If you purchase a second-hand item from a business, trader or charity shop, the consumer rights that you are entitled to are extremely similar to those you have when buying an item that's brand new. Namely the goods should be:
These rights in the UK are defined in the Consumer Rights Act and cover any purchase from a trader made since October 2015.
If you discover a fault with an item, this act gives you the right to return it for a full refund within the first 30 day of purchase. After the first 30 days (but within the first six months) you can still return the item, but you must give the retailer the opportunity to replace or repair the fault.
After six months, to return the item you must prove that the fault was present when it was first purchased, which can be more difficult if a product was second hand or pre-owned from the outset.
Second hand products may have imperfections and faults that are attributed to normal wear and tear. In some cases, there may be quality issues with a product due to its age and how it has been previously used.
When considering the laws on buying second hand goods and your consumer rights, it's important to remember that second hand products or refurbished goods do not have to be of the same quality as new items. Therefore, you cannot simply reject an item because it is not of the same standard as you would expect if it was brand new.
Fit for Purpose with second hand goods.
Fit for purpose means that the item must function correctly and last for a period of time that is 'reasonable'. In relation to used goods the item should function fully for the purpose it was designed and sold for. However, being a used item, it may show signs of being pre-owned and not last as long as you would expect a brand-new item to last.
Satisfactory Quality with second hand goods.
Satisfactory quality is basically a standard that a reasonable person would consider as being acceptable taking into consideration the item's description, price and circumstances of the purchase. It is most often relating to a product's appearance, freedom from defect, durability and safety. Obviously, the quality of an item can be subjective, but your expectations should generally be lower if you are purchasing an item that has been previously used.
As Described with second hand goods.
As described means that an item must be accurately advertised and described by the trader. If you asked questions about the product in store prior to purchasing, such as its warranty status, service history or how it currently operates, the information given should all be correct. Likewise, if the salesperson advises you of a fault with an item, then it is 'as described' and you can't reject it due to it having the fault.
Warranty on second hand goods.
Warranties or guarantees are an optional addition to your legal (statutory) rights as a consumer.
Warranty can be provided by the manufacturer as part of the product or able to be purchased separately and ran by a third party (e.g. used-car warranty, extended appliance guarantee etc.)
Your eligibility to claim under the warranty will depend on the warranty policy's terms and conditions, however it is not uncommon for there to be numerous exclusions. These can range from the age of the item (12 months from original purchase), where it was purchased from (an authorised retailer or dealership), being conditional on regular maintenance (serviced every year) or limited to certain faults (excludes wear and tear).
Another common exclusion is that you must be the original purchaser or at least have proof of the original purchase, such as a receipt.
The specific warranty policy needs to be checked to confirm if an item is eligible for a repair or return. But it is always worth checking especially on recently manufactured products.
Section 75 protection.
Depending on how you paid the retailer for your purchase, and if no warranty is available, there may also be some additional protections available known as Section 75. This section of the Consumer Credit Act basically means that any credit provider involved in the purchase shares responsibility if things go wrong.
Therefore if you made the purchase with a credit card, store card or car finance agreement, you should contact your card issuer or finance provider to see if there is any action they can take.
Buying second hand goods online.
When buying second hand goods online, over the telephone, at home, or through mail order from a retailer you will also benefit from additional protections. Namely the Consumer Contract Regulations, or to give it its full name The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013.
These regulations cover what was previously known as 'Distance Selling' and provides some extra rights, even when purchasing a used product. These rights include:
The retailer is entitled to expect that anything sent back is returned in the exact condition as it was received. This can sometimes be a point of dispute when returning second hand goods as they are likely to have not been in original packaging etc. in the first instance.
An important point to remember when buying second hand products online is that not every website purchase is classed as buying from a business. When you buy from sites such as eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree, Shpock, Vinted or Amazon Marketplace you will need to check if the actual seller is a business or trader. As if they are a private individual, then consumer rights and contract protections will not apply to your purchase.
