Consumer complaint that goods / services were misrepresented by a trader (England & Wales)

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What is a template consumer complaint that goods/services were misrepresented by a trader, and when do you need one?

Use this letter where you have ordered goods or services and what you received did not match the seller’s description.

If you have received something that was described as being ‘on sale’, or on ‘special offer’ and you have since discovered that it was not, you can use our separate template covering this type of complaint.

Consumers buying from a business seller are legally entitled to goods/services that match their description at/before the point of sale. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 expressly states that consumers are entitled to receive goods/services that are ‘as described’ to them at the point they make their purchase decision.

You may be entitled to a refund if what you end up with is not what was advertised, or not what was described by the seller and not what you reasonably believed you were buying.

With goods, this is the case irrespective of whether the goods are brand new, on offer/discounted/in a sale, or second-hand.

With services, whether they’re on special offer or full price, the position is also the same.

There’s a whole list of misleading actions – or lack of action – and connected/similar activities that sellers are also banned from engaging in. These fall under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

They include:

  • advertising goods they do not in fact have for sale, or
  • offering just a few items at an advertised ‘special offer’ price genuinely knowing they have no prospect of meeting large demand and being able to fulfil that offer, or
  • making misleading comparisons, e.g. 'product A lasts twice as long as product B' when this is not true, or
  • claiming to comply with an industry code or quality standard, when the seller is not in fact compliant, or giving false or deceptive information about their business, status or qualifications, or
  • giving false information relating to the characteristics of goods (e.g. 'genuine, branded parts' or ‘original features’), when this is not true, or
  • making untrue claims about whether a product needs servicing or replacing so as to untruthfully charge for a service/replacement that is not needed, or
  • giving misleading or untruthful information to consumers about their legal rights, or
  • not telling consumers information that it can be reasonably expected the average, non-expert consumer will need to know so they can make an informed purchase decision, or
  • obscuring the above kind of information from them, or
  • explaining that information in a deliberately opaque or confusing way, so they can’t make a properly informed purchase, or
  • failing to point out that a transaction has a paid-for element/expectation to it – where this is not reasonably clear from its context.

Make sure that you clearly explain what you relied on, when you purchased the goods/the service, and provide as much evidence as you can of the reasonableness of that reliance.

For example, if a shop assistant/sales representative informed you that the goods/services would be perfect for requirements that you told them about, this is evidence that you should definitely include in your complaint letter. You have to be able to show not just that the seller’s behaviour fell into one of the above scenarios/something similar, but also that you relied on/were influenced substantially by this behaviour, when you decided to buy the product/service.

While it is a slightly different type of offence, traders who use pressure tactics, (e.g. not taking no for an answer, failing to leave you alone until you agree to a sale/sign a contract, or who threaten you, also commit an offence under the above regulations.

You can find out more on your consumer rights in these circumstances here.

Complaint process

Most businesses these days have a website on which they display their contact details and often, the terms and conditions under which they sell (even if they’re not selling online). Take a look at these as they may (and ideally should) contain information about how you can complain to them and the time frames and rights they give you.

Keep copies of all your correspondence and any attached documents, such as receipts, copies of guarantees/warranties that you have activated (if relevant), etc. Some businesses will have self-imposed, or legally imposed deadlines for responding to you and for resolving your complaint. If they refer to these deadlines in their documentation, make sure you reference them in this letter too.

You will have 90 days to end the contract and to request a full refund. The clock starts ticking on those 90 days on the latest of the following dates:

  • the date you agreed the contract/made the purchase
  • the date you received the goods (including digital goods)/services, if they were delivered later than the above date
  • the date that your right of cancellation can first be exercised (which could be applicable to a trial).

To get a full refund, you can’t have fully used/used up the goods or received a complete service and the trader must be in a position to collect any goods from you. After 90 days, you may be able to claim for a discount to the price that you paid and, in either case, you could claim damages if as the result of the misrepresentation/unscrupulous behaviour of the seller, you incurred other costs/suffered harm.

Defences

There are a number of arguments that a seller can make in their defence to a claim you make on any of the above grounds. If they can show that what happened was a genuine mistake, error, accident or someone’s fault, or factors that occurred outside their reasonable control, they will likely be successful in resisting your claim. But they will need to show that they acted reasonably and took all reasonable steps to prevent a situation such as yours arising.

Taking your complaint further

If you’re not satisfied with the response you get from the seller, then you can:

  • find out if they have an ombudsman or other professional standards body to whom you can complain (sadly there isn’t really one for standard retailers); or
  • you could consider complaining to Trading Standards; (Bear in mind, though, that your local trading standards department's role is to address the issue with the retailer, not to get your money back), or
  • you could, depending on the supplier’s terms, suggest alternative dispute resolution/mediation.
  • You might be able to rely on your card or payment provider for help, if you paid by a credit or debit card, you used a provider like Paypal, or your purchase was financed by a hire purchase company.
  • Finally, you can consider a claim brought in the courts, though this can be costly and take some time to be heard.

Before taking any of those steps, it is highly advisable to see if you can get the seller to provide you with what’s often called a ‘letter of deadlock’, essentially, a letter confirming that the seller has not been able to resolve your complaint and you remain dissatisfied.

This is a key piece of evidence, in your favour, that supports you seeking assistance from the above solution providers, proving that you have reasonably tried to reach a resolution on your own and been unable to do so. If you can’t get one, it doesn’t mean that you can’t complain to any of these dispute solution providers, but having it will typically help to speed matters up.

Help now and later

If you’d like help with your complaint and/or considering your options, you can use our speak to an adviser service, where a qualified expert can talk you through your options, and help you to decide the right next steps for you. Our guide: how to bring a consumer complaint against a business, contains more background and instructions on the wider context of consumer complaints and what to expect.

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