The end of this month sees a change to the regulations governing the sale of goods in the UK. The adoption of a new EU directive means that the UK Sale of Goods act will be subtly amended in favour of consumers.

EU Directive 1999/44/EC comes into force on 31 March and the main changes it will make are to shift the burden of proof regarding faulty goods from the consumer to the seller within the first six months after purchase. Consumers will also be able to seek repair, replacement or full or partial refund on these faulty goods.

"The new regulations are extremely good news for consumers", says Maggie Gibbons-Loveday, chairman of the Trading Standards Institute. "I believe they put into law what is currently considered 'good practice'", she explained.

Andre Patel from the Consumers' Association. agrees: "It is a very practical and valuable approach to most people's consumer problems". But he says that in the UK the move "doesn't change the standards very much, it more harmonises the rules of other countries, so people know wherever they buy in EU they have the same level of protection.

To obtain a full refund on faulty goods you will have to return goods pretty quickly, as you will only be entitled to this if you take goods back "within a reasonable time of sale", which is not defined in law, but on the DTI's website is described as "often quite short", and Patel says is around two weeks in most cases. But you can claim for a "reasonable amount of compensation", after up to six years from purchase.

If you are seeking a full refund or compensation you will also have to prove the goods were faulty at point of sale. But if you request a repair or replacement, or if this is denied a full or partial refund, within the first six months after purchase you are no longer required to prove the fault was present on purchase, as this is assumed unless the retailer can prove otherwise.

While the new regulation may shift the responsibility of proving goods were not faulty at point of sale onto the retailer, this doesn't mean consumers should not be wary, as the rules do not apply if the goods were obviously flawed.

This means that if you buy a PDA with a cracked screen, for example, you can't return it and expect a refund or repair, as you bought it in full knowledge of the problem. But if it was boxed up and you only saw the crack when you unpacked it at home, you've got a far stronger case.

Also you cannot expect redress if the damage is due to fair wear and tear, an accident of misuse, nor if they simply decide they no longer want the goods.

One area that may be of particular interest to those who buy custom specified computers direct, is that which allows buyers to request repair, replacement, partial or full refunds under the following circumstances:

— where installation by the retailer is not satisfactory
— where installation instructions have serious shortcomings
— generally where a good does not match the public statements made about it by the retailer, manufacturer, importer or producer
— where a specially commissioned product has relevant failings

So PC manufacturers had better brush up on those Taiwanese English setup guides and make sure what's delivered to your door meets up with the specification you ordered.

For more information on the Sale of Goods Act and the new directive click here.