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Case studies - High Street Shopping

Which? Legal members Janice and Frank Turner bought a joint annual membership to the De Vere Wotton House Hotel’s leisure club in April 2016 for £1,350 for 12 months. In July, as per the club policy, they froze their membership for a month when they weren’t using it, thereby extending it by one month at no extra cost.

The club’s pool was adult-only, except for very limited hours when children could use it  this was clearly stated in writing. But over Christmas, children were also allowed to use the pool during the adults-only hours. This made it hard for Janice to swim, as she's disabled. The Turners complained, but the management only reinstated two child-free hours per day. It did apologise, though, and said that in future any changes to adult-only hours would be made clear on the club noticeboard, and that staff would be reminded to enforce the policy. Then in January, a child was again swimming outside the set hours.

When Janice raised the issue, the child's mother verbally abused her about her disability. Hotel management appeared to take no action, so the Turners resigned their membership and asked for a refund for the remaining four-and-a-half months. The hotel said they could only have a three-month refund (£337.50), as one had been free and there was no pro-rata refund for the rest of January.

Our advice

We advised that the Turners should be refunded on the cost of each day lost (£3.42 a day, so £448.02 over 131 days). We suggested they post a letter by recorded delivery to The Principal Hotel Company (which owns De Vere Hotels), giving a five-working-day deadline to get the remaining refund and threatening small claims court action. The balance was subsequently paid.

The law

The hotel is bound by its terms and conditions. The Turners relied on these conditions, one of which was breached (children using the pool). As they had received some benefit from the contract, they were entitled to a pro-rata refund. The fact that one month of the contract was ‘free’ is irrelevant, as their loss must be calculated by the number of days of unused membership – in this case, 131.

Advice from Which? Legal Service helped Sam Leitch recover the full cost of a sofa – 11 months after she bought it. Sam bought the leather corner sofa and chair from SCS Edinburgh for £5,490 in July 2009. In under a year, she noticed the sofa’s stitching starting to unravel and reported the fault to SCS. Sam was shocked that a technician from the company who came round to inspect it, glued it back together. Seven days later, it started coming apart again. Sam contacted her local trading standards office, which contacted SCS. SCS said that it required photographs of the fault, and wanted to send round another technician – who turned out to be the same person. SCS then, via the manufacturers, offered to replace the sofa covers. Sam reluctantly accepted this, provided they were a perfect colour match to the rest of the suite. There had been a previous fault with one of the panels on the sofa which, while it was replaced quite quickly, wasn’t a perfect match. But in fact the samples sent to Sam didn’t match the suite and for that reason the replacement leather panel wasn’t fitted.

Our advice

Sam contacted us for advice. We told her that her claim was against SCS for selling her a suite that wasn’t of satisfactory quality as it hadn’t proved durable. We explained that, under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, if goods aren’t of satisfactory quality, a retailer can offer to carry out a repair, but it must be done in a reasonable time and without significant inconvenience. SCS hadn’t done this, so she could rescind the contract and ask for a partial refund. We also advised Sam that as she had paid the deposit on her Santander credit card, any claim she had against SCS she could also bring against Santander as they were jointly and severally liable for the breach of contract under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Sam went back to Trading Standards, asking it to tell SCS she wanted it to collect the suite and give her a refund. Instead, SCS offered her a replacement but she said it had had ample time to repair or replace the suite. In October 2011, the company agreed to collect the suite and paid Sam all her money back.

The Law

Under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, goods must be of satisfactory quality. So, an expensive new suite should be without defects and last a reasonable time. If you act quickly (normally within a month) you can reject faulty goods and get a full refund. If there’s a fault after that, you can ask the retailer to repair or replace the goods (in reality it will be the retailer’s choice) but the repair or replacement must be done in reasonable time, and without significant inconvenience. If it doesn’t, you can rescind the contract and ask for a refund. If you rescind a contract after having use of the goods, the retailer can deduct an amount for that use

When Mark Dawson’s fridge-freezer stopped working after 28 years, he knew 
he’d be unlikely to find one that could last as long.

But he hadn’t expected the new fridge-freezer he bought to fail after just 24 hours – nor for the replacement model provided by the store to fail just as quickly.

When Mark visited his local Currys electrical store in November 2010 to buy a fridge-freezer, he told the salesperson that it was for use in his garage. The salesperson recommended a Frigidaire model, costing £209.94, which Mark bought.

The fridge-freezer was delivered and placed by the delivery team in Mark’s garage. It was fine for 24 hours, but then stopped working.

What Mark did

When Mark reported the problem to the store manager, Currys agreed to replace the fridge-freezer. Again Mark explained that the fridge-freezer was for use in his garage. So when the replacement failed in the same manner as the previous one, Mark did some research and discovered that the fridge-freezer he bought was not designed to work in a cold environment.

