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What to do when a PC goes wrong

Update: This is a guide to the UK only. If you’re looking for a guide to US consumer law, stop off at David Barzelay’s post here.
Update: I’ve added a couple of notes on extra rights for mail order customers, plus a caution over using PayPal to pay for goods.

My friend Lou is having a fun time trying to get her Mac repaired by Apple. She’s not alone in having a bad experience with AppleCare – and Apple is by no means the only company that attempts  to give consumers the run around when they have faulty goods. In fact, in my experience, treating customers badly  and attempting to avoid their responsibilities under the law.
If you’re in the UK, you’re covered by some comprehensive consumer law, honed over the past few decades, that gives you some very good rights. The government actually has a good web site giving the details of what to do if something goes wrong and what your rights are, but if you don’t want to go through that, here are some points you ought to know:

  • Your contract is with the seller, NOT the manufacturer. If (say) you buy a Toshiba laptop from PC World and it goes wrong, don’t be fobbed off by PC World telling you to get the manufacturer to repair it under warrenty. Legally, PC World MUST deal with the problem.
  • Goods must be fit for purpose, including any purpose you specifically mention to the seller. Fit for purpose is a great phrase – always use it, as it oftens triggers escalation to the next level of service. They must also be "of reasonable quality" which is another great phrase to quote at people.
  • You have the right to reject faulty goods and obtain a refund, replacement, or repair. This is up to a "reasonable" time, but reasonable is not defined in law as it depends on circumstances. For example, if you buy a new laptop but don’t use the wireless networking, only to find six months later when you first try it that it doesn’t work, you’re perfectly entitled to reject the goods and ask for a replacement. EVEN IF YOU SIGN AN ACCEPTANCE NOTE, YOU DON’T LOSE YOUR RIGHTS.
  • It used to be true that if you allowed a company to repair goods, you lost your rights under the Sale of Goods Act. This is now no longer true – you gain parallel rights if something is repaired.
  • Your first choice should always be a replacement. Goods which fail in the first six months are automatically presumed to have been faulty when you got them – you do NOT have to prove the fault was present when it arrived, and you should get a replacement, refund or repair as of right.
  • Since the changes to the Sale of Goods Act in 2003 (the Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2003, to be precise), you have new rights that allow you to choose a repair without losing all your Sale of Goods Act rights, as was previously the case. If you choose a repair, it must be done to a satisfactory condition, within a reasonable (that word again!) period of time, and – importantly – without causing you significant inconvenience. If, for example, Apple wants to take away your PowerBook for six weeks and it’s your only machine for work, that would very much count as "significant inconvenience". Claim a replacement instead, and if they botch a repaid and it’s unsatisfactory, you’re entitled to compensation too.
  • Don’t worry if you lose your receipt – your rights still apply. It is, however, useful evidence of when you bought a product.
  • If the goods are over £100, always, always buy on credit card (NOT a debit card). This gives you additional rights, as the credit card company becomes equally responsible for faulty goods. Credit card companies HATE this, and may apply a little "behind the scenes" pressure to the seller if it looks like the seller is being overly sticky. You also gain the advantage that, if the seller goes bust, the credit card company is still liable – so you can still get a refund or repair. However, note that buying through PayPal – even though you’re paying with your credit card – doesn’t count, as you’re paying the money to PayPal and not the supplier.

Distance Selling
Under the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000, you have a significant additional right if you’re buying via mail order, including buying over the Internet. This is the right to reject the goods, for any reason, up to five days after you have received them. The idea is to allow the buyer to inspect the goods, just as you would have chance to do in a shop.
To reject goods, all you need to do is write to the supplier within seven days of receiving the goods – you don’t have to actually return them within seven days. Once they have received your rejection letter, the seller must refund your money within seven days. Unless stipulated in the conditions of sale (that you must legally be provided with a copy of before buying), the onus is on the supplier to collect the goods: you simply have to make them available for them to collect. And the seller can only charge you for returning the goods if this is stipulated in writing before the sale – and either way, you can only be forced to pay the direct costs of return, rather than (say) a blanket £50 "restocking fee".

