Whenever you sell goods or services to a customer you have certain responsibilities. You must make sure the goods or services 'conform to contract'. This means that they must be as you describe them – for instance, a car must be the exact model that you say it is, of the correct engine size and with the same number of previous owners as you tell the customer it has had.
By law, all descriptions, including those that are verbal, written, implied or given in an illustration, must be accurate and not misleading. Describing goods inaccurately means the customer may have a claim against you for breach of contract, and may put you in breach of the Trade Descriptions Act.
Some – but not all – requirements of the Act were repealed by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
The goods or services must also be of satisfactory quality – meaning they should be safe, work properly and have no defects. Although there is more responsibility attached to the manufacturers and producers of goods or services, you could also be held liable for any damage, injury or death caused by the use of products or services you supply – see our guide on product liability.
You must also ensure the goods or services are 'fit for purpose'. This means they should be capable of doing what they are meant for. For example, in the case of a pen it should be able to write. Also, if a customer has made clear they require the pen for a specific purpose – for instance, calligraphy – and you have confirmed that it will be suitable, then it must be fit for that purpose.
Not only are these your legal responsibilities – they make sound business sense if you want to attract and retain customers.
This Question of the Week is an excerpt from the BWF’s ‘Brief Overview of the Sale of Goods Act’ publication. For more information on this topic, including the responsibilities of service providers, the rights of customers, and what happens if they make a compliant, please follow this link to our General Business Support Publications.