Consumer Rights: Know your rights before that big shopping spree

Retailers are obliged to issue refunds or replacements if your purchases are not up to scratch – but not if you simply have a change of mind

I 've done it again: bought bargains in the sales only to realise later that I'll never wear them, use them or give them as presents. I have no right to a refund or an exchange because there's nothing wrong with them; I've simply changed my mind. The retailers have no obligation whatsoever to take them back and there was no agreement that they'll exchange them out of the goodness of their hearts. So I'm stuck with my ill-judged spending decisions.

If a retailer offers you something at a reduced price in a "sale", you have the same rights as you do if the goods were full price. You are entitled to a refund if they are faulty, don't do what it says on the tin, or are something other than they were described.

You can expect nothing from the retailer unless it was agreed when you handed over your money that you could have a refund or replacement if you just changed you mind, or a notice displayed in the shop said so. If that's the contract, you can have a refund if you return things unused within a certain time.

Some retailers do give refunds when they have no obligation to. Others allow you to bring things back and exchange them. If you think you might change your mind, buy from a shop that has a good refund or exchange policy.

On the other hand, there are retailers who refuse to give you a refund on goods even though you're entitled to it. They often use the "sale" as an excuse to claim they don't have to refund or exchange sale goods under any circumstances. That's not true. Just because goods are in a sale doesn't mean you don't have your usual rights. If they are faulty, not fit for the purpose they're sold for or not as described, you should stand your ground.

It's one thing knowing your rights; it's another having to argue with a retailer who is equally determined not to give you those rights. If you get nowhere, you can claim in court, but that's a last resort. Before that, talk to the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0845 404 0506 or your local authority Trading Standards Department.

If the goods cost more than £100 and you bought them with a credit card, ask the card provider to pay up instead. It is jointly liable and must compensate you if the retailer won't or can't. Sales goods are often sold as "imperfect". If it's pointed out to you that goods have faults and you choose to buy them at the sale price, you can't ask for a refund on the grounds they're less than perfect.

You may be offered credit to help you buy sales goods. If you pay for goods or services on credit and things go wrong, you may be able to claim compensation from the credit company instead of the firm that sold you the goods or services.

To claim the price of any single item, it must be over £100 but not more than £30,000. If the credit company won't accept responsibility, complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service. You have the right to cancel a credit agreement within 14 days, and you don't have to give a reason. Notify the lender in writing as soon as you know you want to cancel. After 14 days, any rights you may have to cancel will be spelled out in your contract and will depend on the type of credit you agreed.

If you breach of your credit agreement (for example, you don't keep up your payments), the creditor must send you a default notice telling you what action it intends to take.

Remember you aren't automatically entitled to credit. If you want to take out a credit agreement or a store card to pay for goods, there's a lender in the background ready to hand over the money to the retailer.

However, they have the right to check your credit history and decide whether you're likely to repay the loan. If they decide you're too much of a risk, they can refuse you credit. You don't have to be told why but you must be told of any credit-reference agency they used.

Three agencies collect and store information on everyone's financial situation. You can check with them that information on your file is correct: Experian 0844 481 8000, experian.co.uk, Equifax 0844 335 0550, equifax.co.uk, and Callcredit 0870 060 1414, callcredit.co.uk.

Online, mail order and TV shopping channels also have sales, and if you prefer to buy goods that way the distance selling regulations give you extra protection. You're entitled to information about the seller, including an address. Your right to cancel lasts from the moment you place your order until seven working days after you receive your goods. If they are faulty, or you're sent a substitute you don't want, the retailer must pay return postage costs. These rights apply as well as those you have if you buy in a shop. If your goods are faulty or don't match the description given, you have the same rights to a refund or replacement as when buying over the counter.

Some goods you can't return if you simply change your mind, including CDs, DVDs or software if you've broken the seal on the wrapping, perishables like food and flowers, tailor-made or personalised goods, underwear and earrings. So whether you're paying cash or buying on credit, know your rights before you buy. Otherwise like me you'll end up with few bargains and no rights. But the charity shops will be the winners.

*

Q: I have enough money for a deposit on a flat but I can't afford a big enough mortgage to buy in my area. A friend suggested I look for a shared ownership flat but I'm not sure whether I'd qualify. Is shared ownership a good option for a first-time buyer?

BN, Hertfordshire

A: Housing Associations offer shared ownership schemes. You buy a share of the home and pay rent on the rest. You can buy a quarter to start with and then buy more shares as you can afford it. The amount of rent goes down the more you buy but, of course, if you need a mortgage to buy your share, then the mortgage repayments will go up the more you buy.

You can buy a shared ownership home if you earn £60,000 a year or less, you're a first-time buyer, you used to own a home or you rent a council or housing association property. If this appeals to you be very careful when working out what you can afford. All shared ownership properties are leasehold. That means you'll be asked to pay a service charge as well as the mortgage and rent.

When you come to sell, your shared ownership homes could have been overpriced when first sold so it can be hard to get your investment back.

moneyagonyaunt.com

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