Knowledge of your rights can make all the difference between a good morning out rummaging around a field for bargains and a never-to-be-repeated experience.
Here's a run-down of some key rights we all have.
%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo% Who's selling?
All sorts of people sell at boot sales, but most are either professional traders or casual sellers looking to make a few quid out of items they no longer want.
Traders are more tightly regulated than casual sellers, so if you're buying from someone who clearly isn't just flogging the contents of their loft you can expect to see their trading name and address posted on the stall. If there is no such notice, they are breaching the Companies Act. Knowing who you're buying from is very important if your purchase turns out to be a lemon.
There's usually less of an issue with casual or occasional sellers, as the cost of items they are selling tends to be relatively low – and who can really be bothered to argue if they've paid 10p for an Agatha Christie whodunit that has the last page missing?
According to Trading Standards, the most popular stolen items sold at boot sales are power tools, bikes and garden equipment. If you suspect you have bought stolen goods you're entitled to a full refund.
Strange as it may seem sellers are not legally required to issue receipts. For this reason try to note the name and contact details of anyone who sells you expensive goods. It's also a good idea to visit boot sales with a friend, who could act as a witness should your purchase prove to be dodgy and you want to take the matter to Trading Standards.
Sharp sales practices
If you get home and discover that some of your booty doesn't stack up, you can take it back. Sellers must not mislead potential customers, either by making claims that aren't true, or leaving out important information that they were aware of – such as if you bought a 'new' item that turns out to be used.
Misleading customers to secure a sale is a breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, but these regulations offer another valuable form of protection.
Anyone who has traipsed around a boot sale has probably seen signs plastered around stalls stating 'sold as seen' or 'no refunds'. They may be enough to dissuade some people from successfully challenging a sale, even though they are often incorrect. How can you tell from looking at a digital radio, CD or power tool whether it works? You can't, but it's reasonable to expect it will work.
If it doesn't, you are entitled to a refund.
Mind the quality gap
Boot sales are the natural home of all manner of second-hand goods, some of which may have seen better days. But that won't get sellers off the hook if you buy an item that is not as described.
If this is the case, you can challenge the sale under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, which should result in you being offered a refund or money off.
As you weave in and out of the crowds the chances are you'll spy several stalls selling CDs, designer clothing and DVDs – some of which may be counterfeit. If cash changes hands on something you bought on the basis that is it the real McCoy, but later discover is not legitimate you're entitled to a refund.
If you have any problems getting a refund you can report it to Consumer Direct (0845 040506) or your local Trading Standards office.
No one wants to buy a death-trap, but you'd be surprised how many boot sale bargains can pose a serious health risk.
Children's toys are ones to watch, especially if they are old – and may contain lead paint or have removable parts that reveal sharp ends or spikes. These and other items, such as upholstered furniture, should contain EU safety labels and fire-retardant marks, where relevant.
If they don't, walk away.
Check the quality
Electrical goods are another purchase to take care over. You don't want to buy something that will malfunction or just not work, and you certainly don't want any item to start a fire. Again, you will be relying on the description of these items to be sound, and it's worth checking the product literature and packaging for more information on where they come from and when they were produced.
If you're looking for cheap cosmetics, take a moment to check that the items haven't been used before and are in sealed packaging. As with other items, it's also best to check for BS and EU safety marks.
10 consumer rights you should know
Boot sales: your rights as a buyer
The law states that any goods you buy from a UK retailer should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable amount of time.
This applies even if you buy items in a sale or with a discount voucher. You may have to insist on these rights being respected, though.
Useful phrases to use when you want to show you mean business include, "according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979" and, if it's a service, "according to the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982".
Some shops will allow you to exchange goods without a receipt, but they can refuse to should they wish.
If the goods are faulty, however, another proof of purchase such as a bank statement should work just as well.
If you attempt to return goods within four weeks of the purchase, your chances of getting a full refund are much higher as you can argue that you have not "accepted" them.
After this point, you can only really expect an exchange, repair or part-refund.
The updated Consumer Credit Act states that card companies are jointly and severally liable for credit card purchases of between £100 and £60,260 (whether or not you paid just a deposit or the whole amount on your card).
Anyone spending between these amounts on their credit card is therefore protected if the retailer or service provider goes bust, their online shopping never arrives or the items in question are faulty or not as described.
Start by writing to the agency asking it to either remove or change the entry that you think is wrong. It will investigate the matter and find out whether you have been the victim of ID theft or a bank's mistake.
Within 28 days from receipt of your letter the agency should tell you how the bank has responded. If the bank agrees to change the entry, they will authorise the agency to update their records. They should also send updates to any other credit reference agencies they use.
You can also contact your lender directly to query a mistake. If the lender agrees to the discrepancy, ask them to confirm this in writing on their letterhead and send a copy to the agency, asking them to update your file.
The FOS settles disputes between financial companies such as banks and consumers.
If a financial organisation rejects a complaint you make about its services, you can therefore escalate that complaint to the FOS - as long as you have given the company in question at least eight weeks to respond.
The FOS will then investigate the case, and could force the company to offer you compensation should it see fit.
Bailiffs are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.
They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles. However, they cannot take essentials such as fridges or clothes.
What's more, they can only generally enter your home to take your stuff if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.
You are therefore within your rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity. If they try to force their way in, you can also call the police to stop them.
Private sector debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, whatever they tell you.
They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.
In fact, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt. As with bailiffs, you can also call the police if you feel physically threatened.
Thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations, you actually have more rights buying online or by phone than on the High Street.
You can, for example, send most goods back within a week, for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault.
You will usually need to pay for the return delivery, though. The seller must then refund you within 30 days.
We enter into contracts all the time, whether it be to join a gym, switch energy supplier or take out a loan.
In most cases, once you've signed a contract, you are legally bound by it. In some situations, however, you have the right to cancel it within a certain timeframe.
Credit agreements, for example, can be cancelled within 14 days. And online retailers must tell you about your cancellation rights for any contract made up to stand up legally.