Problems with goods

The advice sheets below have the lastest information on problems with goods. If you need more advice, please call the Citizen Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06.

Pricing law and guidance

In the guide

This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales

The price of goods, services or digital content is a key part of a contract (a legally binding agreement) between you and a trader. If there is a dispute over a price and a contract has not yet been formed the trader can decline your offer to buy the goods. 

In some circumstances, a trader may be in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 if they mislead you over a price or the way in which a price is calculated. There are certain trading practices relating to price that are considered unfair in all circumstances.

Goods, services and digital content must be clearly and accurately priced. 

Consumer contracts & price

A contract is a legally binding agreement between you and a trader and is made when certain elements come together:

  • there must be an offer to buy - for example, you remove goods from the shelf and take them to a checkout
  • there must be acceptance of the offer - for example, a trader put the goods through the till
  • there must be a transfer of consideration. This is the payment you make for the goods, service or digital content
  • there must be an intention to make a contract. You and a trader must intend to be legally bound by the contract and both understand what the contract actually means
  • you must have legal capacity. In other words you must be legally capable of making a contract

The price of goods, services or digital content is a key part of a contract (a legally binding agreement) between you and a trader. When a trader displays goods, services or digital content (in a store, online or in a brochure for example) they are inviting you to make an offer to buy, known as an 'invitation to treat'. This offer may include a price. If there is a dispute over a price and a contract has not yet been formed - perhaps a trader will not consider a price reduction or they make a mistake and the price on display is too low - they are legally entitled to decline your offer to buy. What this means is that you cannot insist a trader sells the goods, service or digital content at the advertised price.

If all the elements of the contract, including the price, come together you and a trader are legally bound by the price you offer to pay and the price a trader agrees to charge. This means that in most cases a trader cannot change the price at a later stage. There may be some exceptions to this - for example, a surcharge on the cost of a holiday. 

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 sets out rules to protect you if a trader tries to use terms in a consumer contract or notice that are unfair. Some terms are automatically unfair in all circumstances and some are not automatically unfair, but may be considered unfair depending on how they are used. For example, if a trader relies on a term to allow them to get out of a contract at their discretion, perhaps they decide the agreed price is too low, but does not allow you the same discretion, it may be considered unfair. Take note that terms which actually set the price are exempt from the assessment of fairness only if they are transparent and prominent. The 'Unfair terms in consumer contracts & notices' guide gives more information.

The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 give you rights against a trader when you buy goods, services or digital content from their business premises (on-premises contracts), without face-to-face contact with you such as via the internet or telephone (distance contracts) and away from their business premises such as on your doorstep (off-premises contracts).

For on-premises (including regular market stalls) contracts you are entitled to expect that a trader gives you the total price of the goods, services or digital content, including taxes, in a clear and understandable way before you enter into the contract (if the price cannot be worked out you must be given the method of calculation). A trader must also give you details of any additional delivery charges. The same information must be given before you enter into a distance or off-premises contract but, in addition, you must also be given the total costs per billing period / monthly costs for open-ended or subscription contracts as well as any costs involved in using distance communication to finalise the contract. If a trader does not give you this information you do not have to pay those charges.

If a trader provides a telephone helpline for you to contact them about the goods, services or digital content that you have bought, they can only charge you the 'basic rate'. This means the normal geographic or mobile rate - for example, numbers beginning with the prefix 01, 02 or 07. If a trader charges you more than the basic rate, you are entitled to reclaim the extra from them.

The 'Buying from business premises - on-premises contracts explained', 'Buying by internet, phone & mail order - distance contracts explained' and 'Buying at home - off-premises contracts explained' guides give more information on these Regulations.

Misleading prices

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 prohibit commercial practices that are unfair to you. If a trader misleads you or engages in an aggressive commercial practice and you make a decision to purchase a product that you would not otherwise have done, the trader may be in breach of the Regulations. There are 31 specific commercial practices set out in the Regulations that are banned outright.

The Regulations deal with a range of practices that are considered unfair, but there are specific requirements for pricing.

The following practices are considered unfair in all circumstances:

  • inviting you to purchase a product at a special offer price without making you aware that there is limited stock / availability and where the trader knows that demand for the product generated by advertising will outstrip supply (bait advertising)
  • inviting you to purchase a product at a special offer price but then refusing to show that product to you, refusing to take orders or deliver the product within a reasonable time or showing a defective sample of the product with the deliberate intention of promoting a different product (bait and switch)
  • falsely stating that the product will only be available for a limited time or that special terms for that product will only be available for a certain time with a view to persuading you to make an immediate decision about the purchase
  • describing a product as 'free' (or similar wording) if you have to pay something (other than unavoidable costs of carrying out the transaction and collection / delivery charges)

The Regulations also state that a trader must not mislead you by giving false information or leaving out information as to the price of a product or the way the price is calculated.

The definition of 'product' in the Regulations covers goods, services, digital content, immovable property and rights or obligations.

