Leather furniture

Faulty goods – knowing your rights

Everyone will, at some point, have bought something from a shop then had to return it because it’s faulty, doesn’t fit properly, is of a poor quality or different from advertised.

Whatever the reason, retailers are legally obliged, under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, to replace the item, repair it or give a refund. However, that doesn’t mean you are free to just return something because you don’t like it or have changed your mind.

So far, so good. But, for larger items, such as furniture, it’s not quite so straightforward. In fact, complaints about sofas occur regularly. In the case of leather sofas, problems include peeling, sagging and creased upholstery. Some customers have reported that the leather was not the quality they expected.

Leather standards

The quality and labelling of leather is highly regulated and must comply with strict national and international standards. In the UK, the BLC Leather Technology Centre (www.blcleathertech.com) holds exclusive licensing rights for the Leathermark trademark in the UK. This means that it must approve all products before they can legally apply the Leathermark.

BLC has been established for nearly 100 years and knows everything there is to know about leather manufacturing and the suitability and performance of different leather types. As well as testing products, the organisation works closely with Trading Standards and frequently acts as an expert witness in legal proceedings.

So, products with the Leathermark label are usually a safe bet. Customers should also bear in mind that price and quality usually go hand-in-hand. In other words, if a product is cheap, it’s likely to be of poor quality.

         Overstretched Leather sofa        Colour Damage on leather sofa

Making a complaint

The Sale of Goods Act 1979 stipulates that products must be safe, fit the sales description, be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and include reasonable installation or assembly instructions. They must also match any samples given beforehand.

Customers are allowed a “reasonable” amount of time to return faulty items. However, the term reasonable has not been properly specified. This is particularly difficult to gauge with a leather sofa.

Some retailers try to wriggle out of their obligations by posting notices saying they do not accept responsibility for goods once they have left the store or that they won’t accept returns on sale goods. But, unless you have signed a contract of sale (usually the case with furniture), the retailer is liable. However, if the retailer has misrepresented the item in the contract, then your rights still apply. With sale goods, if the reduced price is due to a fault that the store has highlighted, then the shop is not obliged to accept a return.

As mentioned, retailers are responsible for the goods they sell and must replace faulty items, repair them or provide a refund. It’s important to note, particularly with leather furniture, that if the quality and durability is under question, the retailer must comply with the Sale of Goods Act, even if the warranty period has expired.

Where it is possible to repair the furniture, the trader must be given the opportunity to do so. As well as covering the costs of the repair, the retailer must also pay for collection and re-delivery. Should the repair take an inconvenient length of time or be carried out badly, then the customer is within their rights to ask for their money back.

Further action

In most cases, customers receive the required recompense from the retailer. But, if a trader refuses to resolve a complaint, further help is available. The local Trading Standards officer is a good place to start. It is their job to help consumers and to crack down on bad retailers.

The Furniture Ombudsman (www.furnitureombudsman.org) provides a free dispute resolution service for consumers, as an alternative to the county court. This applies where retailers have failed to follow a Code of Practice drawn up by the ombudsman and which they agreed to support.

When all informal methods of achieving a resolution have failed, then your only option is to take the retailer to court. But first, it is advisable to write ‘a letter before action’ to the retailer, setting out the settlement you require. If that does not bring a response, then you should start your action.