Consumer responsibilities

As a consumer you have a multitude of consumer rights, as previously outlined, but you also have responsibilities. 

Some of these are set out by law, and some are just steps that you can take to protect yourself against financial loss, disappointment, or, in some cases even fraud.

1. Always take reasonable steps to inspect, try on, or examine the item before you buy.

If the sofa you have bought is too big to get through the living room door, by law the trader doesn’t have to take it back and refund you!
Sometimes it is not possible to inspect goods until you have the items at home, but do try to inspect your purchase as soon as possible so that you can take prompt action if the goods are not of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose or as described.

2. Consider how you pay.

Your method of payment (credit/debit card, cash or cheque) will affect the level of protection you have if something goes wrong with your purchase.  See Credit cards.

    3. Register electrical household appliances.

    If you have bought an electrical household appliance such as a tumble dryer, oven or fridge freezer, register it with the manufacturer using the number provided in case there is a product recall or safety alert.  

    4. A receipt is not the only way to prove purchase, but it is the easiest.

    Get into the habit of keeping your receipts, especially now you know you have rights for up to six years after purchase, if it is reasonable to expect goods to last that long. Contact The Consumer Council on 0800 121 6262 to request your free Receipt Wallet to keep these safe.

    5. Do your research first.

    If you are buying a product or service or from a company you have never used before, do your research to find out what other consumers think. There are plenty of review magazines, websites and online forums that can help, but watch out for fake reviews.

    6. Be wary of scams, including fake websites and counterfeit goods.

    There are sections in this handbook that will help you shop more safely. See Scams.

    7. If goods you have bought later develop a fault, do not attempt to fix them yourself as this will invalidate your consumer rights.

    Stop using the item in question and notify the trader as soon as possible.

    8. Always follow the instructions that come with the goods you have purchased.  

    Failure to do so, or to look after their general upkeep can also invalidate your consumer rights if something should go wrong.

    9. If you are organising a tradesperson to carry out work in your home, check that they have the correct qualifications.

    If they display an endorsement, such as Gas Safe Register, they must be authorised to do so. It is a criminal offence to falsely claim you are endorsed by an approval scheme.  In the case of building work, it is also your responsibility to ensure the correct public liability and employer’s liability insurance is in place. For further information, contact the National Federation of Builders on 020 7608 5150.

    10. Making a complaint about goods or a service

    If you find yourself in the situation where you need to complain about goods or a service, the following steps will help make this process more effective, whether you are making the complaint face-to face, by telephone or in writing:

    • Make sure you have good grounds for complaining, and know what your consumer rights are, and the trader’s complaints handling process.
    • Express yourself in a calm, assertive and polite way.  This may mean spending a little time in advance preparing what it is you want to say.
    • Explain clearly what the situation is, and if possible, refer to the relevant law.
    • Explain what you would like to be done to remedy the situation, but be open to working with the trader to find an alternative solution if that would be more feasible.
    • If the complaint cannot be resolved straight away, keep a record of every conversation, email or other correspondence sent in connection with your complaint. Take a note of names, dates and times of people spoken to in the course of trying to resolve your complaint.
    • If your complaint is getting nowhere, you may need to escalate it to someone within the company, possibly at head office.  At this stage it is advisable to put the complaint in writing, and if your first letter does not receive a response (within say 14 days), follow it with a second letter, sent by recorded delivery so you have proof it was received.  
    • If you still do not receive a response, or that response is unsatisfactory, there are more steps that you can take which are outlined in Disputes.