What are your rights when buying second-hand goods?

Chris Torney / 07 May 2015

Are you entitled to a refund if you buy a second-hand item and it does not work or is damaged? Chris Torney explains your rights.

The popularity of eBay and similar websites means that more and more of us are buying second-hand items.

While there can be some great bargains to be had, making purchases from members of the public, rather than businesses, generally means you have less protection as a consumer.


Used versus new

When it comes to shoppers’ rights, the most important distinction is not whether an item is new or second-hand
– it is whether the seller is an official company or a private individual.

When you buy from a retailer – either on the high street or online – you are protected by the whole of the Sale of Goods Act 1979. This means that what you buy should be:

  • Of satisfactory quality;
  • As described (in any listing or marketing material); and
  • Fit for purpose.

This law applies to brand-new as well as used items: so your rights are the same if you buy from a charity shop as if you buy from the supermarket or Amazon.

Read our guide to avoiding scams on eBay. 


Private sales

If you buy from a private individual, however, you do not get all of this protection. Under the Act, a private seller is only obliged to provide goods “as described”.

So as long as the description has not been misleading, you do not have the right to ask for your money back if you are unhappy with what you have bought or if there is a problem with the item.


Getting your money back

If you buy a second-hand item from a business, you can take it back and ask for a repair, replacement or refund if it is faulty or if it does not work as it should.

You do not have a legal right to simply return something because you have changed your mind – although some retailers may allow you to do so at their own discretion.

If you think a business is unfairly refusing a refund or replacement, you can make a formal complaint to the firm: for more information, visit the Citizens Advice Bureau website.

If you have been dealing with a private seller, you can ask for a refund if the item is not as described. But if they refuse, your only course of action may be to go to court, which could prove expensive.

Read our guide to the small claims court.

Online disputes

Trading websites, such as eBay and Amazon Marketplace, have systems in place to help buyers and sellers resolve disputes.

If either party has a problem, such as with the quality of the goods or late payment, they can contact the site and ask them to make a ruling.

The feedback system on such sites means that users have an incentive to treat others fairly or risk getting negative reviews. You would not get these benefits if you bought at a car-boot sale or through classified ads, for example.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.