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Buying hardware - What are your rights?
Monday 10 November 2003 05:11:00 by Sebastien Lahtinen

Many consumers are unaware of what rights they have when they are buying goods by mail order, catalogue or through the Internet. The EU countries including the United Kingdom have fairly tough consumer protection laws to balance the power which is usually with the large companies who write the terms and condition of sale. In order to clarify these points, we talked to Trading Standards, who gave some useful pointers.

In addition to the normal safeguards and restrictions placed by the Sale and Supply of Good Act, Trade Descriptions Act, Unfair Contracts Terms Act, and other legislation, when you buy goods without seeing them (i.e. on the Internet or by mail order rather than by walking into a shop), you get additional protection under the Distance Selling Regulations. This is an attempt to give you a chance to have chance to "inspect" the goods in the same way as you would be able to in a high street shop, once they are delivered to you. In this case, you have a limited time in which you can change your mind and return the good for a full refund, including cost of postage.

However, a common misconception among users is what "to inspect" actually means. Trading Standards have suggested that this means you can unwrap and open any packaging as necessary to visually look at the product, however if you are for example purchasing a router, it does not mean you can run it for a few days before returning it for a refund. Specifically, routers have software components which make them like other software, videos, etc. which can be copied and thus once you use them, you can no longer return them as you are exercising rights of ownership.

Trading Standards did note that "each and every situation is unique and only the Courts can give an authoritative decision in the specific case" but in general the advice above will be useful. It is also important to note that other statutory rights are not affected, so if goods are found to be faulty, then they can be returned as if they were bought from a high street store. This merely applies to the misconception some users have about their ability to "test" routers and other similar hardware before returning them under the Distance Selling Regulations. Obviously we would remind readers that we do not offer legal advice and you should seek the advice of a solicitor if you have any doubts. [seb]


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