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Consumer rights: Small Claims Court
The Sale of Goods Act is all well and good, but what can you do if a retailer refuses to repair or replace a faulty product?
The Small Claims Court is a viable option for claims up to £5,000, for which you shouldn’t need a lawyer. If you’re successful the court will award you damages – in other words, the retailer will be ordered to make a payment to you.
To claim the cost of replacement or repair you’ll need an invoice or estimate. If the fault is due to a manufacturing flaw that occurred before a reasonable time had elapsed, you’ll probably also need a report from an expert who supports that view.
There are risks involved with taking court action, though. If you lose the case, you’ll also lose your court fees, and it’s likely that you will have to pay the travel expenses of the seller and the seller’s witnesses.
The court will expect you to have already tried to reach an agreement with the seller. For this reason, you should write to the seller giving details of the problem. Include evidence that the fault is a manufacturing fault if the goods are more than six months old, and explain how you would like the matter to be resolved. Also say that if you do not receive a detailed response within a reasonable amount of time (usually 30 days) you will begin legal proceedings.
If the seller recommends that you consider an independent assessment of your claim, sometimes called arbitration or alternative dispute resolution, it’s advisable that you do so. Failure to do comply may affect your compensation – even if a court upholds your complaint.
You can start a claim by obtaining and completing a claim form. This is obtainable from a County Court or online at hmcourts-service.gov.uk. The form has space in which you can describe your problem, and is provided with a set of guidelines for advice.
The completed form, along with all supporting documents and evidence, should be taken or sent to the court together with the court fee. The amount of the fee should be included in your claim. The court will send the claim form and documents to the seller (the defendant), who will be required to respond within a fixed period of time.
The seller may respond by making an offer to settle. If so, take time to consider whether the offer is reasonable. If you reject the offer and the court later awards you a smaller amount, you may incur some costs, such as travel expenses for witnesses.
If no offer is made by the seller or you reject its offer, you may both have to attend a hearing and explain your case. In this event there may be a hearing fee, but the court will explain to you what is happening and what you have to do.
If you are successful at the hearing, the court will award you damages and make an order for payment. You should also ask the court to award you your costs so they can be included in the order to pay.
See also: Christmas Guide Advisor