Ian Hunter looks into consumers' rights and finds that even Christmas presents must be of reasonable quality
It is bad enough trying to decide what to buy friends and relatives for Christmas, without having to cope with the Action Man that malfunctions or a "size: small" fisherman's smock that would look big on a trawler.

Under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, recently amended, goods must be of "satisfactory quality". This replaces the old definition of "merchantable quality", and is good news for consumers as it means that they can reject goods which, although technically fit for the purpose, are not of a standard that a reasonable person would consider satisfactory.

If presents are not satisfactory buyers can claim a refund, provided they act within a reasonable period of time. There is no definition of reasonable, but buyers should act as quickly as possible. Failure to act may result in losing the right to reject the goods. This leaves buyers with a claim restricted to damages to make good the defect.

Given that the right to seek a refund rests with the buyer, it is important, when buying presents, toretain the receipt. Goods should also be fit for their purpose, and comply with the description provided by the packaging, the advertising or the salesperson.

It is an offence under the Trade Descriptions Act for stores to make false claims regarding their goods. Complaints should be submitted to the local trading standards officer.

Many leading stores provide guarantees of their own. These guarantees are a supplement to rather than a substitution for statutory rights. The guarantees usually provide for money back or exchange of goods. Certain conditions must be complied with. Normally the goods must be returned within strict time limits, in the original packaging, with the receipt as evidence of purchase.

Extra cover, particularly on electrical goods, is often provided by the manufacturer's guarantee. Study the terms carefully. And consider paying for expensive presents by credit card. Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 provides that credit card holders making purchases of pounds 100-pounds 30,000 should have an equal right to pursue the credit company if the goods or services fail to meet expectations. Charge cards organisations such as American Express are not subject to this obligation, but will often treat complaints sympatheticallyn

If the present is a turkey ...

Always keep the receipt.

Complain as soon as possible, and stop using the product if you want to return it.

Statutory rights constitute your minimum protection. Do not be fobbed off.

Ask to speak to someone in authority who can take a decision.

Keep a record of all conversations and correspondence.

If all else fails, start an action in the small claims court, which will hear applications in respect of claims of up to pounds 3,000.

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