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How to get a refund

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Last updated on

03 January 2013

If your Christmas presents consisted of a dodgy snowman jumper, a book you've already read or a CD you wouldn't be seen dead listening to, you might be tempted to take your gifts back to the shop. But what are your rights if you want to get a refund?

Returning unwanted presents

The bad news is if you simply don’t like a present you’ve received or change your mind after buying something, you don’t have any rights to a refund.

Some shops will exchange items – clothes in the wrong size, for example – or issue a credit note, but generally they don’t have to.

The exception is if a shop has a published returns policy. If it does then it forms part of the condition of sale, and is enforceable in court.

Some shops are more generous than others when it comes to their returns policies for Christmas presents. Marks & Spencer, for example, says if you bought something between 1st October and 12th December you can get an exchange or refund up until 15th January.

You’ll need to provide proof of purchase or a gift receipt if you want a full refund or exchange. Otherwise you will be offered a credit note for the value of the goods at the current selling price.

Meanwhile John Lewis has no set time limit for the return of unsuitable products all year round. You’ll need to provide proof of purchase or a gift receipt to get a full refund or exchange.

Online rules

It’s different if you buy things online. Under Distance Selling Regulations, you have seven working days from the date the item was delivered to cancel the order and return the item, even if it's just because you don't like it.

The retailer should then refund you within 30 days of you cancelling the order. However if you’re returning an unwanted Christmas present, it’s likely the buyer, and not you, will receive the refund.

However, the exception here is if the goods were personalised. If you get jewellery inscribed or pay to get a holiday photo made into a canvas print, for example, you won’t be entitled to a refund.

Faulty goods

If you buy something and it turns out to be faulty, you have the right to expect the shop to sort it out either by replacing the product or giving you a refund. Some shops will try to refer you back to the manufacturer but this is wrong: it’s the shop that you have the contract with.

The Sale of Goods Act says that goods must be of “satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable length of time”.

So if you buy something that doesn’t work you have the right to a refund or repair.

The biggest disagreements tend to be over what a “reasonable length of time” means as it’s quite subjective. I successfully argued with Dixons that a £600 TV should last longer than two years when mine broke down – and they coughed up some money for a new one.

Some shops might also try to refuse the return of faulty sale goods, but this is wrong. If the goods are faulty you have the same rights whether you bought them full price or at a discount.

Receipts

Some shops say you can only return goods with a receipt, but this isn’t the case with faulty goods. If there’s something wrong with them you only need proof of purchase which might be a bank or credit card statement.

However, if it’s not faulty, you have no rights unless the store displays conditions saying otherwise. Therefore if store policy says you need a receipt to return something, you’ll have to go along with it.

Late deliveries

If your stocking was looking a little sparse this year due to goods not being delivered on time, your rights depend on what was agreed when you bought them.

You can only complain if you or the retailer specified (and you can prove) that a pre-Christmas delivery was agreed.

If it was then the goods not turning up on time is a breach of contract and you’re entitled to a refund.

More on consumer rights:

The Sale of Goods Act: your consumer rights

Financial Ombudsman Service: how to complain to the FOS

Continuous Payment Authority: your rights

Why extended warranties can be an expensive mistake

What doesn't the Financial Services Compensation Scheme cover?

Your rights when a company goes bust

Sneaky tricks firms use to keep you as a customer

'Price match' and 'money back guarantees': your rights

The most successful PPI complaints

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