breakdown of why it can’t be refunded.
Get money back by other means
If your claim is ignored or refused by the ticketing company you should contact your bank or credit card company (if you paid using a credit card). Make them aware of your experience and the complaint you’ve made.
If you paid by credit card – if you’ve bought anything worth more than £100 and less than £30,000 using your credit card you have additional protections if something goes wrong. Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act makes your credit card company jointly liable for any breach of contract (such as an event cancellation) and you can claim your money back directly from it. Click here for more info.
If you paid by debit card – you can ask your card provider to reverse a transaction on your credit or debit card in a process called chargeback. Unlike Section 75, chargeback isn’t a right or law and offers no guarantees, but it is a way your bank may be able to help you. Chargeback is also particularly useful where the cost of the tickets was under £100 and Section 75 doesn’t apply. Click here for more info.
Safer Ways to Pay: This guide will give you greater confidence around the protection different payment methods provide.
Your Guide to Shopping Safely Online: The tips in this guide will help you shop on the internet with more confidence by explaining how to protect your computer, spot a safe website, understand your consumer rights and avoid problems with postage.
Consumer Rights Act 2015 Consumer Factsheet: This factsheet provides consumers with information on the new Consumer Rights Act 2015.
Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013 Factsheet: This factsheet provides information to consumers on the main changes to consumer rights protection in the sale of goods, services and digital content that come into effect on 13 June 2014.