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  • Writer's pictureGareth-Lee Smith

The importance of going straight to the retailer when rejecting goods

Nobody interferes with my morning coffee

An interesting consumer issue presented itself to me this morning. Two months ago I purchased a high-spec, branded coffee grinder from a well-known British homeware retailer. I purchased it in order to make feeding my addiction a little more efficient; I’ll leave hand-grinders to the hipsters. 

Unfortunately, my grinder has developed a fault with the display. At this early stage of the history of the transaction, this amounts to a breach of section 9 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which provides that it is a term of all contracts for sales of goods by traders to consumers that the quality of the goods is satisfactory. 

Being well aware of my rights under the 2015 Act – and used to complaining to the retailer in cases such as this – I contacted the retailer’s customer service line to explain the fault and request a replacement. Section 19(3) of the Act provides that in a case where the goods are faulty (pursuant to section 9) then I have one of three remedies available. In my case the short-term [30-day] right to reject has elapsed, and so I am left with the right to a repair or replacement under section 23.

I expressly requested a replacement of the product. The retailer’s representative told me that the product is still within the two-year guarantee supplied by the manufacturer, and so I should contact the manufacturer to provide the replacement.

Should you deal with the retailer or the manufacturer?

Now, it may be that contacting the manufacturer will be a more convenient route to renewing my caffeine-induced stupor; but the retailer was wrong to imply that the remedy lies with the manufacturer.

Section 23(2) of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 states that “if the consumer [me] requires the trader [the retailer] to repair or replace the goods, the trader must do so within a reasonable time… and bear any necessary costs in doing so”.

The law is clear: it is the retailer in this transaction who has to provide the repair, not the manufacturer. I know this because I have studied the new Act in depth, but it is worrying that a retailer with a national reputation gave information which could be misleading to a person unfamiliar with their consumer rights.

The importance of going straight to the retailer

You may ask why is it important that I obtain my remedy from the trader and not the manufacturer? Surely if I get my replacement product then all is well?

Allow me to answer that question with another question: if I accept the replacement from the manufacturer and it develops a further fault, then will I have the same rights as I would have had if the retailer had provided the replacement?

The answer, based upon the construction of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, appears to be no.

A new feature of the 2015 Act was the single opportunity for the trader to provide either a repair or replacement; after which the consumer is entitled to opt for a final reduction in price to reflect the breach, or a final right to reject the goods and receive a refund. It is at the consumer’s option which remedy is provided.

It is section 24(5) of the 2015 Act that provides for the requirement of one attempt at repair or replacement before opting for the final right to reject the goods when they still do not conform to the terms of the contract. But of key importance is section 24(6), which states that:

“There has been a repair or replacement for the purposes of subsection (5)(a) if—

(a)the consumer has requested or agreed to repair or replacement of the goods…and

(b)the trader has delivered goods to the consumer, or made goods available to the consumer, in response to the request or agreement.”

It is clear that to have the final right to reject it is the trader – the retailer – who must have effected the repair or replacement. For the purposes of this remedy it will not be sufficient for the manufacturer to have taken the steps.

The long (black) and short of it

In short: if the manufacturer repairs the faulty goods and a further fault develops, then the final right to reject does not yet exist. The consumer would need to either return to the manufacturer to repair or replace again (if under warranty), or otherwise seek an initial repair or replacement from the retailer. 

This appears to be a very subtle way in which traders can attempt to circumvent their obligations under consumer law. Consumers should be mindful that their first port of call should be the retailer whenever a fault develops in a newly-purchased product, and that consumers have a right to hold traders to their obligations without being passed on to the manufacturer. By all means feel free to contact the manufacturer to make use of any guarantee or warranty; but understand, too, that you may risk being trapped in a cycle of failed repairs if you do not instead deal directly with the trader.

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