Rule number one: going to court is your last resort. It will cost you a lot of time and money, and the outcome can be 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.
On March 31, 2003, a European directive came into force that 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.
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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.
Likewise, the courts can now force a manufacturer to live up to its guarantees and warranties. Changes in March 2003 included another important right: if a defect appears within six months of your having taken delivery, the law assumes that 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 – choose to go to court. You start by issuing a claim form in your local county court.
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If you are claiming £5000 or less, you can obtain a hearing before a district judge in the small-claims court. Here, 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 or she thinks that the seller has acted unreasonably.
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. This means that 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.
Be aware that:
• You have no comeback if you bought privately (‘sold as seen’ effectively means ‘buyer beware’).
• The law is on the side of the seller if you could have noticed any defects before buying. You can only sue for compensation if such defects were hidden or were latent problems (such as damp).
- BBC guides www.bbc.co.uk/watchdog/consumer_advice/
- Citizens Advice Bureau www.citizensadvice.org.uk
- Consumer Direct www.consumerdirect.gov.uk
- Her Majesty’s Courts Service www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk
- Law Society (to find a solicitor) www.lawsociety.org.uk
- Office of Fair Trading www.oft.gov.uk
- The Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers
Regulations 2002 www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2002/20023045.htm
- Trading Standards www.tradingstandards.gov.uk