Year 9 Exercising my Consumer Rights
|Teaching Objectives||Possible Teaching Activity||Learning Outcomes|
Pupils should gain a basic understanding of:
Talk to the class about their legal rights when they buy and goods and services. Look at the most important aspects of the Sale of Goods Act and discuss with the students how they would react if they had a problem in a shop.
Discuss with the students the other types of organisations that they can go to for advice and assistance if they have a consumer problem. What types of advice and information sources exist in their own areas?
Explain what the Court system can offer in the way of help when a problem remains unresolved. Consider the difference between Barristers and Solicitors and discuss the role that they play in the legal system. Discuss the other ways in which consumers can pursue their legal rights.
When we are looking at the word 'Consumer', it is important to make students realise that we are not just looking at buying and selling.
Anyone who buys a magazine or goes to the cinema is a Consumer and they are directly taking the decision to buy those goods or services.
The dictionary definition of Consumer is 'the user of an article' and it is therefore important to remember that we are also Consumers when we pay for goods and services indirectly via our taxes, eg - schools and health service.
When we buy goods and services, there is usually a chain of other people involved and this can increase the chances of something going wrong.
It is, therefore, very important to have rules both when buying and when selling goods to ensure that everyone involved in the chain expects the same thing to happen.
Rules also exist to ensure that Consumer has the:
In order to understand how Consumer Law affects our everyday lives, it is important that students understand the difference between Civil and Criminal Law.
Civil Law deals with the rights and duties of one individual to another. The main area of civil law that affects the sale and supply of goods and services to Consumers is the Law of Contract. This is a set of rules produced by judges over hundreds of years to determine what you are entitled to when you are provided with faulty goods or a poor service.
Criminal Law is concerned with establishing social order and protecting the community as a whole. It gives us a set of rules for peaceful, safe and orderly living. People who break these laws can be prosecuted and if found guilty they could be fined or sent to prison, or both.
The work of the Trading Standards Department can be divided into 3 main areas:
As well as the Weights and Measures Act 1985, there are also other Acts that place a duty of enforcement upon local authorities and it is therefore mandatory that they are enforced.
Agriculture Act 1970
Consumer Credit Act 1974
Consumer Protection Act 1987
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
Estate Agents Act 1979
Explosives Act 1875 and 1923
Fair Trading Act 1973
Food Safety Act 1990
Hallmarking Act 1973
Poisons Act 1972
Prices Act 1974 and 1975
Trade Descriptions Act 1968
Officers from Trading Standards regularly inspect local shops, importers and manufactures to ensure that they are complying with their obligations under the legislation. Where a trader is found to be breaking the law, the Officer has the power to caution or prosecute.
There are also a number of permissive pieces of legislation, which a local authority chooses to enforce, even though they are not obliged to do so. Examples of this are listed below (this is not an exhaustive list)
Business Names Act 1985
Road Traffic Acts 1972 and 1974
Unsolicited Goods and Services Act 1971 and 1975
Mock Auctions 1971
2) Complaints and Advice
With the ever increasing range of goods and services combined with the amount of legislation that covers them, life can be complicated for both consumers and traders. For this reason, the majority of Trading Standards Departments will run a Helpline and most Trading Standards helplines can be used for:
Officers will investigate criminal complaints made against traders in the local area which indicate that a criminal offence has been committed. They will also provide advice and services to local businesses.
Trading Standards receives so many complaints every year that demonstrate how consumers and traders are often not aware of their legal rights and responsibilities. It has been recognised that many of these could have been avoided if consumers and traders receive adequate education on the subject.
Trading Standards staff work hard on projects like Ask CEdRIC to ensure that as many young people as possible are taught about their rights and responsibilities from a young age. After all, not only will students grow up to be the consumers of the future, BUT they will also be the traders of the future.
The Trading Standards Service can offer an interesting and varied career. If you are interested in working in Trading Standards, guidance, advice and information can be found at the Trading Standards Institute Careers Information website
Suggested Teaching Activity
Playsafe Project (Safety)
Playsafe has been designed by the Trading Standards Institute in conjunction with the British Toy and Hobby Association to encourage a greater awareness of safety features in the design of toys.