However many online trading sites do have their own buyer protection policies and dispute resolution processes which may be able to be used.
Consumer Rights and private sellers.
If you purchase items from a private seller via a web advertisement, local newspaper ad or car boot sale it is important to be aware that you don't have any consumer rights. For the Consumer Rights Act to apply you need to be an individual making a purchase from a business.
If you do buy a second-hand item from a private individual it only has to match any advertised description. This limited protection falls under The Misrepresentation Act for when an untrue fact or statement is made by the seller to convince a buyer to make a purchase.
A private seller isn't under any obligation to tell you about any faults or defects, and there's no requirement for the item to be of satisfactory quality or suitable for any specific purpose.
So, as you may have heard, purchasing from a private seller is a matter of 'buyer beware'. You should check the product thoroughly to ensure you are 100% happy before buying it.
Legal advice on second hand rights.
In the majority of cases once you make the retailer aware of the fault, they should deal with your concerns inline with your consumer rights. If they refuse, the next step is escalating the matter as a complaint and then involving any associated ombudsman which should be detailed in the retailer's terms and conditions.
If all these steps fail, your only available method of resolution may be to start court proceedings. If the value of your claim is less than £10,000, it will be treated as a 'small claim' which means there are set fees to issue the claim and only limited legal expenses are able to be added (see our guide on how much does it cost to take someone to court).
Therefore if the value of your consumer claim is significant, it will be worthwhile seeking legal advice on your dispute before beginning court action to ensure the consumer laws are on your side.
If you've a consumer or business issue that you've been unable to resolve with informal discussions or negotiation, the next step is usually civil legal action.
As the Claimant in a claim it will cost you time and money to issue court proceedings and there are three 'tracks' which a claim can be allocated to depending on the complexity and value of the matter.
The majority of disputes and subsequent claims fall into the Small Claims Track which is designed for use without the need of a solicitor. However, in reality the process can be complex with various procedures, dates and correspondence all to be complied with.
But before starting down the path of issuing a claim, you need to have an understanding of how much it may cost to take someone to the small claims court.
Small Claims Court Fees.
Being the Claimant, you will need to the pay fees to the County Court to start and run the claim. These Court Fees are payable at two key stages of the claim and are required in advance, so ensure you have these available prior to starting your claim.
Should your claim be successful, and a judgment be returned in your favour, all the Court Fees you have paid will be added to the amount the Defendant must pay you.
Small claim court fees and limits and can vary across the UK as well as with different types of claims (personal injury, housing disrepair etc). In this guide we'll be referring to the process in England and Wales for Money Claims.
While there is technically no minimum amount for a money claim, the lowest issue fee (the fee you pay to start the process) is £35.00. Therefore if the amount you are looking to recover is very small, you should consider if issuing a claim will be cost effective for you.
Small Claims Court Issue Fee.
The Issue Fee is required when you first submit your Claim Form to the court and start your claim.
A claim can be submitted with a paper claim form or via the Internet using the Money Claim Online service. Previously there was an issue fee discount for using the online service, however this discount was withdrawn in May 2021.
Still the benefit of submitting the claim online is that you won't have to print and post the documents, so your claim will be issued faster. You will however need to register for an online account and you cannot use this service if you don't know the exact amount you are claiming for or the defendants are outside England or Wales.
Regardless of which method you use to submit your claim, the Issue Fee will be based on the amount you are claiming or the amount that you are estimating the claim is worth.
Correct as at 7 March 2023, but please see EX50 for full details and latest fees.
If using the online service this fee is payable by credit or debit card prior to submission. If you use a paper claim form, you will need to include a cheque or postal order for the correct fee.
If your claim isn't disputed or defended, then judgment will be awarded in your favour and no other court fees will be payable (known as judgment by default).
Small Claims Hearing Fee.