A simply guide to buying and complaining
Before you buy:
Always buy on credit card if you can. Ignore any entreaties about "extended warrenties" of less than a year – they’re really worthless, as they offer you little or nothing more than the rights you already have legally.
Fault appears on delivery: Congratulations! You’re entitled to a full refund. Go get the money and buy from someone else. If you really, really want that particular model, ask for a replacement. Don’t accept a repair at this point –  you want totally new goods.
Fault appears within six months: Immediately visit the place you bought the product – don’t wait "to see if the fault clears up". Ask to talk to the manager – you’re wasting your time with anyone else, as they’ll have been told to stall you. Ask, initially for a replacement. Ignore any and all mentions of "the manufacturer is responsible". Ignore any talk of warrenties – this isn’t a warrenty issue. Mention the Sale of Goods Act AND the lesser-known Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2003. Be firm, but polite. If they can’t replace the goods (if, for example, they’re out of stock) then agree to a repair but point out – preferably in writing – your rights, and especially ask how long it will take. If they can’t repair within a reasonable time, ask for a refund.
Fault appears within a year: For a computer to fail within a year, it was almost certainly NOT either of "satifactory quality" or "fit for purpose" under the scope of the law. Part of the "satisfactory quality" clause is that it should work for a reasonable amount of time, and for something like a computer this should mean at least a year. However, after six months the onus is on you to show that the fault was present or the goods weren’t of satisfactory quality when they were bought, rather than being something you’ve done to them. For a PC, if you’ve used it in a normal way, this is fairly trivial – but a laptop might be trickier, especially if you’ve scratched it or broken it.
Fault appears within two years: Trickier still, but worth a shot if you’re persistent! Here, the key will be "of reasonable quality". Most people would expect a PC to work for two years (companies typically expect them to work for three) but you will have a harder time proving it wasn’t something you’ve done to it. A little old lady who uses her PC solely for Word and hasn’t upgraded any software or added any hardware will have an easier time than a technogeek who’s plugged in 5 new PCI boards. Play it by ear.
Fault appears after two years: Unless you’re really, really sure the problem was endemic in the design of the original model – for example, it’s a common fault that lots of people have complained about – it’s not worth the hassle. You’ll almost certainly end up having to go to court, which isn’t worth the time.

One final note: All this is correct only if you’re a consumer (rather than a business) and if you’re buying new: second hand and stuff bought for a business have different sets of rules.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://01792.org Milo

    This is boody great.

    Something which I think is new, if you request a refund, the store will only do it, if you provide the credit card receipt, a goods sale receipt is not enough.

    I found this in Halfords.

  • Ian Betteridge

    Remember that if the goods are faulty, you don’t need any kind of receipt at all. Of course, if it’s not faulty they can ask for anything they like – or not replace it at all.

  • http://www.boingboing.net/2005/09/21/howto_get_your_fault.html Boing Boing

    HOWTO get your faulty UK goods replaced

    Former MacWeek editor Ian Betteridge has posted a brilliant guide to consumer protection rights in the UK, specifically aimed at people who buy high-tech gear that fails. The UK has extensive protection in these situations, but most poeple don’t know a…

  • Lex

    I work in computer retail and the point that really stood out for me was Be firm, but polite.

    I have to admit I work in a shop that’s actually quite reasonable about repairs and replacements. I believe we really do go out of our way for all of our customers, but I know we do a lot more for someone who is polite than someone who is not.

    Most places I’ve worked there’s an unspoken, unwritten rule that if someone raises their voice or “kicks off” about something, they’ll get nothing more than the absolute bare minimum, and they won’t get it with a smile.

    We’re still people working in a shop. It’s not our fault your computer broke but we’re doing whatever we can, y’know?

    Most of the time we’re just glad you’re not the 5,000th person to ask about the iPod nano.

  • http://www.benedictoneill.com/2005/09/22/your-consumer-rights/ benedict o’neill

    Your Consumer Rights

    Ian Betteridge has an interested blog entry that summarises the rights of UK consumers, What to do when a PC goes wrong is a must read.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    Lex, I know *exactly* where you’re coming from. You see, my dirty little secret is… I used to work on that side of the fence, too. For a year or so, I was warehouse monkey in a major electrical “warehouse” type retailer. After a couple of months, because I was good with people, I got put in charge of repairs, returns, and so on. The customer that was polite but firm always got their way. The one that shouted got zip – even when they were in the right.

