Buying tech in the UK: your consumer rights explained

The consumer laws protecting you from being taken for a ride

There are three kinds of warranties: retailers' warranties, manufacturers' warranties, and extended warranties (such as AppleCare). Most retailers stick carefully to SOGA and tell you to contact the manufacturer in the event of any faults, but some are more generous. John Lewis is one of the best-known examples, and it offers a two-year guarantee on Apple products: if your iMac packs up during that period, you can take it back to the shop for repair. Apple's own warranty is just for one year.

Is it cheating us? Some people think so, pointing to the EU regulations that mandate two-year warranties for electronic goods. However, those regulations cover retailers, not manufacturers, and the UK already has stronger consumer protection in the form of the Sale of Goods Act.

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If Apple is the retailer then it and you are covered by SOGA; where it's only the manufacturer then its standard warranty applies, covering not just defects that are present at the time of purchase (which is what SOGA covers) but any faults that crop up during the warranty period. If Apple has to repair or replace your hardware, the repair and/or parts are guaranteed for the remainder of the warranty period or for 90 days if your warranty has fewer than 90 days before it expires.

No warranty? No problem

Some things are beyond the remit of consumer protection legislation. Dropping an iPhone down the toilet or an iMac down the stairs is traumatic, but of course neither event is covered by Apple's warranty or the Sale of Goods Act. You might be able to claim on your insurance, however, and such insurance tends to come in two flavours: home insurance, or third-party mobile phone insurance.

That latter category might be a policy you've taken out specifically, or something bundled with your bank account. The problem with insurance is that there's usually an excess, and such excesses can make claiming pointless unless you've done some really serious damage.

For example, RBS mobile phone insurance has a £75 excess, while ProtectYourBubble's gadget policies charge £50 excess for iPhones, £50 for iPads and £75 for laptops, plus an additional £25 if you claim in the first three months of a policy. That means there's not much point in claiming for an iPhone 4 screen repair: the excess for that is £50 - £75, and our local indie iPhone emporium will do the job for £35.

It's a similar story with laptops: claiming for a cracked MacBook screen carries an excess of £75 to £100, compared to the £129 our local repairer charges. Our home insurance excesses are even higher, so unless someone sets our iMac on fire before stealing it we're more likely to pay for a repair than claim on insurance.

Insurance is only really appropriate for total loss, then, but it might be sensible to invest in a different kind of insurance to protect you from future faults. One of the most common computer failures is the hard disk, and they cost pennies to replace; it's the data on them that's valuable.

In the long term, an online backup service such as Mozy Home (from £4.99 per month) or an external Time Machine drive might prove to be more valuable and less expensive than any insurance policy.

A whole lotta humbugs

One of the biggest problems with consumer rights is that retailers don't always know what they are. As a result, misunderstandings and flatout lies are sadly very common.

The good news is that there's a law for that too: the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. These regulations make it illegal for traders to make 'restrictive statements', which are statements designed to mislead you about your rights.

Examples include 'no refunds', when the Distance Selling Regulations and Sale of Goods Act entitle you to just that; 'faults not notified within 14 days of receipt cannot be accepted', when SOGA gives you six years from the date of purchase (five years from when the problem is discovered, in Scotland); 'no sale goods exchanged', when SOGA applies to sale goods too, and so on.