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My Goods Aren’t Up to Scratch – But Are They ‘Satisfactory Quality’?

One of the most frequent types of case that we see in the Consumer Law teams at Lyons Davidson involves the sale of goods of some description. From fridge-freezers and other household items to vehicles and horses, we’ve seen them all.

The vast majority of consumers, under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, can expect to receive goods that are of “satisfactory quality”. That is because, under section 14(2) of the Act, “Where the seller sells goods in the course of a business, there is an implied term that the goods supplied under the contract are of satisfactory quality.” The Act defines this as goods that “meet the standard that a reasonable person would regard as satisfactory, taking account of any description of the goods, the price (if relevant) and all the other relevant circumstances,” going on to list individual components that should be considered within the term “satisfactory quality” (e.g. fitness for all the purposes for which goods of the kind in question are commonly supplied; appearance and finish; freedom from minor defects; safety and durability).

All of this seems to make perfect sense. The modern consumer is entitled to expect their goods to meet a minimum level. However, it must be borne in mind that the legal requirement is “satisfactory” and no more. So not, for example, “excellent”. Dissatisfied consumers, then, should seriously consider whether their goods still perform their function and whether the problems they complain of realistically have an impact on use of the item.

Although the act considers “freedom from minor defects” to be a component of satisfactory quality, it is the overall state that will be considered by a court. We have certainly heard of a few instances where the court has dismissed trivial defects as immaterial or unlikely to impair use of the goods, leaving the consumer frustrated at the outcome after a lot of time and hard work.

Here are a few of the key things that Lyons Davidson’s Consumer Department look for when faced with a ‘satisfactory quality’ case:

  • Defects: how do these affect the goods and how do they compare with the categories in the Act?
  • Information: the actual state of the goods received versus the pre-contract information provided by the seller;
  • Function: can the goods still perform their function? If so, what has the consumer suffered as a result of each defect?
  • Proportionality: can the defects be remedied and, if so, what is the most cost-effective way for the seller to remedy the problem? Would the costs of this outweigh the benefit to be gained through remedy?

There are many other aspects of the Sale of Goods Act that could form articles in their own right, but this summary should provide a brief guide to help consumers better understand the way in which “satisfactory quality” is worked out.

As always, we recommend that if you have bought something you are not happy with, you should try to reach a resolution with the seller first. Remember: even big businesses can make mistakes and you’d be surprised how often a seller will be prepared to help if offered the chance early, and without conflict or bad feeling.

If, after that, you still can’t reach a resolution, then seek legal advice before taking any type of action. Even a small claim can be costly and time consuming without the aid of a legal representative.

If you have a consumer dispute that you would like us to consider, please contact Lyons Davidson’s Civil Litigation team on 0117 904 6000.

Posted on Jul 28th, 2011 by Lyons Davidson