Buying Goods from Private Individuals

Have you bought something from a private individual?

For non-professional and private sales, the overarching principle of caveat emptor (‘let the buyer beware’) applies. This means you are responsible for checking the quality and suitability of the goods or services before going ahead with the purchase.

In addition, your statutory protection is severely limited. For instance, if you buy something privately you are not protected by the legal requirements of a business that goods sold must be of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose.

What should I be aware of?

Buying from private individuals is extremely common and takes place in all manner of ways, including at car-boot and table-top sales, online auctions such as eBay, small advertisements in newspapers and on Gumtree, jumble sales, and through informal agreements with friends and acquaintances.

It is important to understand that in these circumstances, you are not protected by the Consumer Right Act 2015, so it is vital to inspect the item/s carefully before you go head and buy. Some useful advice can pay dividends:

  • Never buy from an advertiser who wants to meet in public place or at your home or workplace
  • Make sure you will be given a receipt that includes the seller’s name and address when the sale is complete
  • Beware of goods that could be hazardous, such as electrical devices, car seats and furnishings that could give off toxic fumes in a fire, children’s toys that could injure or choke, and children’s clothing that might not be flameproof
  • Look out for stolen goods. Popular items include power tools, garden ornaments and mountain bikes. If you suspect something you bought may have been stolen, contact the police
  • Be wary of fake or pirated goods such as DVDs and BluRays (often, these are cheap, poor-quality recordings). Other fake goods labelled perfumes, watches, clothes, handbags and cosmetics. Alcohol, DIY tools and computer software are also amongst the pirated top list

How common are rogue traders?

Regular sellers of new items at markets and car-boot sales may be professional traders masquerading as private sellers to avoid their statutory obligations to consumers. This means you may be left without protection if you buy faulty, poor quality or dangerous goods. Some of their goods may even be stolen.

Furthermore, the rules that exist to protect consumers may either not apply – or may be ignored altogether. You are at a risk of misleading prices, poor food hygiene, unfair trading and price-marking practices, trade description breaches, and unsafe safety standards.

Good can also be imported illegally and sold on. If something goes wrong, it can be difficult to track down the seller, and even more difficult to claim compensation.

How can I protect my interests?

There are protective steps you can take when buying from private sellers:

Indemnity fee

Some sellers allow you to pay an ‘indemnity fee’ entitling you to reject goods within one month of purchase. This is a wise precaution, especially if the seller excludes liability for any problems.

Paying by credit card

Paying for goods with a credit card gives you extra protection if things go wrong. If you make any purchase (or even part purchase) between £100 and £30,000 on a credit card, the Consumer Credit Act 1974 makes the seller and the card company jointly liable for any problems that arise with the goods or service. This Act gives you the right to claim the full amount from the card company if there is a problem, and the trader goes out of business or cannot be traced.

Statutory rights

When you buy goods from a private individual, for example, from a private eBay seller, or in response to a newspaper advert paper, or at a car-boot sale, the law says the goods must match their description (including any description on the label). If the item does not match the description, you may have recourse against the seller. You can ask for a refund, but if they refuse – you may have to take court action – which could prove expensive.

Contractual rights

If the seller breaches the contract, for instance, the item is not that which you agreed to buy, or it is faulty, you may be entitled to compensation for breach of contract. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to prove what the seller agreed – unless there is a written agreement (for instance, in an email) or there was a written sale advert or an independent witness to an agreement. If you do have the evidence to support your claim, you should be able to claim breach of contract. But if the seller resists your claim and you have to go to court to recover compensation, this could prove costly and time consuming.

The amount of compensation you may receive would depend upon the nature of the problem, and you should always take legal advice before deciding whether to take formal action.

Dealing with disputes

When you know you have a problem with your purchase, contact the seller as soon as possible, preferably in writing. Stop using the item and find your receipt or proof of purchase. Tell the seller what the problem is, and what you want done about it. If the seller offers a settlement or refund, decide whether or not you will accept it – but be reasonable.

If the seller is uncommunicative or unreasonable, you need to consider whether it is worth going to court.

Before starting any court action, you need to re-consider whether you have ample evidence for your claim: going to court should be your last resort and you must take expert legal advice before taking any further steps.

About the Author

Nicola Laver LLB

Nicola is a dual qualified journalist and non-practising solicitor. She is a legal journalist, editor and author with more than 20 years' experience writing about the law.

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