If you have bought a motorhome, a caravan, or an accessory and feel that you have been ‘had’, the law can protect you. Here is what you need to know.
How to begin
Rule number one: going to court is your last resort. It will cost you a lot of time and money, and the outcome is very often uncertain.
Remember, if you do end up in court, your actions in these early stages may come back to haunt you. So don’t get mad – your end goal is to get even. Begin by putting your complaint to the seller, in writing. Set out in detail what is wrong and why they should compensate you. Give the seller enough time to respond, and the chance to investigate your complaint. Don’t be fobbed off by a seller who says that the manufacturer or supplier is to blame: if selling that product is their usual business, they are responsible for any defects.
At this stage, be open to resolving your dispute by negotiation, mediation, arbitration or some other means.
Knowing your legal rights should make the seller take your case seriously.
On 31 March 2003, a European directive came into force which improved your rights. On that date, the Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002 updated the Sale of Goods Act 1979 so that the seller now has to repair or replace your vehicle if it is defective.
If this is impossible, too costly, or cannot be achieved in a reasonable amount of time, you are entitled to a price reduction. You are also entitled to return the vehicle and have your money refunded. You have the same rights if repairing or replacing the vehicle causes you major
inconvenience. In short, you no longer have to rely on the dealer’s goodwill.
Likewise, the courts can now force a manufacturer to live up to its guarantees and warranties. Changes in March 2003 included another important right, too: if a defect appears within six months of your having taken delivery, the law assumes it was there when you bought the ’van, unless the dealer can prove otherwise.
If it goes to court…
If all negotiation with the seller fails to satisfy you may, reluctantly, go to court. You start by issuing a claim form in your local county court. If you are claiming £5000 or less, you can obtain a hearing before a district judge in the small-claims court. If you are claiming more than £5000 but less than £15,000, you are put on the ‘fast track’ – which is not as quick as it sounds, and can be expensive.
You should also be aware that:
● You have no comeback if you bought privately (‘sold as seen’ e ectively means ‘buyer beware’).
● The law is on the side of the seller if you could have noticed any defects (for instance, if you examined the vehicle and that examination should have revealed the defects in question). Only if they were hidden or latent problems (such as damp) can you sue for compensation.
If your claim goes to court, and you take the ‘smallclaims track’, hearings are relatively informal. All parties sit around a table and you can argue your own case if you wish. You can use a solicitor, but the judge won’t make the seller pay your legal costs, even if you win, unless he thinks that the seller has acted unreasonably.
If your claim goes through the ‘fasttrack’ court your case will be heard in about 30 weeks. ‘Fast-track’ claims are held in an open court and you would be wise to hire a solicitor (or even a barrister) to present your case at trial. Check your insurance to see if it covers legal expenses before you begin, however, because costs can be huge.
For more information
BBC guides Web www.bbc.co.uk/consumer/guides_to/law_goods.shtml
Citizens’ Advice Bureau Web www.adviceguide.org.uk
Consumer Direct Web www.consumerdirect.gov.uk
Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (Sale of Goods Act, quick facts). Web www.berr.gov.uk/consumers/fact-sheets/page38311.html
Her Majesty’s Courts Service Web www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk
The Law Society (to fi nd a solicitor). Web www.lawsociety.org.uk
Office of Fair Trading Web www.oft.gov.uk
The Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002
Trading Standards Web www.tradingstandards.gov.uk