    Retail people are people like everyone else – they like to do the right thing for nice people.

  • eye

    I had a problem with being ripped off by a computer retailer and when I complained to the credit card company, they said they would not deal with it because my complaint was over three months old and they don’t have to deal with it.

    Is there some legal definition of what the credit card protection is that you know off? Are they limited by time?

  • http://www.3cologne.com jam

    The big thing here in Germany recently has been that new EU regulations (I assume/hope that they apply in the UK, too) automatically give you a two-year guarantee on all new product purchases, no matter what: cars, computers, blenders, you name it. The stores aren’t happy to talk about it, but everything I’ve brought back has been repaired/replaced with a minimum of fuss! (But I admit I am a very polite boy when it comes to this sort of thing – can’t hurt, right?)

  • Mark Stopes

    The point made above seems to be borne out in some (very quick) research I just did. See the below link for details of “Directive 1999/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 May 1999 on certain aspects of the sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees” (natty title). Especially Article 5. I have no idea about European Directives (enforcability etc.) but seems pretty unambiguous to me…..


  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    eye, the same rules apply to the credit card company as apply to the retailer – they’re “jointly and seperately liable”. They’re not limited by time, but you should notify them as soon as possible.

    However, if you’ve delayed because you’ve been trying to sort things out with your retailer, the credit card company should deal with it. Go back to them and be persistent – there’s no legal “three month limit”. Oh, and write rather than phoning – you’ll always get a better response, and you have everything in writing in case of a dispute.

  • http://www.pmsclan.com/uk/ Jez

    What if something breaks after the first year and they offer a repair for (nearly) the same cost as the original purchase? I’m not entirely clear on what’s within one’s rights to have “free”, and what one should expect to pay for.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    Jez, you shouldn’t have to pay anything to have something repaired if the fault was there from when you bought it, or if the goods aren’t “of reasonable quality.” This is the key phrase to use – tell them that the fault “demonstrates that the goods were not of reasonable quality at the time of purchase”. The longer it is since the purchase date, the more difficult it is going to be for you to prove this (and the onus of proof will be on you if it ever goes to court). But if it’s only just after a year, you should be able to get something done for free if you’re persistant.

  • http://www.boingboing.net/2005/09/21/howto_get_your_fault.html Boing Boing

    HOWTO get your faulty UK goods replaced

    Former MacWeek MacUser UK editor Ian Betteridge has posted a brilliant guide to consumer protection rights in the UK, specifically aimed at people who buy high-tech gear that fails. The UK has extensive protection in these situations, but most poeple d…

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    Links for 2005-09-22

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  • Egg

    I bought a Sony LCD monitor from a Micro Anvika Store – premium product from a premium store. It had a bright dead pixel pretty much center screen. Sadly dead pixels aren’t classed as ‘faulty’ by the store or the manufacturer – the manager was really unhelpful, the best I was offered was to pay an extra £30 to take the shop display model!! The day I bought it I asked to check the screen in store but they said this wasn’t policy. What gets me is if I had bought this online I could have just returned the goods within 10 days for a refund, plus plenty of less well known (+ cheaper) retailers/manufacturers have a no dead pixel guarantee. Major bummer.

    Interesting side note: the unit developed another fault, Sony tried to get me to pay for delivery to the repair center saying this model doesnt have an on-site warranty (luckily I found a leaflet from a different model which states ALL LCD monitors have onsite so they took it). To date, repair has taken over 1 month.

    If anyone is denied on-site monitor repair by Sony I will scan the leaflet for them.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    Egg, good post – and a geat example of some of the points where stores will try and (ahem) “persuade” you that you don’t have the rights the law says you do.

    1. A dead pixel right in the centre clear makes it not fit for purpose, as it’s distracting (had it been bottom corner, it would have been debatable). The store doesn’t get to decided that something “isn’t a fault”.

    2. The manufacturer has nothing to do with it. Your contract is with the seller, not the maker. You don’t have to have *any* contact with Sony. In fact, it’s best if you don’t – always insist that it’s the store’s problem.

