Consumer Concerns: What’s Your Problem?

Recent research from Citizens Advice identified the top five consumer issues most complained about by their clients. Their message is simple; whatever the issue you have options, and complaining helps.

Citizens Advice received 500,000 calls and 3.6 million website visits in 2019. The national charity, which operates the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline, is constantly contacted by clients with consumer issues.

The most common areas of complaint in 2019, according to the charity, were:

  1. Used Vehicles

Eight out of ten complaints were about defective or broken vehicles, while 7% of customers said they felt misled. The charity noted that buyers had different rights depending on where they bought the vehicle.

Buying a car through a trader provides more protection as the vehicle must be of satisfactory quality, meet its description during the sales process, and be fit for its purpose. By contrast, a private seller cannot lie about the vehicle, but they can omit information.

  1. Home Improvements Disagreements

The charity received nearly 50,000 calls for help from people with building work, decoration, and/or home improvement problems.

If work has not been completed with reasonable care and skill, then the trader should fix it without charge in good time. But customers must keep on top of the paperwork which, in this instance, means putting the plan, price and timeframe of proposed improvements in writing before any work begins, and taking photos before and after work is done.

  1. Shoddy Furniture

Three-quarters of the 20,000 calls received about furniture were about items that were not fit for their purpose.

If an item is broken, damaged, or unusable when bought then the customer will have substantial rights. However, if the consumer is seeking a refund or a replacement then the outcome will depend on the circumstances behind that request. For example, if the item is damaged due to wear and tear or a buyer simply changed their mind after seeing the product in their home, they can’t claim a refund.

  1. Tech Devices

Two-thirds of the 19,000 enquiries made about mobile phones, laptops and tablets were from people whose devices were broken or faulty in some way when they bought them.

Buyers have a legal right to a refund if they contact the seller within 30 days of unknowingly buying something that doesn’t work properly.

  1. Clothing and Footwear

There were 14,500 calls for assistance from people who wanted to know their rights after buying clothes or shoes.

Different stores have different policies regarding the return of unused items when a customer has simply changed their mind about a purchase. These rights are stronger when a product is bought online. It is also the responsibility of the seller to ensure the initial delivery of the merchandise is successful.

In many cases, even where a buyer has no right to a refund, it is possible to persuade the seller to act sympathetically – even if this involves an alternative dispute resolution process – or reclaim some costs through section 75, chargeback or other processes.

The overall messages from this research from Citizens Advice are three-fold:

  1. Know your consumer rights. If you aren’t sure what your rights are call the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06 or visit their website at https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/get-more-help/if-you-need-more-help-about-a-consumer-issue/.
  2. There are numerous ways to make your complaints heard, whether by the companies concerned, through alternative dispute resolution schemes or through other mechanisms. Find out what channels will work best for you.
  3. Complaining works! Good companies absorb negative as well as positive feedback and improve their service. Companies that don’t lose customers and profits.

Our thanks to Coventry Citizens Advice (CCA) for submitting this article to us. For more information, contact your local CA offices or visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk.