98% of British Adults Unaware of Basic Consumer Rights

New study from Teleplan finds concerning indicators that UK citizens could be missing out on rights afforded to all EU residents
To mark World Consumer Rights Day on March 15, a survey from Teleplan, one of the top global integrated end-to-end aftermarket service solution providers, found that a staggering 49.4 million UK adults aren’t aware of their basic consumer rights to return, refund or exchange faulty goods. The figure, equivalent to 98% of the UK adult population, shows an alarming lack of knowledge about the rights Brits are entitled to.

In July 2014, the European Commission passed new consumer rights regulations for EU residents granting, amongst other things, the ability to return faulty goods within 2 years for a refund, exchange or repair. However, it appears the vast majority of the UK population is under the false impression that they are entitled to far less, with an astounding 43% believing they only have 28 days or less to return faulty goods – a whopping 702 days less than they are permitted.

The research, conducted by Opinium for Teleplan, analysed how much UK residents understand about their basic consumer rights and their attitudes towards the return of faulty electronic goods. In addition the EU regulations outline that consumers only have 14 days as standard from the date of purchase to return unwanted goods which are not faulty or damaged, something only 11% of British adults appear to be aware of.

“World Consumer Rights Day seeks to promote the basic rights of all consumers, for demanding that those rights are respected and protected, and for protesting the market abuses and social injustices which undermine them, such as the miss selling of goods and the refusal of a valid repair.” commented Sven Boddington, VP Global Marketing & Client Solutions at Teleplan. “It’s particularly worrying to know that so many British adults are oblivious to when they can and can’t return faulty goods under their consumer rights.”

Boddington continued: “The ability to return faulty products for replacement or repair is essential for everyone from big businesses through to individual consumers, particularly the ability to return faulty electronic products. As our society advances further and further through the use of technology, so does the reliance we have on technology as part of our increasingly connected lives. The nature of this means that the demand for the replacement and repair of faulty devices or products is only going to grow. By not knowing what their consumer rights are, British consumers are missing out a vital service available under EU Regulation – the repair and replacement of faulty goods.”

One particularly concerning finding revealed that even though they are entitled to return faulty electronic goods one in four (25%) Brits only do so occasionally, whilst 4% will never return a faulty product – equating to just over 2 million UK adults.

It appears the British ‘reserve’ could be part of the problem. Of those who refuse to return goods, many would just rather live with a minor problem (16%), and for others, it is just too inconvenient (11%). One of the most popular reasons UK adults gave for not returning faulty products was that they don’t like asking for refunds. However this doesn’t appear to be a problem affecting younger generations; the survey revealed the enthusiasm for asking for refunds on faulty goods declines in line with age: None of those aged 18-24 stated this as a reason for not returning a product, whilst 7% of those aged 25-24, 12% of 35-44yr olds, 14% of 45-54yr olds, 20% of 55-64yr olds and 27% of those aged 65+ stated this as the main reason they don’t return faulty goods.

However it’s not just out British sensibility which is stopping us leveraging our consumer rights by returning items for repair, refund or exchange. Almost one in ten (9%) Brits have had a bad experience returning a product and 45-54yr olds are the worst affected with 26% stating they have had a bad experience returning faulty goods. This bad experience is impacting how people return items, with women twice as a likely as men to fail to return a product due to previous bad experience, (12% vs 6%).

The survey also indicated that some consumers are confused between returning faulty goods and goods which have been accidentally damaged. Those in Northern Ireland are more clued up on this aspect of regulation than any other area of the UK, with almost half (47%) of adults in the region correctly stating that you cannot return accidentally damaged goods, followed by those in the East of England (42%). Those in London are the most unaware that you cannot return accidently damaged goods with only 30% of adults in the capital knowing that this isn’t possible.  Worryingly nearly half (42%) of 18-24yr olds believe that dropping a product is not classed as accidental damage and a similar number (44%) believe water damage is also not accidental. Equally concerning was the revelation that 77% of Brits believe downloading malicious content to their electronic devices is not classed as accidental damage.

“Amongst all this consumer confusion over consumer rights and faulty goods there is a huge opportunity for retailers and service providers to clarify consumers’ basic rights and establish themselves as the trusted port of call. Highlighting the profile of EU consumer rights enables retailers across Europe to take the lead on customer service issues – placing them at the forefront of brand loyalty and protection in the EU consumer value chain,” concluded Boddington.

Shopper experiences (from survey respondents):

Multiple let downs:
“I have had multiple bad experiences. The first with a computer, I took a faulty product back 31 days after purchase and they refused to refund or exchange as it wasn’t within 28 days, even though it was broken. On another occasion, a large supermarket wouldn’t accept a faulty product as I didn’t have a receipt, even though it was within a few days of purchase. I feel as though I often know my rights stores will not acknowledge them.”

Life too short:
“I had a mobile phone that broke one day after the 28 day warranty expired; the phone retailer wasn’t prepared to replace it. According to a solicitor friend of mine, the company’s T&Cs with regards warranties infringed consumer law but we decided not to fight it, life is too short.”

No quibble guarantee:
“I made a claim after 6 months for item that was not fit for purpose, it was only covered by a 30-day return policy but I hadn’t used it before 6 months, the company issued a refund without any quibble.”

Going to the top:
“I had a long fight with an electronic goods store over its refusal to replace a system that went beyond its 21-day refund period. Eventually they repaired it but it didn’t work, I contacted the Chief Executive and eventually I received a replacement from a different brand but they didn’t pay for me to return the item, or the re-delivery. It was a nightmare.”

No Christmas special:
“I had a television that was under 12 months old and cost less than £300 that continually broke down, even after engineers repaired it 12 times.  I took it back to the store and wanted to leave it there but was informed I would be charged if I did this. I almost threw it at the manager and was left without a workable TV over Christmas.”

Council of war:
“I had to get the local council involved and they visited the retailer I was trying to make a claim with on my behalf and explained what they should have done.”

Additional information on the EU consumer rights

The Consumer’s Rights – according to the July 2014 European Commission’s Consumer Rights Regulations
The Survey’s Results

If a product you’ve purchased is faulty, you now have a two year guarantee and right to have it repaired or replaced by the seller (across International borders).
98% of the UK adult population don’t realise they can return faulty goods for up to two years after purchase and receive a full refund.

Whether you bought the goods in a shop or online, under EU rules you always have the right to a minimum two-year guarantee period at no cost.
A third (32%) of UK adults say they are more likely to exercise their consumer rights if they purchased an item in a store as opposed to online.

The ’30 day short term right to reject’ clause has become a legal standard. You have a clear right to a full refund if less than 30 days has passed and you feel what you were sold did not meet your expectations.
Only 27% of UK adults believe they can return faulty goods and expect a full refund at 28 days.

Shops or producers will often offer you an additional warranty, either included in the product price or at an extra cost. This can give you better protection but can never replace or reduce the minimum two-year guarantee.
43% of UK adults don’t take out extended warranties. 34% believe they are waste of money.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from Opinium. Total sample size was 2,009 UK adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 27th February – 3rd March 2015.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).