When can you return damaged or defective goods or items purchased? Your legal rights to return damaged goods:
At The Legal Advice Office; we get many enquiries every single week from clients and consumers about whether, when and how they can go about returning faulty or damages goods that they have bought from a supplier.
It is really quite disturbing to realise how many suppliers, big and small, continue to ignore the basics of consumer law and consumer protection as also the tenants of the common law of contract.
You have protection both in terms of the common law and the Consumer Protection Act No 68 of 2008 when you buy damaged or defective goods.
Despite the fact that the Consumer Protection Act No 68 of 2008 (CPA) came into force on the 1st April 2011; which is more than six years ago now, many businesses and service providers continue to operate outside the legislation and some do so blatantly and knowingly very often duping their customers at the same time so as to save themselves a great deal of money and effort. Some actions reported to us border on criminal fraud.
There are also other consumer complaints from our clients including unreasonable terms and conditions in contracts and dodgy forms and even attempts to get them to sign indemnity forms. We find however that the biggest problem is the service provider’s failure to comply with the returns policy and provisions of the Act.
It is therefore a worthwhile exercise to recap on this subject as it is clear that most consumers are unsure of their rights to return goods whether they are broken, damaged, faulty or not.
The rules are as follows:
Consumers have the right to return to the supplier/service provider faulty, damaged or poor quality goods within six (6) months of the date of purchase. It is your right and your choice. It is not up to the dealer!
A supplier can insist on having the goods examined and this may take a week or two; if the item is sent off site by them for the examination and to determine the cause of the damage.
It is important to note that if a consumer damages an item; whether it is deliberate, negligently or even by accident, the supplier is under NO obligation to assist; but the supplier must be able to prove the damage is and was caused by the consumer.
Recently one of our clients returned a 48 inch big screen TV to the supplier as it was faulty. It was sent away to be repaired by the supplier and then returned to him. It was still faulty. He took it back to them and again they sent it away. They then alleged that the damage was due to “abuse.” We took the matter up on his behalf; and argued that they should then have said so when it was returned to him the first time except that he was told it was faulty then; and had been repaired. It had then been in their possession the whole time and they could not prove that he had abused the TV as it was not even in his possession. Simple answer: They took a chance! They tried to pass the buck to him and avoid having to replace the item or refund him his money! We did a letter of demand and they refunded him in full.
Lesson: Do not allow a supplier to hoodwink you and deprive you of your consumer rights.
If the item upon examination is found to be defective, the customer/consumer has the right to a full refund of the purchase price, or a replacement item or can ask for the item to be repaired at the supplier’s expense. This is your choice. Not the dealer’s or supplier’s; and this is very important.
Suppliers often try to talk you into simply agreeing to them repairing the item as that is their cheapest option, and make out as if they are doing you a huge favour. Do not be duped! It is your choice and your right! All those suppliers that insist on a repair of the item instead of offering you the choice of a refund or a replacement as well as a repair are breaking the law. Those suppliers that also insist on providing you with a credit voucher; instead of your requested cash refund are also breaking the law.
Because retailers and suppliers have both the right and may ask you for proof of your purchase before attending to your complaint; it is clearly advisable holding on to your receipts and invoices for at least six months after purchasing items at any supplier; as they would be fully justified in turning you away; if you were unable to prove that you had bought the item from their store in the first place.
At common law you can also return an item that is damaged or defective but you must be able to prove that it was in that state at the time that you bought it for that supplier.
You will also need to prove that you bought it from that particular supplier. Here again; proof of payment and a proper receipt should suffice.
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The Legal Advice Office Team.