Carpet stirs up a stink: The contract is with the retailer on faulty goods, writes Sue Fieldman

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WHEN Gwendoline Gizzi bought a new carpet, which gave off an appalling smell, she decided she could not just sit back and do nothing.

Mrs Gizzi, who is 82 and disabled, lives in a retirement flat. Last year, she bought carpets for both her bathroom and bedroom from Cromar Carpets of Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, and was delighted with the results.

On March 25, 1993, she bought a sitting-room carpet costing pounds 228.

When the carpet was laid, there was the most terrible smell. Mrs Gizzi's home help immediately contacted Cromar, which sent someone to the flat and said the smell should pass. It did not. A few days later, her family also complained. Her daughter said: 'I have never smelt anything like it in my life. It was like rotting dead bodies.'

There then followed negotiations between Cromar and the manufacturers. The manufacturer offered first pounds 10 and then pounds 20 compensation. Their final offer was pounds 30 or a new carpet.

In law, if you have a problem with an item you buy, your contract is with the shop, not the manufacturer.

According to Rebecca Evans, a barrister for the Consumers' Association: 'A lot of retailers try to insist that the customer take the problem up with the manufacturer, and most people's gut reaction is to agree. But your rights are against the shop.'

If items are faulty, then tell the shop at once. If there is a serious problem, reject the goods immediately and ask for your money back.

If a shop tells you that the problem will get better and you decide to stick with the situation, put in writing that you are not happy with the goods and that you reserve the right to reject and get your money back.

Alternatively, if you and the seller both agree, you may have a replacement or a free repair.

'If you have suffered a foreseeable loss directly caused by the breach of contract, then you can claim damages,' Ms Evans added.

'How much you get is a subject for negotiation. But keep all bills that prove any loss or increased costs and claim for these as well as an extra notional sum for inconvenience and suffering.'

In this case, the shop, Cromar, dealt directly with the manufacturer on Mrs Gizzi's behalf. A spokesman said: 'We do not see how we can improve on an offer to replace the carpet or pounds 30 compensation. There will be no inconvenience to Mrs Gizzi if the carpet is replaced.'

A useful free booklet 'How To Put Things Right' is available from the Office of Fair Trading, PO Box 2, Central Way, Feltham, Middlesex TW14 OTG.

(Photograph omitted)