If the claim is defended, then the case will need to proceed to a small claim hearing unless an agreement or settlement is reached beforehand. The court will send both parties a proposed allocation to the small claims track along with a Directions Questionnaire.
The Directions Questionnaire will ask you details about your claim in preparation for a hearing, including the proposed track, court location, any expert evidence, witnesses and if there are hearing dates to avoid.
While claims are usually allocated to the track based on the amount that is being claimed, the judge can alter this based on other factors, such as the complexity of the matter.
Once both parties have submitted a Directions Questionnaire, this will lead to an order from the court confirming the track and giving a date for the hearing, exchange of evidence and a date for paying the hearing fee.
As with the other small claims court fees, the hearing fee for a small claim hearing will be based on the amount being claimed:
Fees correct as at 7 March 2023, but please see EX50 for full details and latest information.
Small Claims Mediation Service Cost.
The Directions Questionnaire will also ask if you agree to your claim being referred to the Small Claims Mediation Service. If both parties agree to this, then a mediation appointment will be organised by telephone and a mediator will attempt to reach a settlement over the course of an hour or so.
The HMCTS Small Claims Mediation Service is free of cost so should be seriously considered as an option. Also, mediation appointments will be available quicker than court hearings and you won't incur the Hearing Fee if the claim is settled at mediation.
If mediation fails, then the claim will proceed to a hearing and the Hearing Fee will become due.
Small Claims Expert Costs.
Depending on your dispute, you may require an expert to provide evidence to support your claim. You will need the court to grant permission to use an expert and if permission is granted you will then need to pay the expert to produce written evidence.
As with court fees, if using an expert has been approved and your claim is successful, the cost of the expert will be recovered from the defendant up to a maximum of £750.
What costs can be recovered in small claims?
If your claim is successful, as well as the court fees and approved expert costs, there may be other items you can claim and recover from the losing party.
There are various rules and limits around what can be claimed so it is always a good idea to get legal advice before starting your claim. Without legal advice then there is a risk you could miss out on recovering costs that you are entitled to claim from the opposing party.
Examples of small claim costs.
Unpaid Invoice or Loan debt of £1,400.00
£80.00 - Claim Issue Fee (due when you submit your claim)
Faulty Goods valued at £2,800.00
£115.00 - Claim Issue Fee (due when you submit your claim)
Poor Service or Workmanship costing £450.00
£50.00 - Claim Issue Fee (due when you submit your claim)
How much does a lawyer cost for the small claims court?
Although the small claims process is designed to be conducted without legal representation, many people still choose to use a solicitor and can recover some of these costs as part of their claim.
The way legal representation costs for small claim are calculated is complex and relates to the claim amount, how the Claim Form is served and the number of Defendants. There are then further costs that can be claimed if judgment is entered which depends on the amount claimed and how the judgment was obtained.
Correct as at 7 March 2023, but please see CPR Part 45 for full details and latest fees.
Therefore, if you choose to use a solicitor for you small claim, you can typically expect to receive around £50 to £130 awarded towards your legal costs if your claim was successful.
The relatively low legal representative costs that are recoverable in the Small Claims Court is the reason you don't see 'no win no fee' funding being an option when dealing with small claims. So if you do decide to seek legal help with a claim, ensure you look for a law firm offering fixed fee small claims services.
Do I need a solicitor for the small claims court?
While you may not be able to recover all your legal costs as part of your claim, there are still some compelling reasons to consider instructing a solicitor for a small claim.
Firstly (and most importantly) a solicitor will be able to advise you on the law and your prospects of success. Spending money on issuing and attending a court hearing only to have no basis for a claim would be an expensive mistake.
Secondly a solicitor will be an expert on litigation and the court process, ensuring you comply with the relevant directions/deadlines and that your claim is comprehensive. If your claim is significant, missing out or even miscalculating an item such as your interest entitlement can prove costly.
