If you purchased goods or services after 1 October 2015, then your rights are governed by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. The Act covers consumer rights in terms of both goods and services, so can apply to different situations, for example faulty products or work carried out by a tradesperson but have these rules changed with Covid-19?
The law does not specifically set out the consequences of the coronavirus for contracts. As such, usual legal principles will apply in terms of the Consumer Rights Act 2015. In addition, consumer protection law ensures that consumers’ legal rights are protected and that businesses treat consumers fairly in all their dealings with them.
The legal position was more straightforward under the original lockdown laws imposed at the start of the pandemic. However, as lockdown laws and the nature of the legal restrictions they impose change over time, the consequences for individual contracts may become less clear-cut and more fact-specific. Ultimately only a court can decide how the law applies, and in many cases this will be the first time the issues have been considered.
Consumers and businesses should be aware that whether or not a consumer is entitled to a refund will depend on the nature of the goods or services in question, the sector, and the detail of the arrangements that have been entered into and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and any restrictions on that arrangement.
Contracts that cannot go ahead due to lockdown laws
In some circumstances a contract cannot go ahead as agreed or at all, and is therefore “frustrated”. A contract will be frustrated as a matter of law if, due to no fault of the parties, something happens after the contract was entered into which means it can no longer be performed at all or performance would be radically different to what was agreed. The contract therefore comes to an end. Where a consumer has paid money in advance for services or goods that they have yet to receive, they will generally be entitled to a refund.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015
As stated above, the usual legal principles will apply. Therefore in terms of buying goods, the Act provides that any goods purchased by a consumer must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described. If goods to not satisfy the criteria above, there will be a claim and the Act details several remedies available to a consumer in the event of a breach. Each situation will be different so it is important to be aware of the different remedies available should a consumer wish to claim.
A consumer should also remember that under the Act you have a right to reject goods and obtain a full refund if they do not satisfy the above criteria as long as you exercise this right within 30 days. if your claim falls out with the initial 30-day right to reject you can request a repair or replacement under the Act. You can state a preference for a repair or replacement, but the retailer will be entitled to provide the most cost-effective measure. If the retailer attempts repair works and these are unsuccessful, you have a further right to reject the goods and receive a full refund.
In Scotland, you ultimately have five years to raise a claim in the court. This five year time period runs from the date that the goods were purchased/delivered.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 also offers protections against service providers. Any service provided must be performed with reasonable care and skill. Any information that is spoken or written is binding where a consumer relies on it. Where the price is not agreed beforehand, the service must be provided for a reasonable price. What is reasonable is judged against what other traders in the same field would charge. Unless a particular timescale for performing the service is set out or agreed, the service must be carried out within a reasonable time.
If the work does not comply with these standards, a consumer has a right to a repeat performance of the service. If the repeat performance is not possible, or has already been carried out, there is a right to a price reduction. Fundamentally, it is important to pursue any claims under the Act in good time in order to ensure consumers achieve the most appropriate remedy.
If the company you booked with cancels your booking because of coronavirus, contact them as you have the right to a refund or you can choose to rebook for another time. You should look to be paid within 14 days for a cancelled package holiday and within 7 days for a European flight. You should check whether or not your holiday is a package holiday and what counts as a European flight. If something was cancelled that wasn’t a package holiday or a European flight, check the terms and conditions to find out when you’ll get a refund.
If you booked a journey between England and Scotland when the rules said you could travel at Christmas (between 23rd December and 27th December 2020), you should get a refund. To qualify, you need to have booked the journey on or after 24th November 2020 and before the rules changed on 19th December 2020.
If you are offered a voucher instead of a refund it is best to ask for a refund instead. They have to give you a refund if you ask. If you are thinking of accepting a voucher, check the terms and conditions including when the voucher expires and whether you can change your mind later and get a refund.
More information can be found on the Scottish government website regarding holidays during local lockdowns.
Weddings and Civil Partnerships
Marriages and civil partnerships can go ahead in Scotland but you should check what protection level your venue is in using the Scottish government postcode checker. This will tell you what rules and guidance you should follow.