Consumer complaint trader misrepresented ‘special offer’, ’sale’ goods England and 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 bought 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 complaints about goods or services that have been misrepresented in a different way, e.g. you thought you were buying something that came with particular accessories, or was suitable for a particular, advertised use, and it did/was not.

All retailers have to comply with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. These Regulations ban misleading sales practices, including:

  • Fake discounts: where goods are advertised as 'on offer' when they have genuinely never been discounted before; or where they’re ‘on offer’ for longer than they were sold at their full price; or where they increase in price when they’re on multi-buy offer

  • ‘Bait advertising’: where the seller falsely lures a consumer with a great proposition, that is not in fact available – or can only be honoured in a few cases; often done with the intention that once the consumer is there, they can be persuaded to buy something else

  • Limited offers: falsely promoting a product as only for sale for a short period of time, or only on these particular terms for a short period of time (when this is not the case), to provoke a knee-jerk panic-buy by consumers, and deprive them of the chance to make more informed and comparative purchasing decisions

  • Fake ‘free’ deals: stating a product is available for free when charges other than delivery and/or the unavoidable costs of replying to the offer, are actually demanded.

Retailers that engage in any of these practices that cause you to hand over money or otherwise enter into a transaction that you would not otherwise have agreed to commit an offence under UK law.

If you fall victim to any of the above banned practices, you have the right to cancel a sales contract (to treat the sale as though it was never made) and get a full refund within 90 days of the sale, or 90 days of taking delivery of the goods/services, and after those 90 days are up, to get a discount and, in some cases, where you’ve suffered harm/incurred additional costs, to claim for damages as well.

The circumstances will be important – as will your evidence of the seller’s bad behaviour in breach of the regulations. You’ll need to be able to show that the seller’s above actions significantly motivated you to buy the item(s) being sold.

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.

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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