If you enter a contract because a trader misled you (for example, over the price of a product or because a trader used an aggressive commercial practice) the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 give you rights to redress: the right to unwind the contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. See the guide 'Misleading & aggressive practices - your right to redress' for more information. 

Pricing practices guidance is available for traders on what is considered to be good practice when giving information to consumers about prices. There is no legal requirement for traders to comply with the guide, but it takes their legal obligations into account. Whilst the guide is aimed at traders, you may wish to check out how a trader ought to price goods and services for you. The guide does not specifically refer to the pricing of digital content but the general recommendations will apply. A copy of the Pricing Practices Guide is available on the GOV.UK website.

Price marking of goods 

The Price Marking Order 2004 requires traders to display the selling price of goods to you and includes sales by electronic means, except:

  • goods that are supplied as part of a service (take note that the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 may require the trader to show the manner in which a price is calculated if it cannot be worked out in advance)
  • sales by auction or sales of art and antiques
  • products sold from bulk
  • advertisements for goods

The selling price should be:

  • inclusive of VAT
  • unambiguous, easily identifiable and clearly legible
  • close to the goods or, in the case of distance contracts or advertisements, close to a visual or written description
  • available to you without them having to ask for it

The indication of any charges for postage, packing or delivery of a product must be unambiguous, easily identifiable and clearly legible.

For goods sold in bulk, a trader must show the unit price. In general, a trader must show the unit price in £ sterling (the price for a kilogram, a litre, a metre, a square metre or a cubic metre) of goods sold from bulk. This is where the goods are weighed and measured at your request, such as fruit and vegetables or cooked meats.

Also in large stores (having a shop floor area greater than 280 square metres) the unit price must be displayed for prepacked goods marked with a quantity or made up in a prescribed quantity. The unit price is usually shown as the price per kilogram (or litre) or 100 gram (or millilitres).

In the event of a VAT rate change, a retailer may display a notice or fix a label to a catalogue to inform you about the new rate for 28 days after the change of rate.

Comparing the unit price can give an indication of which product or sized container gives the best value for money. When comparing unit prices, the price per 100 grams or millilitres has to be multiplied by ten in order to compare it with the unit price per kilogram or litre. Sometimes a larger pack has a higher unit price and so is not the best value for money.

Buying or selling foreign currency

The Price Indications (Bureaux de Change) (No.2) Regulations 1992 apply to traders who buy or sell foreign currency to consumers in any manner.

You are entitled to expect that, where exchange rates are given, the information available is accurate, clear, unambiguous, easily identifiable and, where applicable, legible and audible. If an exchange rate is displayed on-premises it should be prominent, either just outside or just within the premises. The display must include all relevant information, such as buying and selling rates and fees or commission rates.

You must also be given a receipt showing the full details of the transaction, including the name and address of the trader or a suitable method of identifying the trader.

Pricing of holidays 

The Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992 state, amongst other things, that organisers or retailers should not give you misleading information relating to the price of a package. If they do so, you may be entitled to compensation if you incur losses as a result.

The prices shown in the package holiday brochure must be legible, understandable and accurate.

A contract term that states prices can be revised is void unless the term allows for the price revision to be downwards as well as upwards and complies with the following conditions:

  • the contract must show how the revised price is calculated
  • the price revisions must only be for:
    - transportation costs including the cost of fuel
    - dues, taxes or fees chargeable - for example, landing taxes or embarkation / disembarkation fees at airports and ports
    - exchange rates that apply to the package holiday

Any price increase should not be applied less than 30 days before departure date and should not be made on any variations to the package that produce a price increase of less than 2%. This means organisers must absorb price increases of less than 2%.

The 'Holidays' guide gives more information.

Payment surcharges

Under the Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012, traders are banned from charging excessive fees to consumers for using payment methods such as credit and debit cards. The fees charged must reflect the actual cost to the trader of using that particular payment process. The Regulations apply to most sales and service contracts but exclude some contracts, such as those for social and health services, certain financial services, and food and drink delivered by regular roundspeople. A contract term relating to the requirement to pay a fee is unenforceable against you to the extent of the excess charged; if you have paid an excessive fee, the excess must be repaid to you.

If you think a trader has deliberately misled you, if you are unhappy with the way a trader has displayed their prices or if payment surcharge fees are excessive, you should complain to the Citizens Advice consumer service for a referal to trading standards.  

Letting agent's fees

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, letting agents are under a duty to publicise fees that relate to letting agency or property management work. A list of the fees must be prominently displayed at each of the letting agent's business premises and on their website, if they have one. The list of fees must include:

  • a clear and understandable description of each fee
  • in the case that a tenant is liable to pay a fee, an indication of whether the fee relates to each property or to each tenant under a tenancy within a property
  • the amount of each fee (including any taxes). If the fee cannot be worked out in advance, there should be a description of how the fee is calculated

You should note that property websites that provide a means for prospective landlords and tenants to make contact with each other are exempt from these requirements.

The 'Look before you rent' guide gives more information on renting a property.

Key legislation

Last reviewed / updated: May 2016

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.

For further information please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service, which provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Visit the Citizens Advice website or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.