The biggest shake-up of consumer law in a generation comes into effect today to strengthen, clarify and modernise protection for shoppers.
The new Consumer Rights Act guarantees shoppers a full refund up to 30 days after buying a faulty item, provides protection for digital purchases for the first time and cracks down on unfair terms in contracts.
Shoppers now have 30 days to reject a faulty item and demand a full refund, clarifying previously unclear rules on how long this period should last.
After 30 days, retailers have one opportunity to repair or replace a faulty item, at the customer's choosing.
If the attempt at a repair or replacement is unsuccessful, the consumer can then claim a refund or a price reduction if they want to keep the product.
The new act also extends clear legal rights to digital purchases, giving consumers the right to a repair or replacement for faulty downloaded or streamed content such as apps, music, movies, games or e-books.
Another change makes it easier for shoppers to challenge hidden fees and charges, preventing companies from enforcing terms if they are deemed to be unfair – even if they are written in plain language.
In the case of a dispute, certified Alternative Dispute Resolution providers are now available to help as a quicker and cheaper alternative to going through the courts.
UK consumers spend £90 billion a month but figures from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) show shoppers encountered more than 18 million problems with consumer goods and services in the 12 months to the middle of last year, leaving them £4.15 billion out of pocket.
BIS said the new act will make it easier for consumers to know their rights and shop with confidence by streamlining eight pieces of legislation into one.
Business minister Nick Boles said: "Whether it's downloading music or buying a fridge freezer, the Consumer Rights Act makes it easier to understand your rights.
"These changes will also simplify the law for businesses so they can spend less time worrying about unclear and unwieldy regulations."
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "Consumer law was crying out to be brought up to date to cope with the requirements and demands of today's shoppers.
"Getting a refund or repair, dealing with issues with faulty digital downloads and understanding contracts should now all be much simpler.
"Businesses must ensure their staff are aware of the changes so they're not caught out short-changing customers or breaking the law."
Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: "Clear consumer rights are good for shoppers and businesses.
"Businesses have a real opportunity to show they value their customers by upholding their new rights and signing up to an alternative dispute resolution scheme."
Shopping: when spending more isn't always better
Consumer law shake-up will strengthen shoppers' rights
The wine world is notoriously snobby, and the experts will tell you that there’s no way to buy a good bottle without spending at least £25. However, a study in 2011 at the Edinburgh International Science Fair demonstrated that people could only tell the difference between a cheap and expensive wine 53% of the time - which is roughly the result you'd get from flipping a coin.
Instead of focusing on price, it’s worth looking for wine awards. In December last year, for example, the International Wine Challenge awarded silver medals to Tesco Finest Fiano (selling for £5.49) and the Tesco Finest Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (priced at £5.99).
The price you’ll pay for your hotel room depends partly on type of room you choose, but also on a host of things that have nothing at all to do with the room itself. If you shop carefully, therefore, you can get more for less.
One of the most effective approaches is to use a ‘secret hotels’ service, which gives you details of the location and facilities, but doesn't tell you the name of the hotel you are booking until you have paid.
This enables hotels to slash their prices by as much as 50% without damaging their brand. If you book this way you can easily get a junior suite for less than the advertised double room rate at the same hotel.
Logically, the longer the interest-free period on your credit card, the more you’ll save. However, it doesn't always work out that way.
If you need to borrow for exactly the length of the interest-free period, then it’s a great option, but if you need to borrow for a longer or shorter time, it's a waste of money.
You have roughly a 40% chance of being tempted by the longer interest-free period into failing to pay off the debt in time - and being hit with high interest charges. In this instance, you may be better off with a long-term low rate.
Meanwhile, if you are one of the third of people who tend to pay off their card early, then you'd be better off paying a smaller balance transfer fee for a card with a shorter interest-free period.
If you need to buy new clothes, then choosing a product that has done minimal damage to the environment is clearly a kinder option than buying from a manufacturer that doesn't care about its impact on the world.
However, you will usually pay more for an environmentally-friendly brand, and there’s a far cheaper option that’s even kinder to the environment: buying second-hand clothes.
Your local charity shops will have items in perfect condition that would otherwise be going to landfill, so by buying them you meet three great criteria: you're saving the planet, saving money and helping a good cause.
You can pay anything up to 1,000 times more for water in a bottle than from the tap, so it stands to reason that it must be better.
However, instead of necessarily paying for superior water, we're paying for bottles, transportation and marketing, which might not be the kind of thing you value
On average we drink 33 litres of bottled water every year, and at an average cost of 48p per bottle, that's almost £16. You have to ask yourself if it's worth it.
Your expensive fashion headphones may look cool, but if you look around among the professionals, they won’t be wearing them.
The very best of the professional headphones cost the earth, so they're not a money-saving option. However, if you set a budget and check out the gadget magazines for their recommendations in your price range, not one of them recommends the fashion brands.
Instead of paying for branding, it's worth doing your research and paying for better sound.
We're loyal to brands for two reasons when it comes to medicines. The first is that they advertise, and they don’t mention the name of the active ingredient, so if we have a specific problem, all we know to ask for is the brand.
The second is a matter of trust, because we know the brand, and we can see it costs many times more than the generic versions of the same thing, so we trust that it is better.
In reality, the active ingredients are exactly the same, and if you don't know the generic drug that you can substitute for your expensive brand, you can simply ask your pharmacist - and look forward to spending a fraction of the amount your usual brand name medicines will set you back.
Pedigree pets are incredibly expensive. Even common breeds like springer spaniels will cost you several hundred pounds, while rarer breeds can set you back thousands.
It’s easy to assume you are paying for a well-bred pet, which will be free from medical problems. However, the breeding process means that pedigree pets tend to be prone to far more medical issues - which end up costing a fortune.
A mongrel dog or a moggy will often rack up far fewer vets bills, and there are usually an enormous number looking for new homes at the local rescue centre.
There’s an enormous advertising industry, pouring huge resources into convincing us that the more expensive beauty products are the best. In some cases this may be true, but it’s also worth keeping your eyes open for the cut-price beauty products recommended by the experts and winning awards.
A couple of examples stand out from recent coverage, including Boots Protect & Perfect for £23.95, which was so hotly tipped that it had a waiting list before its release in May last year. An even more affordable option is the £1.69 Bottle O’Butter moisturiser, which flew off the shelves thanks to an endorsement from the beauty press a while back.
Often in the mobile market, the more you pay, the more you get. So if you want a flash phone, all you can eat data, oodles of airtime and endless texts, you'll pay through the nose. The question you really need to ask yourself is whether you need all of this.
It’s worth checking your statements each month, and going back to look at them for the duration of your contract. Check your average use, then look at any extra you would have paid for the months when you went over this. In most cases, those who are paying for the very biggest mobile packages could save substantially by downshifting.