Finally, even if your claim is successful and judgment is awarded in your favour you may still need to enforce that judgment. A lawyer can advise you on the most cost effective and productive enforcement methods that are available.
Should I take someone to the small claims court?
Taking a person or a business to the small claims court isn't free and not without risk. Knowing the potential costs along when fees will require paying is likely to influence your decision on if it is worthwhile process to undertake.
However, if your claim has merit and you can afford the court fees, then many of your small claims court costs will be awarded back to you should your claim be successful.
Disagreements are a fact of life. Most of the time people are able to resolve matters between themselves without turning them into full blown legal disputes. But unfortunately this isn't always the case, and matters can escalate when points of view are not appreciated or legal rights are felt to have been breached.
Decisions then have to be made about when to escalate matters and seek legal advice.
However before issuing the war cry 'You'll be hearing from my solicitor!' take a moment, consider your options, and try to keep a few things in mind.
Keep calm and carry on talking.
Whether your dispute is with an individual (such as a friend or family member), a small business (a tradesperson) or a large company, anger and stress won't help. Clouded judgement and impulsive action will usually only make matters worse and provide a bad impression of your reasonableness.
Keep focused on the specific issue and try to engage in calm and polite discussions with the individual or business representative. Tell them your problem, what action it will take from them to resolve it, and make sure you listen to their response or any alternatives offered.
Use the correct channels as a customer.
Talk to the right person or department about your issue. For example if your dispute is about a faulty item you have purchased, then a manager or dedicated customer service representative will be better placed to help you get it replaced than a member of the sales team.
Likewise if you've had poor work performed by a tradesperson, then the customer service team or owner of the small business may be the most appropriate person to speak to.
If you are not sure who to talk to, make polite enquiries until you find the right person.
After these initial conversations if you still cannot get the matter resolved, ask whether there is a formal complaints procedure that you can follow. This may then reveal if there is an independent trade body, regulator or ombudsman that you can escalate your complaint to for resolution.
Disputes with friends or family.
If a dispute arises between you and a friend or family member, there unfortunately won't be a dedicated complaints department that can help resolve the issue. However this doesn't mean you should move straight to legal action.
Often disputes between individuals relate to money being owed. In these cases you should remain polite and sympathetic in your requests for repayment along with being open to receiving payments in instalments or over a longer period of time.
Should an agreement then be reached, you need to ensure this is documented in writing (messages, emails, text etc.) and further information can be found in our guide what to do when money is owed by a friend.
Don't make threats.
Try not to talk about taking legal action, suing them, or dragging them in court until you have tried everything you can reasonably do to resolve the matter. Taking an adversarial approach at the very start may limit your options for a quick, simple and cost effective solution.
If an ombudsman does become involved in a consumer issue, they may recommend mediation to resolve the dispute which you should be open to.
Keep a record of events.
If matters do need legal action and in extreme cases have to go to court, you will need to provide evidence of the problem. So keeping notes, photographs, documents and anything else that is relevant will be important. This documentation will also help you demonstrate all you have done to try to resolve the issue before being forced in taking legal action.
Make notes of any conversations you have with the date/time and who you spoke to, also keep copies of any letters, emails or messages you have sent.
You will be hearing from my solicitor!
If you have satisfied yourself that you have done absolutely everything possible to sort things out but have been met with no success, then it's time to contact a solicitor for legal advice.
If you have a solid case then quite often a letter from a law firm can bring surprisingly quick and positive results and won't cost the earth. But depending how far you wish to pursue the matter, it could ultimately end up in court which will take time and money (see our guide on how much it costs to take someone to the Small Claims Court).
A solicitor will be able to advise you fully on your dispute, including your chances of a successful legal claim, the evidence that will be needed and what costs are involved.
Knowing when to seek legal advice will help you in the long run, just don't take legal action first or in anger!
Catalyst Law are team of legal professionals with over 20 years' experience helping businesses and people with their legal problems.
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