Let the buyer beware

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We often hear and use the term “let the buyer beware” or caveat emptor and as a consumer we need to be careful when we purchase goods or services. However, there are times where what we end up buying is not what we really needed or in fact not what it seems. We experienced a situation recently where a family member was sold an expense phone contract which was well beyond what they needed, that prompted this blog. Understanding what options you can take if this occurs is good to know and could save you time, money and stress.

What happened?

A family member visited a phone shop in person, was taken through a number of handsets and phone packages. Before making a final decision they rang my wife for advice. She was not around and did not answer, in-turn they purchased the phone and agreed to the contract.

When my wife did return the call, we were informed that the transaction was complete. The family member was still in the shop, so over the phone we explained that the terms are unacceptable and that this individual most likely do not fully understand what commitments they have made – the phone sold was completely unnecessary (high-spec, many features and too sophisticated for the family member to use).

To my wife’s horror, she was told that there is no cooling off period. An in-store purchase does not attract any post–sale period for changing your mind. You can read EE terms of sale here

Also, when we explored more, we discovered that the contract was for a ‘tablet’ and phone… not needed. Also the family member wanted free calls and texts to Turkey, but this is not the case. It was handwritten on the contract.

We explained to the store that the phone is the newest on the market and using it will be hard to learn. They responded ‘come in at any time we are here to help’. Every time they have gone in subsequently… staff are too busy to help out.

What to do?

Firstly make sure you know the seller’s terms and conditions and that the seller has agreed to provide your ‘statutory rights’. If you need to go back, approach the seller first, explain the circumstances and depending on the situation either get an exchange or refund. This is often the case when you have been made aware of the process to follow e.g. return goods within 28 days, keep the original packaging or have the receipt with you as proof of purchase.

However, with so many more transactions being service-based and actioned online it can get more complex and knowing your consumer rights can be difficult. In our case, we did contact the seller, but to no avail. We could then have reported them to Ofcom as we believed they had been miss-led by the phone provider. We could have looked at local trading standards office as well. However, in order for your rights to apply, you must be able to show that a misleading action was a significant factor for you entering the contract.

If you still have no luck and you have been unable to resolve the problem then most cases can be referred to the Ombudsman Services.

What are your Rights?

The key act is the Consumer Rights Act 2015. It fundamentally sets out that you are entitled to a full refund in most cases, from a reasonable time to a fixed period (in most cases) of 30 days. The act also applies to second-hand goods and ‘sale’ goods in shops. The only protection for the seller is to make sure it’s correctly described and has the right to sell it. The case of caveat emptor or “let the buyer beware” comes into affect here.

The Limitations Act provides up to six years after you bought a good to complain. Good if you don’t use the goods for a while, it breaks post six-months and there was a fault all along.

Do note, that you may not get automatic right to a full refund within 30 days. It states that full refund maybe given ‘where appropriate’, so it’s best to act quickly, or a partial refund or credit note might be the best outcome.

The Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013 (summarised here) provides protection if your purchase online or by mail order. It provides the right to cancel and receive a refund, even if you have changed your mind.

In general, you can seek refund 14 calendar days after you receive all goods ordered; with 14 days to send it back. For services, its 14 days from the day after the order was made.

Some final tips:

If you feel the goods or service is not right, miss-sold etc then straight away

  • Stop using it as soon as you can
  • Keep track on what happened, who you spoke, when etc
  • Keep evidence – receipts, contracts, agreements, basically anything to show proof of purchase
  • Track all associated costs e.g driving, parking, posting anything that cost you extra and you could claim back

In our case we did not follow any subsequent procedures. The family member agreed to the revised contract (after numerous calls from us with EE to cancel the contract), promises to learn how to best use the phone and monitor the tariff payments being made. Lastly to place the contract in BeeMyMinder so not to forget to it the terms and conditions.

If you have similar stories do let us know.

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Nigel Brokenshire


Nigel is the founder of BeeMyMinder. Developed from his own frustrations keeping on top of household/personal finances and dealing with piles of papers and associated documents.