Playsafe provides a vehicle not only for worthwhile study information but also the opportunity for innovative individual or team project work in a classroom situation and is suitable for students aged 9-11, 12-14 and 15-17. Further information about this competition and toy safety factsheets are available from the British Toy and Hobby Association website
Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended)
Your Rights when you buy Goods - If you buy any goods from a trader, no matter which method of buying you choose or from whatever type of shop, the law says that the goods must be:-
(i) of satisfactory quality - meaning free from faults. For example a pair of trousers shouldn't have the zip put in back to front and a CD shouldn't be scratched;
(ii) fit for the purpose -meaning can be used for all normal purposes. For example, a buggy should hold a baby safely and Wellington boots shouldn't let in water;
(iii) as described - For example, a jacket described as leather should be made from animal skin and not be made of plastic.
If the seller breaks any of these conditions then he is in breach of his contract with you. You may be entitled to get a full refund or replacement goods or a free repair or some cash as compensation. The shop who you bought the goods from is always responsible and not the business that made the goods in the first place (the manufacturer).
But you're not entitled to anything if:
You simply change your mind and don't want the goods anymore. Some shops will let you return goods that are unwanted; this is their choice alone as the law does not require them to do this.
You damage the goods yourself. For example, if you play football in the school playground with normal shoes on and damage them, your parents will not be able to get a refund from the shop because normal shoes aren't made to cope with football.
You were told that the goods were faulty before you bought them or the faults were so obvious that you should have seen them before buying the goods. For example, if you bought a second hand jigsaw puzzle from a charity shop that had a notice on it saying that there were pieces missing, you would not be able to return it and get your money back when you discover that a corner piece is not in the box.
Some goods that you buy from shops come with a guarantee from the manufacturer. Televisions, video recorders and washing machines usually have guarantees in the form of a card within the packaging. You won't usually get a guarantee when you buy clothes or sweets. Guarantees can give you some extra rights from the manufacturer, but it is always better to take faulty goods back to the shop where you bought them because the law says that the shop is responsible.
Sometimes a salesman will tell the buyer that goods have a guarantee but it is not written down anywhere. This is the sort of guarantee that your parents might get if they buy a used car or have some work done by a cowboy builder. Such guarantees are worthless. Guarantees have to be in writing to be any good at all to you.
You can't expect second hand goods to be in perfect condition, but they should be in a reasonable condition when you take into account the age of the goods and their price. You can't expect a second hand book to be in as good a condition as a new one, but you can expect it to have all its pages unless it is an antique or you are told that there are pages missing. Similarly, you can't expect a car bought from a scrapyard to be safe to drive on the road.
New goods bought at a reduced price in a sale that are faulty or misdescribed can be returned for a refund unless you were told that there was something wrong with them before you bought them. For example, you can buy new clothes from factory outlet shops at a reduced price because they are marked as 'seconds'. This means that you should expect the clothes to be faulty and it is best to look at them closely before you buy to decide whether the faults are big or small.
You will find notices or signs in some shops saying 'No Refunds Given'. This is against the law. If you see a sign like this, report it to your local Trading Standards Office.
If you buy goods from a friend, relative or someone who isn't in business, it is called a private sale. You have fewer legal rights in a private sale; you are not entitled to a refund if the goods are faulty, but you can get your money back if the goods are misdescribed. Sometimes traders pretend to be private sellers by selling goods through advertisements in local newspapers to try to avoid their responsibilities. This is very common practice for the sale of old cars that need a lot of repair and don't work properly.
It is always a good idea to take somebody with you as a witness if you are thinking of buying through a private sale. Your legal rights may depend upon what you are told rather than anything in writing.
If a trader misleads you in any way by:
then they may be breaking the law. Again you should report things like this to your local Trading Standards Office.
Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982
Your Rights when Buying Services
Services are jobs that you ask traders to do for you such as having your laundry done at a dry cleaners, having a motorbike repaired at a garage or having the toilet unblocked by a plumber. If you buy a service from a trader, the law says that the trader must:
If the trader fails to do any of these things, he is in breach of contract with you. Your rights are, however, different to those that you get when you have faulty goods. If you have faulty goods, you may be entitled to get a full refund or replacement goods or a free repair or some cash as compensation. If you have been provided with a poor service you are not entitled to a refund. You are more likely to be entitled to either a reduction in the cost for the job or free repairs. When a job is really bad, you can get the job completed by a better trader and claim any extra cost back from the trader who messed the job up in the first place. The trader who did the job for you is always responsible.
Sometimes a job will involve the trader supplying goods as part of the job, for example by fitting a new exhaust to your car or putting a new zip into your jeans. In cases like this the goods supplied have to be:-
What should I do if I have got a Complaint?