    3. You can’t be charged a restocking fee for a replacement.

    4. The fact that you asked to check it in store shows that you were concerned. If it’s “not policy” walk out of the store and buy somewhere else.

    5. One month for a repair is clearly unreasonable. If you had arranged it through the seller (rather than the maker) you would now have a good case for an immediate replacement or your money back.

  • Paul Hart

    I haven’t lived in the UK for a few years now, but when I was a lad I bought a Gameboy from Dixons that developed a fault within a couple of months. I looked up my rights at the school library before going back to the store, but the manager at Dixons was less than helpful.

    What *did* work was writing to BBC Watchdog about the incident. I got a letter back from them saying “thanks, we’re hoarding these letters so we can do a big story on Dixons”, and a month or two later I received a letter from Dixons head office offering a full refund, though no apologies.

    Praise be for Auntie.

  • http://iceapple.co.uk Bob Fleming

    I used to work for one of the busiest PC World branches, in many departments while at university, and I know most of their (old) tricks. “its not good for the purpose it was sold for” is always a good one to use, I’ve used it many a time, and made them get out their copy of the Consumer Act. Many of the statements that have been made here I might be able to give you the ‘official line’ on, i.e. PC world used to claim that 5 dead pixels on a laptop screen was classed as a refundable/replacable problem, but not less (may well be different now, it should f’ing well be). You can email me on [email protected] for some help, but please, only if you have a little tech savvy (no ‘my coffee cup holder doesnt work’ or ‘wheres the any key’ type of statements. PS pissing them off, or looking like a know all, will never help!!!!

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    Links for 2005-09-22

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  • http://www.barzelay.net/archives/2005/09/consumers_right.php barzelay.net

    Consumers’ Rights

    First, the disclaimer I am told I must provide when telling anyone anything that could be construed as legal advice: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. Now, onto the meat: BoingBoing posted a link to…

  • http://www.plasticbag.org/archives/2005/09/links_for_20050922.shtml plasticbag.org

    Links for 2005-09-22

    How To Turn Your Hamster into a Fighting Machine! Really helpful. Lots of spelling mistakes. But at least now I know where I went wrong in strapping the spade to poor little Fidgit… HTMLstamps – intriguing and slightly random…

  • http://xo.typepad.com/blog/2005/09/how_to_get_faul.html A Welsh View

    How To Get Faulty Goods Replaced

    A very useful guide on returning faulty PC’s/Electrical Equipment (only if you live in the UK). [via]

  • Aaron

    You’re wrong about the ‘two year’ theoretical limit. My Dad owns a large chain of electrical stores, and he regularly has to pay for repairs to appliances that are three, four years old (even longer for goods like washing machines and fridges).

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    Aaron – your dad is getting hit with the “of reasonable quality” clause. With something like a dishwasher, there’s a reasonable expectation that it will last a very long time – five years isn’t unheard of. Someone was taken to court over a four year old washing machine, and the consumer won.

    With a computer, it’s trickier to say it *should* last that long. It’s always worth having a go – but personally, I think if you’ve had it for more than a couple of years, you’ve probably had a decent run with it and might as well get a new one. But, as I say, it’s worth having a go if you’re prepared to be persistent.

  • Nick Gisburne

    Thanks for the information, and for the EU directive info which explains about the two-year guarantee (didn’t know about that one). I like to keep up to date with my rights and we seem to be very well covered in the UK/EU. Certainly it makes the extended guarantees that companies try to flog you appear to be money for old rope – you have almost the same rights even if you don’t foolishly part with the extra cash. If something breaks and you have a reasonable expectation that it would have lasted longer, just take the thing back.

    The following article gives a lot of information about the subject. Something I didn’t know is that in England you can make a claim against the suppliers up to SIX YEARS after buying it (5 in Scotland). That all depends on the type of goods of course – if you can reasonably expect something to last for 6 years you can claim against the supplier.


  • http://www.zigzak.co.uk David Spink

    Very interesting article, and many good points raised. As a small Computer Retailer of 13 years standing I have to say that everyone seems to have forgotten one major point which is often a problem for us. The “fault” with the equipment isn’t a fault at all – it’s something the purchaser has done to the system – for example get a virus infection, fiddle with critical settings, etc, often our day can be spent having to “disprove” that a reported fault isn’t a fault at all.

