Key Stage 4 Rights & Responsibilities

Years 10 and 11 Practical Consumer Law

Return to Key Stage 4 Framework

Lesson Plan

Teaching ObjectivesPossible Teaching ActivityLearning Outcomes

Pupils should have a basic understanding of:

  • the way in which contracts are made when they buy goods and services
  • their legal rights and responsibilities when buying goods
  • their legal rights when buying services and the problems that can arise with doorstep sellers
  • resolving complaints effectively

Begin the lesson by talking to students about what happens when they make a contract to buy goods and services. Explain the basic law of contract by discussing practical, everyday situations with the students. Consider what could happen if one party broke the contract.

Look at how legislation affects the contracts that we make when buying goods. Examine what extra protection we receive from the law and discuss the students legal rights in certain situations.

Talk to the students about buying services and look at the law for this area. Consider the problems that consumers could face and look at the dangers that exist from buying services from doorstep sellers.

Look at the procedure that students would need to follow to try and resolve any complaint they may have. Look at how they can take a case to Court if their problem remains unresolved.

  • Students will be able to recognise when they are entering into a contract and the legal obligations that arise from it.
  • Students will be able to understand their legal rights when buying goods and services and be aware of the most effective ways to deal with consumer problems.

Teachers Notes

What happens when we make a contract?

Background Notes

You won't find the law of contract written down within any Act of Parliament. It's really a set of rules that have been developed over the centuries.

Everyone enters into several contracts on a daily basis without realising it. Each time you catch a bus, buy a magazine or a packet of sweets, or see a film at the cinema you are making a contract. It means that both you and the individual or business involved have important rights and responsibilities arising from contract law. As a consumer you are entitled to receive the goods or services you asked for with any goods provided being in reasonable condition and safe to use; the supplier has the right to expect payment of the amount promised at the time that you agreed to buy the goods or services offered.

What is a contract?

Many people mistakenly believe that you can only have a legally binding contract if you have all the details written down and have paperwork signed by both parties. This is not true. Very few types of contract are required by law to be in writing with the most important being for credit agreements (for example credit cards, personal loans and hire purchase agreements) and for property (the buying and selling of houses or other property). Nearly all contracts that you are likely to come across do not have to have anything in writing at all as far as the law is concerned.

When you step onto a train you are making a contract regardless of whether you have paid for a ticket or not; you don't ask the driver to sign a form agreeing to take you to whatever station you want to get off at. Similarly, you don't insist upon a hairdresser drawing up a written agreement before touching your head.

A contract is simply a deal between two people where each agrees to do something for the other. They often involve the payment of money in exchange for goods or services. Thus you buy a ticket from a train company in exchange for them transporting you on one of their trains or you hand money to a newsagent in exchange for a newspaper.

Both you and the other person in the contract are getting some benefit from the arrangement and each of you has responsibilities to the other.

When is a contract made?

A contract is made at the time that the deal is struck. For example, you see a CD that you want on display in the window of a music shop. It turns out to be out of stock and you ask the sales assistant to order you a copy. If the assistant agrees, the deal has been struck and you have made a contract. You haven't signed anything and you may or may not have handed any money over (depending upon whether the shop takes deposits or not), but you have made a contract and are bound to to pay for the CD when it arrives at the shop.

The exact moment that a contract is formed can be very important because if there are any special terms or conditions attached to the contract (for example, 'Yes, we'll order the CD for you, but you have to pay the postal charges as well'), then you must be able to see them at or before the time that the contract is made. If any terms or conditions are not available until after you have agreed to make the contract, they do not apply and you can't be forced into accepting them.

What does a contract involve?

There are three main parts that make up a valid contract:

Offer - the potential buyer makes an offer for the goods or services required. In our example of the CD that is out of stock, you offer to buy the CD if the shop will order it in for you.

Acceptance - the shop accepts your offer and agrees to order it.

Consideration - this is the payment or promise of payment of the agreed price when the CD arrives.

There is no contract until an offer has been made and this has been accepted. Both parties must be clear about what they're agreeing to.

The fact that goods are on display on the shelves within a shop with prices attached is not an offer. This is no more than an advertisement (known as invitation to treat) and does not form part of a contract. If we return to our CD example again, consider the case when you say to the sales assistant 'I want to buy the latest Radiohead CD that you've got on display' and you are told 'We've just sold the last one in stock available at the special promotional discount price. We can order you a copy, but it will have to be the full price'.

In this case, the shop has not accepted your offer because the price of the ordered goods is different to that advertised on the display items. This is a counter-offer and the shop is actually asking you whether you still want to contract for the CD knowing that the price will be higher. At this point, there is no contract and you can reject the counter-offer and go off to buy the CD elsewhere. However, if you accept the offer at the higher price, you have made a contract and are bound to pay the higher price.

Look at the different civil and criminal laws that exist to protect us when we go shopping and consider the rights and responsibilities that these laws place upon the seller of the goods (often a trader) and the buyer of the goods (often a consumer).

Why is a contract so important?

Once you have made a contract and agreed to any terms and conditions of the deal, you have a legal obligation to go through with the contract. Changing your mind at a later date can actually cost you money because you have broken the contract (known as breach of contract) and the seller is then legally entitled to be reimbursed for their losses. If you are in breach of contract, the other party (the seller) is entitled to compensation. You can be sued for breach of contract even if you're under 18 years old and still considered a minor in law.

This is why it pays to be careful before committing yourself to any contract.

Of course, if the seller breaks the agreement and is in breach of contract, then you are entitled to compensation to cover any losses that you've suffered. In our example of the CD that has been ordered by a record shop, the shop may be unable to obtain the CD for you at all; in that case, you are entitled to a full refund of any deposit that you paid. You may also be entitled to further compensation to cover other costs arising from trying to get the CD; for example, if you were asked to come in to collect the goods on a particular date and this means that you have incurred travelling expenses in getting to the shop, you can also claim your travelling expenses.

Suggested Teaching Activity

Teaching Resources and Materials

Hampshire County Council Trading Standards Service has developed Lifesmart ( a lively resource that is suitable for teaching essential consumer skills as part of the Citizenship curriculum. The pack includes an extensive variety of ideas for teachers for both individual and group activities. 'What to do about a faulty CD', real life problem guidance and 'where to go for help' are simply explained with quizzes, puzzles and copyable worksheets.

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How does legislation affect the contracts we make?

Background Notes

Every time we go shopping we enter into contracts. We may agree some of the terms of the contract with the trader in writing or through talking to each other. There are some other important terms that are implied into contracts by:

Sale of Goods Act 1979 (including the Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002)

This is a civil law which covers all consumer goods sold to you by a trader. For these goods, important terms are implied by the law:

Example - A jumper shouldn't have the arms attached back to front, a pair of tights shouldn't have the feet pointing in different directions, a hot water bottle shouldn't leak and drench your feet in hot water.

Sale goods - Goods purchased in a sales may not be in perfect condition and should be labelled accordingly; they may, for example, be marked as 'shop soiled' or 'seconds'. The seller is not responsible for any defects that were specifically brought to your attention through labelling. The seller is also not responsible for any faults that you should reasonably have noticed before you bought them.

Second hand goods These are covered by the Sale of Goods Act. They must be in reasonable condition after taking into account their age, condition and usage before you bought them. The price you pay for the goods is also taken into consideration. .

Durability There are no hard and fast rules laid down within the Act about how long anything should last because durability is affected by how often goods are used and how they are used. All goods have a limited shelf life, but it is often difficult to determine what you can expect. Many goods are provided with a guarantee from the manufacturer (for example, most electrical goods); the length of the guarantee is not a measure of durability. For example, washing machines usually come with a guarantee for 1 - 2 years from the manufacturer whereas the durability of a washing machine is typically 5 years. In England, there is a maximum period of 6 years after purchase in which you can seek compensation for goods that are not of satisfactory quality. The actual period in which you can claim compensation for any individual goods is dependent upon the durability of the product.

Note that the trader is not responsible for any faults in goods that you have caused yourself through misusing or altering goods. For example, you are not entitled to anything if you buy shoes for school and then damage them playing football because the shoes were not designed for that purpose. Likewise, you are not entitled to anything if you buy material to make curtains and then cut the material to the wrong size when making up the curtains.

Goods must match the description the trader gives them ('as described')

Example - A pair of trousers described on the label as '100% pure cotton' should not contain any other fabrics. Similarly, you would be entitled to compensation if you bought a chocolate Easter egg described as 'solid chocolate', which was found to be hollow. You are only entitled to claim compensation for goods that are not as described where the difference between the goods and their misdescription is significant; minor differences do not count.

Note that where a trader gives a false description of goods and services, he or she may have committed a criminal offence under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 (see later). For further advice about this, contact your local Trading Standards Department.

Goods must be 'fit for purpose'

The law states that goods must be fit for all purposes commonly supplied for. You should be particularly careful about making assumptions about this. For example, Wellington boots should be waterproof, but a pair of fashion boots are unlikely to be anything more than 'water resistant'. Similarly watches are often described as water resistant, but are seldom waterproof.

If you require goods to do particular jobs, then you should make this clear to the shop before you agree to contract for them. Don't pick up the first thing that comes to hand and hope for the best as you will only have yourself to blame if the goods don't measure up to your requirements. If the sales assistant assures you that the goods you have selected will meet all your particular requirements, you will be entitled to claim compensation if this turns out to be untrue. If you ask for a food mixer that beats, whisks and kneads dough then the one the seller gives you should do all those things.

Unsatisfactory Goods

If the seller fails to meet any of the implied conditions (satisfactory quality, description or fitness for the purpose), for goods supplied by them, they are in 'breach of contract'.

The Act clearly states that the retailer who sold you faulty goods is always liable for the breach of contract.

Retailers may try to tell you that the manufacturer is legally responsible if they are trying to avoid meeting your legal rights, but this is not usually true. A recent change in the Act (coming from legislation made within the European Union) means that manufacturers can also become liable if (and only if) it says so in any guarantee provided by the manufacturer. This is a special case that will only apply in a minority of cases.

The Act provides a number of remedies to the buyer when the seller is in breach of contract because they have broken one or more of the implied terms in the contract:


If the defect is found in new goods within a short time after purchase (or delivery, whichever is later) and reported to the seller quickly, you are entitled to reject the goods and receive a full refund. You are also entitled to be compensated for any reasonable 'out of pocket' expenses that you have paid out in trying to get the problem sorted out.

The Act does not tell you how long you have before you lose the right to reject goods. What the law does tell you is that the period is there to allow you a reasonable opportunity to examine the goods. The typical period quoted by businesses in which you can claim a full refund is 4 weeks. This does not mean that you automatically lose the right to a full refund if you haven't complained to the seller within a month as goods that are either highly complex or very expensive can be returned for a full refund after this period. However, for the vast majority of goods purchased by consumers (with the possible exception of new and expensive models of motor vehicles), you cannot expect to be entitled to a full refund after a month has elapsed.

After a reasonable period to examine the goods has elapsed, the Act says that goods are accepted and you lose the right to reject goods. However, there is a special case where the period is extended as the result of a failure by the seller to provide an acceptable remedy during the initial 4 weeks (ie a satisfactory repair or a working replacement). For example, you buy a portable CD player and it becomes faulty after 2 weeks of use. When you take it back to the retailer, you accept a replacement of the same model of player and this also becomes faulty after a few months. In that case, you have reserved your right to reject the goods and are entitled to a full refund if that is your choice.

The Act does not limit you to seeking a full refund if goods are found to be faulty within 4 weeks; as a consumer, you can choose your remedy from the following options: a full refund, a free repair or replacement of the faulty goods.

Repair or Replacement

The Act was significantly changed by the Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumer Regulations 2002 which became part of English law on 31 March 2003. For goods purchased after this date, you are entitled to choose between the options of a free repair or replacement goods when goods become faulty. Consumers were not legally entitled to seek replacement goods before the new law came into force.

This is where it gets complicated! Consumers are legally entitled to choose between the options of repair and replacements. Traders are entitled to refuse the preferred remedy if they can show that it would be far more expensive that the alternative remedy or not possible to achieve. Consumers can refuse to accept the remedy preferred by the trader if it will lead to significant inconvenience.

Example 1 - You buy a CD and it starts jumping after 6 weeks. You are not legally entitled to a full refund after this amount of time since purchase. The Act states that you are legally entitled to a free repair or replacement goods. Since CDs cannot be repaired, you are entitled to a replacement of the CD with a new one.

Example 2 - You buy a 'Pay As You Go' mobile phone handset that becomes faulty after 2 months. The Act states that you are legally entitled to a free repair or replacement goods. The seller will prefer to provide you with a replacement handset as it is uncommon for mobile phone handsets to be sent away for repairs. You are unlikely to have wanted a repair anyway as it would lead to a number of weeks without the use of a mobile telephone unles the seller provides 'courtesy goods' (see later).

Example 3 - You buy a mountain bike that becomes faulty after 3 weeks. You are legally entitled to choose between a full refund, partial repair or replacement goods. You return to the trader and demand a full refund. The trader will only offer to repair the goods at his cost. In this case you are legally entitled to a full refund, but may have to put your complaint in writing or even take the trader to court if they continue to refuse to provide a full refund.

And a more difficult case ....

Example 4 - You buy an expensive pair of brand name trainers that become faulty after 5 weeks. You return the goods to the seller and ask for a refund or replacement goods. The trader is only prepared to offer an inspection of the goods to determine if they are faulty. You are unlikely to retain a legal entitlement to a full refund after 5 weeks. You are entitled to choose between replacement goods or a free repair.

Burden of Proof

Example 4 is typical of footwear complaints where sellers will often refuse to provide any remedy whatsoever without evidence to demonstrate that the goods are legally not of satisfactory quality. In such cases, it is useful to know whom the law expects to prove their case; the buyer or the seller. The usual situation in English law is that the person making the claim is required to prove their case; in other words, the burden of proof falls to the claimant.

A good example is provided in disputes where the buyer has discovered that goods are faulty within 4 weeks and is seeking to reject the goods and obtain a full refund. The burden of proof when goods are rejected falls upon the buyer. If the seller then refuses to provide a refund, the law would expect that the buyer obtains evidence from an independent expert to demonstrate that the goods are faulty.

However, the Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002 reverses the burden of proof for the remedies of repair or replacement when goods are not of satisfactory quality, misdescribed or not fit for their purpose. The burden of proof is reversed for the period of 6 months after purchase or delivery. This means that the buyer does not have to prove their case and it falls to the seller to prove that the goods are not defective.

In practice, a seller faced with a pair of allegedly faulty trainers will send them off to the manufacturer to have them tested. If the opinion of the manufacturer is that the goods are not faulty (with the faults arising from misuse or abuse of the goods), you will then have to seek your own expert opinion to justify your claim.

Other Remedies

The Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002 provides further remedies aside from repair or replacement for defective goods to cover situation where there is a dispute between the buyer and seller about whether the remedy should be a repair or replacement goods, or where both repair and replacement options are both impracticable to achieve. These final options are for a partial or full refund. The latter option is highly unlikely in practice.

Example - You buy a mattress for your bed and the internal springs start to collapse after 2 years of use. You complain to the seller about faulty goods. As it is usually impracticable to repair a mattress and the seller is not likely to have replacement mattresses in stock that are comparable in usage and condition to the faulty one (for hygiene reasons), your legal entitlement becomes a partial refund. The amount of the refund is worked out from the original price of the mattress minus an amount to cover wear and tear of the goods during usage over 2 years.

How do you think you could work this out?

Compensation for Other Losses

We have already said that you are entitled to be reimbursed for reasonable 'out of pocket' expenses when you are claiming compensation as a result of defective goods. Occasionally, you may suffer additional financial losses. For example, you buy a new T-shirt, wash it acording to the instructions on the label and discover that the dye has run and stained other clothes in the same wash. Assuming that you read the label correctly and that the washing machine was working properly, you will be entitled to claim compensation to cover the value of any clothes ruined during the wash.

The important rule in compensation claims is that you should not end up worse off or better off as the consequence of being provided with goods that are not of satisfactory quality, misdescribed or not fit for their purpose.

Credit Notes

Traders will often offer you a 'credit note' instead of a refund. They tend to be offerred in boutiques, clothes stores and accessories shops. A credit note is simply a piece of paper upon which the trader promises to provide you with goods of equivalent value from their shop as a remedy for faulty goods.

Credit notes are not a legal remedy for defective goods. So don't be fobbed off with one. If you are entitled to a refund, you should say so and not accept anything less than what the law provides you with as a right.

Other Points to Remember

Your entitlement to reject goods and receive a full refund only lasts for a short time and the seller must be advised of the problem as soon as possible. So return goods to the trader as soon as you discover the faults.

The Act does not state that you have to produce your receipt to obtain a refund, repair or replacement. However, you will generally need some proof of purchase to demonstrate that you bought the goods and a till receipt is the usual way to do this. It can save you a lot of problems if you keep your receipts in a safe place.

Usually, when you buy goods and you then change your mind about them, you are not entitled to anything from the seller. However, there are special rules for goods bought without any direct face-to-face contact with the seller. This is known as 'distance selling' and covers purchases made through mail order catalogues, on the internet and over the telephone. The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 cover distance sales and provide a cancellation period of 7 days after delivery of the goods in which you can withdraw from the contract for any reason whatsoever and claim a full refund.

If you find that clothes don't fit you, it doesn't mean that they are not fit for the purpose. It is always best to try on clothes before you buy them to check if they fit. Another option is to ask the seller before you agree to buy them whether they are prepared to provide you with a refund if they don't fit. If they are prepared to do this, it is best to get this information in writing from the seller (eg written on the sales receipt before you contract for the goods).

If you want faulty goods to be repaired, you will often be faced with a period during which you will be waiting for your goods to be returned. Some traders will provide 'courtesy goods' (ie loaned equipment) during that period. Courtesy goods are commonly supplied when cars or electrical equipment are being repaired. There is no legal oblication upon traders to provide courtesy goods. So it is always advisable to ask about this before you consider agreeing to a repair.

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What are my legal rights when buying services?

Background Notes

This is another civil law which is designed to help consumers who make contracts for services (eg having your car repaired, the shower fixed or having a fitted kitchen installed).

The Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982

This Act covers both the service element and the goods that are supplied as part of a service.


You hire a bicycle for the day. You've travelled for a mile when the chain falls off and the seat collapses.

You take your watch to be repaired. It needs a new winder but the repairer replaces the faulty winder with a second hand one from another watch and it doesn't last a week.

You've been collecting sales coupons and finally exchange them for a 'gift' from the catalogue. The gift is found to be faulty.

The Act states that any goods supplied as part of a service must comply with the same implied terms as found within the Sale of Goods Act 1979. They should be of satisfactory quality, as described and fit for their purpose.

The second part of the Act provides implied terms covering the basic oblications for anybody providing you with a service. 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, a free repair or replacement goods, or some cash as compensation. If you have been provided with a poor service, you are not usually 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 reputable trader and claim any extra cost back as compensation from the trader who messed the job up in the first place.

The trader who did the job for you is always responsible for both the goods supplied and the service element of the contract

Verbal Contracts

Many service contracts are not written on paper and are purely by word of mouth between the buyer and the tradesman providing the service. (for example, 'My watch has stopped. Can you repair it?'). This can often lead to disputes about the cost of the service when the bill turns out to be bigger than expected.

