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General framework of consumer rights in United Kingdom

Find out what rights do consumers have in the United Kingdom and how they affect your sales agreements.
Buyer and consumer rights in UK
21.05.2024

Consumer rights in United Kingdom

Sellers of goods, whether professional or private, who sell products to consumers in United Kingdom are directly affected by consumer rights, the key points of which are as follows: 

  1. Consumers are protected not only by the justice system, but also by consumer protection associations. 
  2. Non-professional consumers have difficulty interpreting ambiguous restrictive clauses, and so often do not consent to them validly, rendering them null and void. 
  3. Consumers have more rights than professional buyers, and your duty to inform them is more extensive. 
  4. Consumers are in principle protected by more favourable rules in their country of domicile, unless they go abroad to buy, and therefore international sales may involve more extensive rights than in UK. 

Main legal rules 

Now that we’ve established the general framework, it’s time to look at the main legal rules that apply to consumer rights in UK. 

  • Firstly, it is important to clarify who the consumer is. He is a person who buys goods only for his own personal consumption, admittedly he may resell them to a third party at a later date, such as a second-hand car, but without the resale being the main reason for the purchase. 
    • A company never acts as a consumer, but the situation of a sole trader or freelancer is more complicated. 
    • Indications that the buyer is more of a professional include registration in the commercial register, VAT registration, publication of the commercial website, the commercial trademark used or registered, the use of professional emails, etc. 
    • The mere promise or statement that the buyer is not a consumer is not in principle sufficient. 
  • The specific right of all consumers is the right of withdrawal after distance selling. 
    • Any consumer may cancel the order within 14 days, without giving any particular reason. 
    • This right applies to all purchases made via the Internet, by telephone, by post (e.g. sale of goods via printed catalogues received by post) or by fax. 

However, the right of withdrawal is excluded in the following cases: 

  1. Goods made to order or clearly personalised, the manufacture of which requires special adaptations to meet very precise technical and aesthetic requirements. The choice of options (e.g. colour, finish) in standard ranges does not change the nature or purpose of the goods sufficiently to make them clearly personal. 
  2. Goods that have deteriorated or are rapidly perishable, except food products with a minimum durability date. 
  3. Goods that have been opened by the buyer and cannot be returned for reasons of hygiene or health protection (e.g. sealed cosmetics, underwear sold in sealed bags). 
  4. Goods that cannot be separated from other items (e.g. remote control for a television set). 
  5. Digital content supplied on an intangible medium. 
  6. CDs, DVDs or computer software opened by the buyer. 
  7. Newspapers, periodicals or magazines, except in the case of a subscription contract. 
  • By exercising the right of withdrawal, the consumer is withdrawing from the contract and must return the goods in return for a refund of the price, including delivery costs. 
    • The return period is 14 days following the sending of the cancellation by the customer. 
    • The seller may, however, charge delivery costs if a more expensive means of delivery has been chosen (e.g. 24-hour express delivery) when a less expensive means of delivery was available. The customer may be charged the difference. 
    • The refund period is also 14 days following the date of notification of withdrawal. However, the seller may defer the refund until the day of collection of the goods or until the customer has provided proof of dispatch of the goods. 
    • The price is refunded in the same way as the means of payment for the purchase. Other means are possible subject to the customer’s agreement. In particular, the purchaser may expressly agree to the refund being made as a purchase voucher or credited to the user account. 
  • For sales over the counter in a shop, there is no right of cancellation, and the only way to get out of the contract is to establish a defect in consent at the time the sale is concluded, such as error, deception or coercion. 
  • When buying online, consumers are protected by the right to clarity and transparency regarding the identity and conclusion of the contract on the part of the online trader. 
  • There is also a maximum delivery period for online purchases of 30 days, subject to a tolerated delay expressly accepted by the customer. 

Recommendations

Now that we’ve looked at the main consumer rights and legal rules, here are some recommendations for sellers of goods: 

  1. Please clearly state whether you intend to sell only to professionals or also to consumers. Different rules must be followed and applied. Our templates allow you to deal separately with the rights of consumers and those of professional buyers.  
  2. Clearly assess whether or not you wish to offer online products to consumers in other countries. If so, we recommend that you create another web domain with general terms and conditions tailored to those countries. 
  3. Don’t forget to include the necessary details about the merchant and the products on the website. Pay particular attention to prices and charges or taxes. 
  4. Make sure that the buttons on the website are clear and unambiguous, and that you clearly state the summary of the order before confirming it. 

To protect yourself against consumer complaints, you can use our model sales contracts. 

Create your standard contract for sale of goods in a couple of clicks