/ Home & Energy

Which goods do we return most often?

There’s nothing quite as frustrating as making a new purchase, eagerly getting it out of the box and discovering it doesn’t work. But what goods are most often faulty?

We’ve been analysing the data from our free faulty items claim tool, and we can now reveal which faulty goods people most commonly try to return.

While cars and furniture come out on top, half the items reported are technology goods.

Here are the top 10 items people used our faulty goods tool for in the last three months. The top categories were:

  1. Cars
  2. Furniture
  3. Mobile phones
  4. Computers
  5. TVs
  6. Washing machines
  7. Fridge freezers
  8. Audio equipment
  9. Tablets
  10. Tumble dryers

Troublesome tech

The results raise some interesting questions about product reliability and lifespan. For example, how long should tech products like laptops and mobile phones reasonably last for?

I recently bought a new phone after my old phone (purchased in 2014) started misbehaving and freezing more than I had patience left to deal with it – a four year lifespan.

As tech leaps forward each year, the interplay between new software releases and depreciating hardware is an interesting one.

How long do you think a phone should reasonably operate without problems that curb its ability to do the job? What about a computer?

Your faulty goods rights

Under the Consumer Rights Act, you have an early right to reject faulty goods that are of unsatisfactory quality, unfit for purpose or not as described, and get a full refund.

You have the right to reject your item and get a refund within 30 days from the date you took ownership of the goods. You can still ask for a repair or replacement after the first 30 days and within the first six months.

Guide: What to do if you have a faulty product

Your rights against the retailer can last for up to six years (five years in Scotland), but after the first six months the onus is on you to prove a fault was present at the time you took ownership of the goods.

Our faulty goods claim tool asks some simple questions about the problem and will send you a ready-to-go letter you can send to the retailer.

Our Managing Director of Home Products and Services, Alex Neill, will be discussing our faulty goods findings tonight on LBC’s Consumer Hour from 20:00. Be sure to tune in.

Have you had trouble with any of the items on our top 10 list? How long to do you expect your tech to last for?

The faulty goods data runs from April to June 2018.


The Consumer Rights Act also requires products to be “durable”, that is to last a reasonable time without fault (considering such things as price and use). You have a legal right to redress if a product you buy does not last as long as it should.

This is an important aspect of the CRA that Which? seems unwilling to get to grips with and yet is, from reports in other Convos, something consumers have difficulty with, often from an unhelpful or intransigent retailer. It is particularly frustrating when a product fails just out of warranty.

When we buy a product we should be entitled to expect it to work properly, not just for 6 months or the length of the warranty but, in many cases, for several years. If it does not, and it’s been properly used and looked after, it may be down to poor design, poor quality components, defective assembly or simply be a rogue machine that got through the net. If so, this is down to the manufacturer. The unlucky purchaser should not be expected to bear the cost.

Durability is good for the consumer and for our resources. I hope sometime Which? will help us use CRA by providing durability benchmark lives for appropriate products, beginning with domestic appliances and others from the “top ten” list above, that we can use to press a claim with the retailer when things go wrong.

Technology is advancing most aspects of reliability. However durability is NOT a priority for manufacturers or government.

Technically there is no real reason why any manufactured product should not last much longer than they do. However – if say an electric kettle was designed to last 20 years and did last 20 years – then the manufacturer would complain of limited prduct sales and the government would complain of limited production and corresponding tax revenue.

Our whole society is based around fast turn over and quick returns – money, money money – really sad.

The Intro says – “Your rights against the retailer can last for up to six years (five years in Scotland), but after the first six months the onus is on you to prove a fault was present at the time you took ownership of the goods.“.

Is it not the case that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland the period from which the consumer rights start applying is the date of purchase, whereas in Scotland it is the date from which the problem manifested? I have asked this several times in Which? Conversation without ever getting a response; now that we have the benefit of members of the Which? Legal team in attendance on our comments, could we please have an opinion on this question, or even a definitive answer if possible? Thank you.

I was hoping we might have had an explanation by now from someone in the Which? legal team on the point I raised above about the difference between Scotland and the rest of the UK in the period during which consumers can exercise their rights.

I increasingly get the impression that, despite assurances recently received to the contrary,.the comments received in Which? Conversation are not all being read by a Which? colleague, nor even by the author of the article.

Hi John, Sorry about the delay on this. We are looking at this for you and will get back too you with an answer as soon as possible.

Thanks very much, Chirag.

It’s of general interest as people have been perplexed why the rules in Scotland are so different and it prompts the question why the timescales cannot be uniform throughout the UK.

I look forward to seeing your comments in due course.

I am glad you are on the case.

Hello John ,

Thank you so much for your patience on this. I have referred your question to our legal team, and they have provided the following response which I hope answers your question:

In England and Wales the time limits for different types of claim are set out in the Limitation Act 1980 which states that a breach of contract claim must be commenced within 6 years of the date of the breach.

For claims relating to faulty goods, the time starts from the date of purchase/delivery as the allegation is that the goods were inherently defective, however for services it may not always be from the date the contract is made.