You should always tell the trader to contact you if the cost of the service is likely to be more than you bargained for as this will let you decide whether to go ahead with the service or not.

The Trade Descriptions Act 1968

As stated earlier, this Act sets out to protect consumers from traders who either deliberately or accidentally mislead their customers.

The Act also makes it illegal for traders to knowingly mislead you about the services they are providing. For example:

It is illegal for traders to describe falsely what they sell in writing, in advertisements (including those on radio or television) or by word of mouth.

Doorstep Sales

Many goods or services are sold to consumers through unexpected telephone calls to people at home or the unexpected knock at the front door by a sales representative. Such home sales methods are known as 'doorstep sales'. Doorstep selling techniques are frequently used by traders to sell double glazing and other 'home improvement' or home repair services (such as gardening, driveways, roofing, guttering or the installation of security equipment).

Many traders who sell goods on the doorstep are reputable. However, there are a significant number of unscrupulous traders using doorstep sales to supply goods or services that are simply unsuitable for the needs of the buyer, or at an exhorbitant price compared to other traders. They often use high pressure sales methods and scare techniques to sell their goods or services. They generally target more vulnerable members of society such as older people living alone, people with disabilities or people on a low income.

A proportion of the unscrupulous traders are criminals whose only purpose in providing a service is to rip off people for as much money as they can.

If you want to know more about the efforts that Trading Standards are making to try and combat unscrupulous doorstep sellers, see the Doorstoppers website (

AskCEdRIC has information on what to watch for if a salesperson calls on you, how to protect yourself from unscrupulous traders and your rights if you feel that you have been pressured into buying goods that you donít need or want. Doorstep Selling

Suggested Teaching Activity

Worksheets and Roleplays

The Smart Shopper's 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 section on Services ( which contains teaching notes, roleplays and worksheets.

Teaching Notes and Activities

Consuming Passions ( is a FREE teaching pack designed specifically for teaching Consumer Education to Key Stage 4 students that has been developed by the National Consumer Council in conjunction with the Institute for Citizenship.

It contains a wealth of useful teachers' notes and teaching activities to ensure that you can offer your students a complete consumer education package as part of the Citizenship curriculum.

Multimedia Teaching Resource

Switched On ( is an exciting, free, multimedia teaching resource on CD-ROM. It helps teachers to equip the next generation of consumers with essential consumer and financial skills.

Switched On has been designed for educational use throughout the UK and is aimed at students aged 14 to 16 years. Using a relevant and stimulating context Switched On supports the delivery of Education for Citizenship, Financial Education and PSE/PSHE. It can also help deliver key skills essential for work and life long learning.

Further Information

A wealth of guidance and advice leaflets for consumers covering a wide range of consumer law issues including holiday problems and home improvements are available through the Consumer Direct website ( provided by the Department for Trade and Industry.

For the latest information about scams and rip-offs, see the Office of Fair Trading ( and Consumer Direct ( websites.

NO-UR-RITES ( website by Staffordshire County Council contains information gathered in partnership with young people for young people on consumer rights and responsibilities.

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What do I do if I have a problem with goods or services that I have purchased?

Background Information

In spite of the popular image of the British as a nation of complainers, few of us honestly enjoy making a fuss even when we have good cause to do so.

Complaining isn't a hobby. It should be done only when necessary and, like everything else, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it. As a general rule:

How to make a complaint

Whether you decide to complain by telephone, letter or in person, always begin by asking yourself:

Step-by-step Complaining

Your first step:

Your Next Step:

Find out whether the firm has a Head Office.

If they do, write a letter to their Customer Service Manager. (Letter writing is dealt with in detail below) Explain that you have already been back to your local branch but that the Manager was not able to help you. Give the date of your visit(s).


If there's no Head Office, write to the owner of the firm. Again, tell them that you have already tried complaining personally but that you have had no success.