    We also usually refer people to manufacturer support/warranty lines, especially for items like printers – again the main reason for this is that the manufacturer is usually best placed to identify a fault, or lack of fault – and take the appropriate action – it’s got nothing to do with trying to avoid our responsibility to the buyer.

    I also agree with the “firm but polite” comment – some customers can become rather unreasonable asking for replacements and refunds without giving us a “resonable” time to evaluate the item.

    Having said that the vast majority of customers are great, and the vast majority of equipment we sell never has a problem!! We don’t like faults with new equipment any more than a buyer does!

  • http://www.iainrowan.com Iain Rowan

    “Fault appears after two years: Unless you’re really, really sure the problem was endemic in the design of the original model – for example, it’s a common fault that lots of people have complained about – it’s not worth the hassle.”

    Interesting reading, thanks. I’m just doing some thinking about this one. I’m typing this on an ibook that I bought in January 2003.

    It’s currently on its *fourth* logic board. Got it back from Apple less than a month ago.

    My Applecare, and Apple’s Duff iBook Replacement Scheme will stop covering it in January. Based on what’s happened so far, and the complete failure of Apple’s replacements to resolve the problem, the logic board will go phut again sometime between February and May, and the ibook will become an expensive paperweight.

    I’m going to write to Apple and suggest that in the light of the fact that they sold me – and a lot of other people – a lemon, and that their repairs have not fixed the underlying design problem – the least they can do is extend the replacement period.

    I don’t know if they will go for this or not, and I think if they don’t my legal rights are probably limited because of the age of the problem, but I will talk to Trading Standards and try and push it, because to be honest, I think it’s really shoddy.

  • http://tenniszine.blogspot.com/ Harry Alton

    Interesting post, but in my experience does not work when it comes to purchasing new cars from car dealers in the UK. They will go through hell and back (read: ignore legal threats or summmons with the threat of bankrupting you first)in an effort to avoid replacing a faulty car.

  • http://www.dere-street.com/quicklinks/archives/2005/09/index.php#000717 quicklinks

    What to do when something goes wrong

    What to do when something goes wrong A wee primer for UK [computer] consumers….

  • http://www.wibbler.com/linkage/archives/2005/09/index.html#005532 Linkblog

    What to do when stuff goes wrong

    Intensely useful advice

  • http://www.wibbler.com/linkage/archives/2005/09/index.html#005532 Linkblog

    What to do when stuff goes wrong

    Intensely useful advice

  • http://robgarrett.com/Blogs/software/archive/2005/09/27/1623.aspx Software/Technology Discussion

    Consumers’ Rights

  • Di

    I bought an MP3 player from Datakits.co.uk back in May. As it was for my son’s birthday in June, it wasn’t opened until then. It worked for about 6 weeks and then refused to switch on or charge the battery. I sent 6 emails and a registered letter to the company but got no reply. I had paid via Paypal but was outside their 14 day complaints policy so I decided to claim from my credit card company. Having sent every receipt and copies of emails. their reply was that since I had paid Paypal, my contract was with Paypal and not with Datakits. Paypal had completed the sale therefore I had no clain against the credit card company. They refused to do anything saying that if I had paid Datakits direct, they would have refunded my money but not when I had paid Paypal. Buyer beware!

    I have finally, after 3 months got a returns number from Datakits and have sent the MP3 player back by recorded delivery. I’m still waiting for a replacement. It looks like I shall end up having to go through the small claims court. I would have preferred a refund since it only worked for 6 weeks but Trading Standards told me I wouldn’t be entitled to one.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    Di, you make an important point: If you pay through PayPal, it’s the same rules as if you’re paying cash, and you DON’T get the protection you’re liable to if you pay a company direct with a credit card.

    Three months is far, far too long to take to give you a replacement.

    Remember too that if you’re buying mail order, you have extra rights through the Distance Selling Regulations. The main right is that you have a “cooling off period” of 7 days after you receive the goods. This means that you may reject the goods, for any reason at all, by giving the seller written notice within seven days. You DON’T have to return them within seven days: in fact, unless stipulated in your sales agreement, you don’t have to return them at all, merely make them available for return and take reasonable care of them.