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Case studies - High Street Shopping

Which? Legal member Barbara Littlewood bought a new Zanussi gas hob from Currys PC World for £264, which included the cost of fitting. On delivery, the fitters refused to install the hob because the wiring wasn’t suitable. They told Barbara that she would have to pay for her own electrician to make some changes before they could fit it.

But the fitters failed to complete the paperwork, so Barbara couldn’t pass on suitable instructions to her electrician. The electrician was as helpful as he could be, advising her to take before-and-after pictures of the sockets. After this, new fitters from Currys PC World arrived and stated that the old sockets should have been fine, meaning the extra work was completely unnecessary. Barbara was left £78 out of pocket as a result.

Our advice

We told Barbara that she was entitled to claim this £78 back from Currys PC World, and explained that her contract with it was governed by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Under this law, Currys PC World, or any of its sub-contractors, should have supplied the service with reasonable care and skill. The original fitters failed to do this by not looking at the other sockets in the cupboards on either side of the cooker.

After three months, Barbara received £150 to compensate her for the fitting costs and inconvenience caused.

The law

If a competent professional should have been able to complete the installation on the first try, then Currys PC World would be in breach of contract, as it failed to carry out its service with reasonable care and skill. If a consumer is given false information that results in an additional loss, they’re entitled to claim this back from the trader under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

A Currys PC World spokesperson said: ‘We’re very sorry about Ms Littlewood’s experience. To help make things right, we refunded her costs and offered an additional £50.’

In December 2016, Which? members Mr and Mrs Conroy bought a new suite from Leeks for £2,624.50. Seven months later, they noticed changes in the colour of the material that would not disappear with brushing or hoovering.

After many calls to Leeks, the company eventually agreed to send an independent upholsterer, who explained that the suite had been made with the ‘pile’ of the chenille fabric running in the wrong direction. Leeks then wrote to the Conroys advising that it was unable to assist any further and was closing the complaint. They then contacted Which? Legal.

Our advice

We advised Mr and Mrs Conroy to make a formal complaint to Leeks, bringing its attention to the relevant law, the Consumer Rights Act 2015. They also instructed their own independent upholsterer at their own cost to carry out a report. Leeks responded to this, saying it wanted to send another upholsterer from G Plan, the manufacturer. Mr and Mrs Conroy then sent a letter before action, which informed Leeks that they would be willing to take court action should the matter not be resolved. Leeks replied, agreeing to settle the complaint. The Conroys received a full refund of the purchase price minus the value of the promotional vouchers they had used to buy the suite, although they had to wait almost six months to get it.

The law

Consumer contracts for goods are governed by the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (if entered into before 1 October 2015) or the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (if entered into after that date). It’s an implied term that products should be of satisfactory quality. As it was confirmed by the upholsterer’s report that the suite had a defect, Mr and Mrs Conroy were entitled to a legal remedy. If a product doesn’t conform to these implied terms, you have the right to reject it within the first 30 days after purchase. After that time, as with the Conroys, you are entitled to request a repair or replacement. However, in their case, Leeks had agreed to provide them with a refund to settle the complaint, so this was not necessary.

 

Which? Legal member Linda Hanam paid £544.95 by credit card for a multi-season air conditioner/humidifier/heater unit from Airconcentre. The first time she used it in heating mode, the internal water tank filled up, shutting off the machine. This also happened on several subsequent occasions. She contacted Airconcentre, which checked the unit and said there was nothing wrong with it, but when she used it in heating mode again, the water had to be manually drained daily, or fitted with a hose. This wasn’t mentioned in the product description.

Our advice

We advised Linda that it’s an offence for a trader to mislead customers by presenting false or deceptive information about a product. In her case, the description stated ‘…there is no need to periodically empty a water tank, which is typical of many other models,’ and ‘our evaporative technology uses any collected moisture to cool the unit, before it is eliminated through the exhaust ducts, leaving no water bucket to empty’. As Airconcentre was not resolving the matter, we advised Linda to put in a claim with her credit card provider. The card provider refunded her in full.

The law

If someone is misled by the description of a product, they have rights to redress under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008; Regulation 5 makes it an offence for a trader to mislead a consumer in regards to the main characteristics of a product. The consumer would be entitled to unwind the contract if it was still within 90 days of purchase. After that time they could seek a discount, which could be up to 100% of the purchase price, depending on the severity of the breach. In addition, section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 applies where goods or services are bought using a credit card (even for only part of the price) and the total cost of the contract is between £100 and £30,000. Where there is a misrepresentation or breach of contract by the trader, the credit card provider is deemed to be liable, either solely or jointly with the seller.

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.

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.

Outcome

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

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

When Which? Legal member Vicky'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.