Always keep copies of any letters that you write and obtain proof of postage. This is why letters of complaint are often sent Recorded Delivery.

Again, don't threaten and don't be rude. Remember - Calm, Clear and Reasonable.

Your Next Step:

If your letter doesn't solve your problem you can try to find out whether the shop or firm belongs to a Trade Association. If so you can write to them and ask for their help. Some Trade Associations have a Code of Practice for dealing with customer complaints. You can find out whether the trader is a member of an Association by either asking the trader, or looking for any signs, symbols or notices within letters, advertisements and other documents produced by the trader. You will find a list of many of the larger Trade Associations in your local Yellow Pages or Thomson Local Directory.


If you're complaining about faulty goods and there is no Trade Association or Code of Practice, you can try getting in touch with the manufacturer as they might be prepared to help you. It's certainly worth a try.


Your Next Step

If all else fails you should think about suing the trader in the County Court. (Court action is dealt with in detail below)

Writing letters of Complaint

Try to make sure that you:

Your Letter should:

Give clear, simple details of exactly what it is that you're complaining about. Don't waffle and don't make personal remarks about the Company and/or their products or staff. It might make you feel better but it won't help your case.

If you're complaining about faulty goods you should give:

Taking your case to the County Court

The County Court is where you would need to go if you have to resolve a civil dispute. If the value of your claim is no more than £5,000, this will be dealt with via a 'small claims' case.

This procedure is written for a straightforward contractual dispute, eg; where someone has purchased some faulty goods and the trader is not prepared to give any money back.

All the forms needed to progress a claim as well as helpful information is available via the Court Service website (

1) The first thing you must do is find out who you need to take Court action against (sue) - that will be the person or company who you bought the goods from. In certain circumstances, this may also include a credit provider.

2) When you have done this, you will need to complete a Claim Form and a Particulars of Claim where you give your version of what has happened to date. This is why it is always wise to write a final 'Letter of Claim' to the person you intend to sue to give them one final chance of settlement out of court. It is important to explain in that letter that you intend to take Court action if they do not meet your reasonable wishes within a stated deadline (ie, 10-14 days).

3) You need to send your completed forms and copies of any supporting documents to your local County Court and pay a fee which is roughly 20% of the value of the claim.

4) The Court will then serve your claim form on the person that you are suing (the defendant). The defendant has to:

If the defendant fails to respond to your claim in the time allowed, you can complete a form (which will have been sent to you) requesting that the judgment be made automatically in your favour.

5) If the defendant defends the case, then the court will ask you to complete an Allocation Questionnaire. This asks for some more information relating to the claim and allows the court to manage its resources and to give any further instructions that you need to follow.

At this stage, you can ask for the Judge to make a decision on the case by referring only to written documents but this has to be agreed by the defendant as well.

The Court will then advise when the hearing will be held and note: it is referred to as a 'hearing' not a 'trial'. The case will be decided upon usually in a small room and whilst it is open to the public, they are unlikely to be in attendance. It will be comparatively informal - there will be no barristers present, probably not even a solicitor, the judge will wear no fancy gown and there will be no jury.

The District Judge will tend only to ask both parties to present their case, ask relevant questions and then give his decision, known as his Judgement.

Additional Points

Obtaining a judgement in your favour is the easy part. You may then find it expensive and difficult to actually enforce that judgement (ie, bailiffs).

When a Small Claims Judgement is obtained, appeals are very restricted.

You can check to see if a defendant already has outstanding court judgments before you make your claim.

Your local Trading Standards Office or Citizens Advice Bureau are good starting points for further information as they will probably also be able to tell you whether you have a case to pursue or not.

Further information on Small Claims can be obtained from the JustClaim Website (

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's careers information website (

Suggested Teaching Activity

Role Plays

The Smart Shopper's 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 students can undertake in order to learn how to complain effectively.

The resource contains information on:

Consumer Rights (

and Consumer Wrongs (

Further Information

The Department for Trade and Industry's Consumer Direct website provides further information on How to Complain (

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