For example if on the 01st of January you enter an agreement with a builder to build you a porch that is the date the contract is made. However, if a defective window is installed on the 20th, the time limit to start a claim is from the 20th when it was installed, not when the contract was made on the 1st.

In Scotland the rules are different, and the law that governs the time limit to bring a breach of contract claim is the Prescription and Limitation (Scotland) Act 1973. Under this law there are two broad provisions – limitation and prescription.

Limitation acknowledges that rights may exist, however once the limitation period has expired they are no longer enforceable in the courts. It does not have much relevance to your query. Prescription on the other hand does.,It is where a right or obligation is extinguished – eg through the passage of time. Section 6(1) of the 1973 Act states that an obligation is extinguished if no claim has been made within the time allowed – 5 years. The five-year period will usually start on delivery of the goods when the defect is obvious. Some faults do not show up for some time and here the five-year period runs from when the consumer becomes aware, or could with reasonable diligence have become aware, that loss, injury or damage had occurred. It should be remembered that where defective goods cause personal injury or death a three-year prescription applies.

Using the builder example above, let’s say the problem is that the window doesn’t open because the handle is defective, a diligent person would inspect the work shortly after completion and such an obvious defect would be pretty much immediately noticeable. If a claimant attempted to bring a claim 7 years later because they simply didn’t inspect the work, a court is highly unlikely to accept the claim as they should have noticed sooner, and it would therefore be deemed to be out of time.

Hope this helps.


Thank you, Chirag

The Legal Team’s statement confirms what I thought was the case, i.e. that in Scotland the five-year claim period can start with the date of discovery of the problem rather than from the date of delivery [as in England & Wales with a six-year claim period] so long as reasonable diligence was exercised at the outset.

Looking at the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (which applies generally to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) Section22 the relevant times stated are:
the first 6 months means 6 months beginning with the first day after these have all happened—
(a)ownership or (in the case of a contract for the hire of goods, a hire-purchase agreement or a conditional sales contract) possession of the goods has been transferred to the consumer,
(b)the goods have been delivered, and
(c)where the contract requires the trader to install the goods or take other action to enable the consumer to use them, the trader has notified the consumer that the action has been taken.

Although specifics for Scotland are given 40 times in the document. there is no qualification given for the relevant time.

Thanks, Malcolm – frustratingly I had noted that previously in trying to find an explanation so assumed that it was covered by a Scottish statute of limitations that gave a different definition from the E,W & NI versions. The Which? legal team will surely know for certain, however, so I await their comments with interest.

So do I. Incidentally I could find no mention in the CRA of 5 or 6 years.

The Act gives references to other legislation specifying the time period and I believe this is why there is a difference 5/6 year between Scotland and England:

“(2) Where this subsection applies—

(a) in the case of proceedings in England and Wales, the
Limitation Act 1980 applies as if the claim were an action in a court of law;

(b) in the case of proceedings in Scotland, the Prescription and Limitation (Scotland) Act 1973 applies as if the claim related to an obligation to which section 6 of that Act applies;

(c) in the case of proceedings in Northern Ireland, the Limitation (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 applies as if the claim were an action in a court established by law.”

Thanks for this information. If I’ve read the correct bits:

5Time limit for actions founded on simple contract.

An action founded on simple contract shall not be brought after the expiration of six years from the date on which the cause of action accrued.

6Extinction of obligations by prescriptive periods of five years.

(1)If, after the appropriate date, an obligation to which this section applies has subsisted for a continuous period of five years—
(a)without any relevant claim having been made in relation to the obligation, and
(b)without the subsistence of the obligation having been relevantly acknowledged,
then as from the expiration of that period the obligation shall be extinguished:

Provided that in its application to an obligation under a bill of exchange or a promissory note this subsection shall have effect as if paragraph (b) thereof were omitted.

If a claim is made before the end of 6 (5) years but after the expiration date the remedy was found not to have been effective then it looks as though further action could be taken?

A misleading title as actually it refers to the number of uses of a letter which is not the same thing as what do we return most often in the UK. My suspicion would be those things we can hand carry such as clothing and problematic food.

Also we are not given the overall figures which would have been interesting to see, particularly on cars where the names of the manufacturers would have seemed relevant.

I wonder if the charity the Citizens Advice letter app. is also analysed.

Can we experiment with the faulty claims tool without information being recorded? I’d like to explore the advice given but would not want to contribute any spurious information to statistics.

My friend, who has MS, won a case against a Builder who supplied two faulty front doors and was awarded a full refund. Judgement did not include the return of the current faulty front door to the Builder. However, the Defendant has now demanded return of the faulty front door, which is still in place. The CAB say that the door belongs to my friend, as judgement did not include the return of the faulty door to the Builder at any stage, ie no obligation, or timeframe. Judgement was not conditional upon my friend returning the door to the builder on replacement with a new door, The Defendant did not make a counterclaim to have the faulty door returned to him under those conditions. We believe the door belongs to my friend, but we cannot find anything in the Consumer Goods Acts 2015. We would appreciate clarification before we get into further legal action with this dodgy builder !! Thank you