When Mark asked the store manager what Currys intended to do about this problem, he was told to write to the customer relations team of DSG Retail Limited – the company that operates the Currys shops.

Which? Legal advice

Mark then contacted Which? Legal. Our lawyers advised Mark that it was likely that DSG 
was in breach of contract as the fridge-freezer he bought was unsuitable for the specific location he had told its salesperson he wanted it for. We recommended that he ask DSG for a refund, but DSG refused. 

What happened next

We advised Mark on how to issue legal proceedings against DSG for breach of contract and misrepresentation. In response DSG offered to repair the fridge-freezer, pay his court costs and a further £20 in compensation. Mark rejected this offer, explaining that the fridge-freezer was never going to work in the winter in his garage and was, therefore, unfit for the purpose he had bought it for.

He told Currys that he felt its salesperson had mis-sold the fridge-freezer and what he wanted was a refund so that he could buy a fridge-freezer that would work properly in his garage.


DSG apologised to Mark for the way it had treated him and refunded the full cost of the fridge-freezer.

Can you get your money back if you buy goods abroad and something goes wrong?

Which? Legal member Catherine Ward bought an 18-carat gold emerald ring while on holiday in Colombia, only to find when she got home it had a fault that made it unwearable.

Catherine bought the ring as part of a set costing £1,935, while on a cruise through South America. As she purchased it abroad it seemed it might be difficult to get her money back. Thankfully, our lawyers helped her recover the full cost. The problem was discovered when Catherine got home to England and took the ring to a jeweller to have the emeralds authenticated.

The jeweller found a fault that had caused a chip in one of the emeralds. This meant Catherine couldn’t wear the ring for fear of causing further damage or losing one of the stones.

The jeweller estimated it would cost £1,200 to have the ring remade to prevent the stones from damaging each other.

It would have been difficult to seek a remedy from the seller in Colombia so, as Catherine had bought the ring using a credit card, she asked its issuer, the Co-operative Bank, for help. But Catherine says it refused and suggested she pay for the repairs herself. At this point she came to Which? Legal for help.

Our advice

Our lawyers confirmed that even though Catherine had bought the ring in Colombia she could still go to the Co-operative Bank with the claim. We suggested she write to the bank again, this time stating her legal position and requesting it offer remedy as it had to.  The Co-operative Bank agreed to pay the repair cost and Catherine got back the remade ring at the end of 2014, a year after her trip to Colombia.

The law

Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 makes the credit card issuer liable, along with the seller, if there has been a breach of contract or misrepresentation. This applies to goods worth more than £100 and up to £30,000, where you paid at least part of the price on a credit card. The card issuer would be liable to offer a solution to you in such a situation and you could seek either a refund, or a repair or replacement of the item. For any purchases made abroad, your rights would be subject to local law, which would differ from UK laws. But the card issuer would probably consider whether the circumstances amounted to a breach of contract or misrepresentation under UK law.

Which? Legal member has to remind Boots of her rights after it denies her a refund or replacement

When Which? Legal member Vicky Drazhner’s reading glasses from Boots Opticians broke after just four months it refused to repair or replace them.

It said that as she hadn’t purchased a warranty, she’d have to buy a new pair, although she’d be entitled to a discount.

Vicky wasn’t happy at the idea of paying for new glasses so quickly, but she had to show the opticians the Sale of Goods Act, which set out her rights, before Boots agreed to send the glasses to the manufacturer to be assessed.

Vicky had been without her glasses for 18 days when Boots contacted her to say the manufacturer had returned them in the same condition. It had been unable to provide an assessment report to determine whether the glasses were defective or Vicky had damaged them.

She was again told that Boots wouldn’t repair or replace the glasses as it did not think there was a manufacturing fault. She complained to the Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS), a free mediation service that tries to resolve disputes between opticians and consumers. But it couldn’t provide a resolution and the case was closed.

Our advice

Vicky contacted Which? Legal. We confirmed her rights under the Sale of Goods Act and advised that as Boots had already had the chance to inspect the glasses and failed to prove its case, she could get an impartial expert to inspect them to see if she could claim a manufacturing fault. Rather than do that straight away, because she didn’t want to be without her glasses, Vicky wrote to Boots Opticians again saying she didn’t agree with its analysis and if she didn’t receive a satisfactory resolution she’d consider legal action. Boots offered a full refund of £229, which she accepted.

What the law says

The Sale of Goods Act says goods should be of satisfactory quality. This includes durability. In the six months after purchase, the onus is on the supplier to prove that the defect wasn’t there when you bought the item. You’re entitled to a repair or replacement – the retailer is likely to choose the most cost-effective option. If a repair isn’t possible or would be disproportionate in price, you may claim a refund, reduced to take into account the use you’ve had. If, like Vicky, you face a situation in which a firm won’t repair or replace, you can then go to the relevant complaints service. In this case, the OCCS deals only with the financial/ contractual part of the supply of glasses.