If you have bought goods that you are unhappy with, you should:
If the shop refuses to help you, it is not a good idea to get annoyed and argue in the shop. Remain calm and leave the store with your goods and your receipt. You can then get some advice from either:
Many complaints are solved through writing a letter to the shop. If you are still refused a refund it may be that a Judge in your local County Court will have to decide between you and the trader.
Suggested Teaching Activity
Role Play and Student Quizzes
The Smart Shoppers' Guide was written by Essex County Council Trading Standards (and has been adapted for the Internet by Oxfordshire County Council Trading Standards Service). It contains a range of teaching activities, including ideas for role plays that student can undertake to learn how to complain effectively.
This resource contains sections on:
The Office of Fair Trading Consumer Direct (www.consumerdirect.gov.uk/) website provides information on:
Buying at Home
How to complain
Sometimes people can be faced with a difficult legal problem and need to get advice to help them sort it out. For problems arising from goods or services, your local Trading Standards Office can often help. You can also seek help from:
Citizens' Advice Bureau - Citizens Advice Bureau Offices can be found in most towns. There is usually an Office in your home area. Most of the staff are trained volunteers who have a large library of information that they can look up to help you with your problem. Their services are free. For complicated cases, many Offices can arrange for low cost appointments with a local solicitor. They will often write letters for consumers who have difficulty in sorting in sorting out a problem with a trader.
Trade Associations - Some traders belong to Trade Associations. Trade Associations are a group of traders who have similar trades or sell similar goods who have formed an organisation to look after their interests. Many Trade Associations make rules (a Code of Practice) that their members must agree to. They may also help to solve problems with consumers dissatisfied with a member trader.
Suggested Teaching Activity
Ask your students to make a list of as many problems they can think of and classify them into categories: shopping problems, money problems, health, housing, transport, education, etc.
Then ask students to research and make a list of the all the places in their local area which provide advice and help for consumers with these problems.
Ask the students to make up a directory with names, addresses and telephone numbers. The directory should also include details of the type of advice and help the organisation gives as well as its opening hours.
Are there any areas that do not have an organisation that you can ask for help and advice?
Who could make use of the directory?
The Office of Fair Trading (www.oft.gov.uk/) has information on its website about 'where to go for help'.
Ask your class to produce a Consumer Magazine for other pupils and teachers at your School. The magazine could include articles of general interest, a complaints column, details of some of the organisations that can provide consumer help and advice as well as current consumer news and information.
For ideas and information, visit yomag.net (www.yomag.net/) the on-line consumer magazine for young people from all over Europe.
If you have tried everything but have still been unable to resolve a complaint against a trader then you would be entitled to sue the trader in the County Court.
If your claim does not exceed £5,000, then you can use the Small Claims procedure, which was designed to be a quick and cheap way of going to Court without the need for a legal representative
The Small Claims Court
The Small Claims Court is where you would need to go if you needed to resolve a civil dispute and the value of your claim is no more than £5000.
On occasions, a consumer dispute may be for an amount exceeding the limits of the Small Claims procedure. If this is the case it may be necessary for the Consumer to seek some advice from a legal professional. In the UK, there are two types of legal professional - barrister and solicitor and each has a distinct role to play.
Solicitors - deal with the general public on a wide range of legal issues. Solicitors are required to complete a postgraduate Legal Practice Course and then undertake 'articles' (period of practice) in a solicitor's office.
This training helps them to deal with a wide range of legal issues and the work they undertake is regulated by the Law Society.
Barristers - specialise in a particular area of the law. They receive all of their work via solicitors and do not accept direct approaches from the public. Traditionally, solicitors prepare the paperwork for cases and hand it over to a barrister who will appear in Court and argue the case.
Barristers undertake a one-year postgraduate course and then must complete their professional education during a period of training - known as pupilage - at one of the four Inns of Court. Barristers are regulated by the Bar Council.
Queen's Counsel - Senior members of the legal profession may be appointed to QCs (Queen's Counsel). The process is known as 'taking silk' because of the silk gowns that QC's wear.
Historically, only barristers could be QCs, but solicitors are now also eligible for appointment. QCs are viewed as the elite of the legal profession and traditionally judges are selected from this group.
Suggested Teaching Activity
The way in which our legal profession is divided into 2 is different from the system used in the US, where there is only a single profession.
Split the class into 2 groups and ask them to take opposing sides on the question:
'Should we break with tradition and merge the legal profession in the UK or is it important that we maintain this historical divide?'
Useful websites for this debate include: