How to Resolve Consumer Disputes the Right Way

How to Resolve Consumer Disputes the Right Way

In the fast-paced commercial world, the dynamics between consumers and traders are continuously evolving, often leading to various disputes. Understanding and resolving these consumer disputes efficiently and fairly is crucial for maintaining consumer rights and facilitating a trustworthy market environment. 

Whether it’s a disagreement over a faulty product, dissatisfaction with services, or any other consumer-related issue, the right approach is vital to prevent the issue from escalating. This article written by our civil litigation professionals will discuss the mechanisms of resolving consumer disputes, focusing on the legal framework within the UK. Let’s get started.

Understanding the Consumer Rights in the UK

The Consumer Rights Act 2015  serves as the backbone of consumer protection in the UK, consolidating various older laws into a comprehensive framework. This Act was introduced to address the shortcomings of previous fragmented regulations and not fully adapted to the digital era.

It aims to protect consumers when encountering issues with goods, services, or digital content, ensuring a right to reimburse in cases of substandard quality. Key provisions of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 include:

Goods

The Act covers all physical products, from electronics to clothing. The items in question must be as discussed, function as intended, and be of acceptable quality. Customers can file a complaint if a product doesn’t meet these benchmarks.

This includes a 30-day window for a full refund on faulty goods and entitlement to a refund or replacement for up to six years, depending on the product’s expected lifespan.

Digital Content

This includes items like online games, apps, and digital downloads. As per the Consumer Contracts Regulations, customers have 14 days to identify issues with digital content. However, this cooling-off period ends once you download or start using the content, a clause often included in the provider’s terms of service.

If the digital content is faulty, consumers can seek repair, replacement, or, in some cases, a refund.

Services

The Act also covers services, ranging from teaching, banking, and home renovations to legal services. Services must be provided in a reasonable amount of time, at a fair price, and with appropriate care and expertise.

Consumers can cancel a service within 14 days for a full refund. If a service doesn’t meet the expected standards, the provider must redo the service or offer a partial refund.

These protections ensure that consumers can shop confidently, knowing they have legal recourse in case of disputes over the quality of goods, digital content, or services.

Steps to Resolve Consumer Disputes

When faced with a consumer dispute in the UK, handling the situation methodically is crucial to ensure a fair resolution. Here’s a guided approach:

Step 1: File a Complaint

Initially, find out if the seller has an established process for complaints, typically available on their website. When lodging your complaint, it’s advisable to do so in writing, which provides a clear record of your communication. 

If your purchase of the goods or services was made with a debit or credit card, also transmit a copy of your complaint to the card company. This is particularly important if you eventually file a “chargeback” or “section 75” claim.

If you used a Buy Now, Pay Later service, your first step should be to contact the provider to explain the issue. In case of unsatisfactory resolution, you may consider a ‘chargeback’ claim, although this might not always be accepted by your card provider. Note that in this scenario, a ‘section 75’ claim isn’t applicable.

In instances where your purchase was financed through hire purchase or conditional sale, direct your complaint to the finance company rather than the seller. Your agreement paperwork should clarify the type of finance used.

Step 2: Explore Trade Association Options

If the seller is part of a trade association, they are likely bound by certain standards and rules. It’s worth checking the seller’s website or inquiring directly, as it can reveal their association membership. If a rule breach is evident, the trade association may assist in taking your complaint further.

Step 3: Seek Assistance from Payment Providers

If the payment was made through a card or services like PayPal, these providers might help you recover your funds. Inform them about the dispute and any responses received from the trader. This can be a valuable step, especially if the trader has been unresponsive or unhelpful.

Step 4: Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Many traders are part of an ADR scheme, offering ways to settle disputes without court litigation. ADR can involve mediation or arbitration, where an independent third party helps to reach a mutually agreeable solution, or it might involve an ombudsman who investigates complaints and makes a binding decision.

Before approaching the court, it’s often expected that you would have attempted ADR. Check the trader’s website or terms and conditions for references to their ADR scheme.

Step 5: Court Claim as a Last Resort

If all other avenues have been exhausted, consider making a court claim, often referred to as a ‘small claim’. This step should be reserved for situations where the dispute involves significant money or a particularly valuable item, as court proceedings can be lengthy and stressful.

If you’ve already used an ADR process, the court will consider this outcome in its deliberations.

Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a preferred approach for many consumers and traders in the UK to resolve a dispute without the complexity and cost of going to court. ADR offers various routes, each tailored to specific types of consumer issues. These include: 

Mediation

Mediation involves an independent third party, a mediator, who works with both parties to uncover a mutually suitable resolution. This method is highly effective for disputes where direct negotiation has stalled, as it provides a structured environment to address the underlying issues.

Mediation is especially useful in cases involving personal services or goods where there is room for negotiation and compromise.

Arbitration

Arbitration is more of a formal procedure than mediation in which one or more arbitrators render a decision on the issue. This approach is commonly utilised in contractual disagreements or where a definitive resolution is required.

Arbitration can be both binding or non-binding, with the former carrying the weight of a legal judgment. This method is particularly relevant for disputes involving substantial financial amounts or complex contractual terms.

Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)

Online Dispute Resolution has become increasingly important with the rise of online shopping. ODR platforms offer a convenient way to deal with disputes related to online purchases. 

These platforms streamline the complaint process, bridging the gap between consumers and businesses across national boundaries, and can include mediation or adjudication options.

Ombudsman Services

Ombudsman services provide an impartial resolution mechanism, particularly in regulated sectors like finance, energy, and telecommunications. These services investigate consumer complaints, offering a fair resolution based on industry standards.

Engaging an ombudsman can be a strategic move when dealing with issues that fall within specific regulatory frameworks, ensuring that the resolution adheres to the latest regulations and consumer protection laws.

Using ADR often leads to quicker and more satisfactory outcomes without legal action. Consumers and traders alike are encouraged to consider ADR as a first step in dispute resolution, potentially saving time and money and preserving business relationships.

Also read: Our Guide to Disputes With Trustees & Executors

How Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors Can Help

At Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors, we understand the challenges and frustrations that can arise when you’re involved in a consumer dispute. Our Skilled team is here to help you at every step.  Our team of competent legal experts is here to assist you at every stage of the procedure, ensuring your voice is heard and your rights are protected.

Our solicitors have a wealth of experience dealing with various consumer disputes, from issues with goods and services to digital content and contractual disagreements. Whether you need advice on understanding your consumer rights, assistance with the complexities of Alternative Dispute Resolution, or representation in legal proceedings, we can help.

Don’t let a consumer dispute overwhelm you. Contact Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors today for a consultation, and let us help you find the most effective and efficient resolution to your situation.

FAQs

Even if you’ve lost the receipt, you still have rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. A bank statement or an internet transaction record might serve as evidence of purchase. Speak with the merchant and describe the situation. They may still be able to resolve your issue.

Your right to return an item because you’ve changed your mind depends on the seller’s return policy and where you purchased it. Online purchases usually have a 14- to 30-day return window under the Consumer Contracts Regulations. However, in-store policies may vary.

Yes, there is generally a time limit, but it can vary depending on the nature of the service and the terms and conditions agreed upon. It’s advisable to raise any issues as soon as possible, ideally not more than a few days or weeks after the issue is identified.

The duration of an ADR process can vary. Mediation might take a few hours or days, while arbitration or an ombudsperson investigation could take weeks or months. The specifics depend on the complexity of the case and the efficiency of the ADR provider.

In such a situation, you can escalate the matter. Consider using an ADR scheme if the trader is a member. If not, you may have to consider legal action or reporting the issue to relevant consumer protection bodies.

Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors deals with various disputes, encompassing consumer issues, employment conflicts, family law matters, probate litigation and contesting wills, contractual disagreements, property disputes, and commercial litigation. Our expertise covers both negotiation and courtroom representation, offering comprehensive legal support across multiple areas.

Ask our Expert Legal Team

At Gulbenkian Andonian, we pride ourselves on “Excellence, Experience and Efficiency”. With over 35 years of experience on your side, our team of London based lawyers and solicitors have a wealth of experience advising individuals, families and businesses of all sizes to find clarity on UK law.

Call us on +44 (0) 207 269 9590 or fill out the form below. We usually reply within a few hours.

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