27 Nov 2020
There are certainly some great deals to be had and it can be very tempting to be seduced by the cheaper prices but beware of prioritising low prices over quality, particularly when buying online.
With many consumers unaware of the protection and statutory rights they are legally entitled to, our personal injury and dispute resolution teams have come together to give their top tips for ensuring peace of mind when buying gifts this Christmas.
When buying toys for children, always look for the CE symbol on the label or box. This means the manufacturer has assessed the toy for safety. It’s also worth only buying from suppliers who have a good reputation for safe and reliable toys and fair refund policies.
Avoid toys with small parts or loose fabric as these can be a choking hazard. Also, toys often have button batteries which can prove lethal if swallowed. Always check they are screwed in safely before giving to a child. Finally, always follow the age recommendations which must be clearly marked on the toy’s packaging.
Our trips to high street stores and supermarkets have certainly been highly restricted in recent months so more and more of us have turned to online retailers to purchase our essentials. This will surely still be the case as we start our Christmas gift shopping, so it’s important that we all know our consumer rights.
If you’ve purchased an item online, you are legally entitled to cancel the purchase up to 14 days after receiving it and you have a further 14 days to return most goods for a full refund. However, you are typically expected to pay the delivery costs of returning the goods.
There have understandably been significant delays with some deliveries because of the pandemic but if any goods that you’ve ordered are not delivered within 30 days, you are entitled to ask for your money back.
Often, goods that we order online come from outside the UK, which can cause additional problems if you are sent the wrong items or they are faulty. If the company you bought from refuses to reimburse you, your credit card company may be liable to refund you through a Section 75 claim, if the goods purchased were over £100 and below £30,000. Where you cannot rely on Section 75 protection, you may be able to use a chargeback scheme through your credit card or debit card provider.
If a gift you’ve bought is faulty, you could be entitled to a refund, repair or replacement if you return it within 30 days. After this time, you have to give the retailer the opportunity to repair or replace it before you can claim a refund.
The Consumer Rights Act means that any products you buy must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described. These rules include digital content such as downloaded films, games or apps. If what you’ve bought doesn’t satisfy any one of these three criteria, the retailer that sold it to you – not the manufacturer – is in breach of the Consumer Rights Act.
You can still make a claim against the manufacturer if you have a guarantee or warranty or if the product has caused additional damage or injury but you should deal with the retailer in the first instance. Being able to show a receipt for the faulty goods you purchased may speed up your claim but it is not essential to have one. Proof of purchase, such as a bank statement, can be enough.
If you paid for the faulty goods with a credit card and they cost between £100 and £30,000, the credit card company may be jointly liable with the seller if the goods are not of satisfactory quality.
It’s the stuff of nightmares but what would happen if a faulty or defective gift that you bought for a friend or family member were to injure them in some way? The Consumer Protection Act relates to the physical protection of the consumer and his/her property from the effects of faulty or defective products.
When you buy goods, they have to be safe and if you are injured by them in any way as a result of their hazardous nature, the manufacturer – and the importer if it has come from outside the UK – are strictly liable for any damage or loss caused to you or those who used the product. ‘Strict liability’ means that you do not have to prove that they were at fault. You do, however, have to prove that the product was defective and that it was this defect which caused the injury.
Earlier this month, APIL (the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers) told a committee of MPs of the need to create a new national regulatory body to identify and investigate risks from unsafe products. The Association were responding to a call for evidence from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, who are currently investigating what more can be done to protect us all from faulty or unsafe products.
Victoria Smithyman, Partner and head of our Personal Injury team, provides an overview of some of the key recommendations submitted by APIL.
The overarching request is for a nation-wide operating body, driven by the need for more action to protect consumers from unsafe products. APIL have labelled the current system ‘fractured’, with trading standards devolved to local authorities, deemed ineffective due to their inability to collect data, investigate risks and crucially, enforce recalls or corrective action.
APIL also claim that the existing regulations make it ‘challenging’ for lawyers to represent an injured claimant, and ‘impossible’ for claimants to represent themselves – a claim I would very much echo.
Alongside a centralised enforcement system, APIL have also requested a review of the following hazards to consumer safety:
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the growth of online shopping, with tech giants Amazon seeing their profits triple as thousands shopped from the comfort of their own home. However, what many savvy shoppers fail to realise is that their statutory rights are not always equivalent to purchases made on the high street.
For example, while it’s never been simpler to buy an item made in China, using an app on your smartphone, which will be delivered to your door by a courier (all while making your morning coffee), the safety of the product and who is responsible for any injuries that may occur is often a lot trickier to define.
Many traders cannot guarantee that a product is of satisfactory quality or fit for purpose, and it’s not always clear what level of scrutiny the product has been subjected to. In attempt to erase these grey areas, APIL have suggested that the UK Government introduce a statutory duty of satisfactory quality for online traders. In what looks like an attempt to encourage companies to go the extra mile to ensure safety, APIL have also suggested that companies are made jointly liable for the third-party products they offer.
APIL have called for the Government to take steps to criminalise the selling of second-hand portable electrical appliances without a recent PAT safety test certificate. The Association state that for the small fee incurred to test a product, the risk to consumer safety is significantly reduced.
There is currently a longstop in place that prevents a claim being made against a product that has been in circulation for over ten years. APIL states that there is ‘no justifiable reason’ for its continuation, with the rule simply preventing valid claims against products that cause harm over time.
The example cited is mesothelioma – more commonly known as asbestos cancer. The safety issues presented by products carrying the asbestos fibres are not always immediately apparent, although there is no denying the effects of the life-changing illness, – including fatigue, weight loss and sadly, a drastically shortened life expectancy.
APIL’s request to scrap the ten-year limitation longstop implemented by the Consumer Protection Act would open the gates to a much wider range of people in need of help and support.
Consumers have a right to expect a certain level of safety from the products they have purchased.
I think that the proposed measures and the introduction of a UK wide body to regulate unsafe products in the market would be a welcome sight to vast members of the public. In my view the proposals submitted by APIL are sensible, realistic and ultimately will limit the number of unnecessary injuries caused by defective products.
If you have any questions about your rights as a consumer, our dispute resolution team has years of experience in helping individuals who’ve purchased goods and the terms of the contract have been broken. And if you, a friend or family member have been injured by an item you’ve purchased, our personal injury team can tell you if you’re entitled to make a claim. Get in touch on 029 20 244233 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read the full letter from APIL to the House of Commons here.