So your gifts aren't worth the paper they're wrapped in...
Did Santa bring you a power drill instead of a PlayStation? And did Aunt Vera shop at Poundland rather than Agent Provocateur? Rob Griffin explains your rights of return
Saturday 26 December 2009
Millions of pounds will have been spent on Christmas presents over the past few weeks but what are your rights when it comes to getting a refund on faulty or unwanted gifts from high street and online retailers?
It's not as straightforward as you might think, says Keith Richards, the author of the Which? consumer guide 450 Legal Problems Solved. Your chances of getting your money back depend on the nature of the problem and the store's policy on returns. "There is a lot of confusion on this point," says Richards. "If there's something wrong with an item then that will automatically trigger consumer rights, but there is no legal requirement for shops to accept returns if you have simply changed your mind."
So what are these consumer rights and how can you improve your chances of getting a sympathetic hearing from a retailer if you take back Aunt Vera's ghastly knitted jumper with Santa's head poking out of a chimney?
Few things are more annoying at Christmas than receiving a gift that doesn't work, or which immediately falls apart. The good news is that you automatically have protection, regardless of whether or not you have splashed out on an extended warranty. Anything you buy, in the high street or online, has to match the description given, be of satisfactory quality, and be suitable for its intended purpose. If not, you are entitled to a refund, repair or replacement.
Also, if a fault occurs within the first six months, the retailer has to prove that the problem was not present at the time of purchase. "Consumers still have rights after six months but the grey area concerns whether they can expect a full refund," adds Richards. One important point to consider is that these legal rights apply only to the purchaser of the product and not the recipient of the gift itself. In practice, however, presenting a receipt is usually enough for a retailer.
"If you can show them proof of purchase then most shops are unlikely to start quibbling over who actually bought the item, but I have known this to become an issue in some situations so it is worth bearing in mind," says Richards.
In most cases you will be able to reach a satisfactory conclusion, but if not you can take legal action through the Small Claims Court. It costs relatively little and you can bring cases in England and Wales for disputes involving sums up to £5,000.
The auction website eBay estimates that a whopping £700m will have been wasted on unwanted gifts this Christmas – the equivalent of £28.53 per person – with uncles, aunts and in-laws most likely to be the guilty parties.
Topping the list of least-wanted presents are power tools and other DIY equipment, home appliances and "experiences", such as a trip in a hot-air balloon. More than a quarter of Britons plan to recycle these gifts by passing them on to someone else. It is a common misconception that you can change your mind and return anything to a shop, but that's not the case. A shopkeeper is under no obligation to refund or exchange a gift just because the person doesn't like it.
"The confusion is due to the fact that so many shops offer no-quibble returns policies, but that is simply a choice made by businesses in the interests of good customer service," says Richards. "There is no legal requirement for them to do so."
That's why it's worth checking at the time of purchase whether the outlet will accept returned gifts, and to keep hold of the receipt just in case. However, what can you do with an unwanted present if returning it is not an option?
You can always sell it online, points out Julia Hutton-Potts, of eBay. With more than 10 million users in the UK, there is a good chance of finding a buyer on the website – no matter how obscure the item. "We all know how it feels to open a turkey of a gift at Christmas, but whether it's the wrong size, a duplicate or just not for you, re-homing an unwanted present means it will find a new owner and you will be able to buy something you want," says Hutton-Potts.
Of course, there are alternatives. You can pass them on to someone else. Websites such as freecycle.org enable you to find new homes for unwanted items. Another is jumbleaid.com, where buyers can get items in exchange for charitable donations. Charity shops themselves are also always in need of good-quality items. Contact the Association of Charity Shops (charityshops.org.uk) for a list of outlets.
It can be very tempting to buy extended warranties and guarantees – especially if you are on the wrong end of a silver-tongued salesman – but you need to think carefully before parting with your money, warns Moira Haynes at Citizens Advice. "You need to consider whether you can live without the item while it is being mended or whether you can afford to replace it," she says. "It's also important to see who is offering the cover and if you'll still be covered if the retailer goes out of business."
Many goods come with a free one-year warranty on top of your statutory rights, which should be more than enough for most situations. However, some policies do offer benefits such as the use of a similar item while your product is being repaired.
These policies range from straightforward insurances to service agreements, so the type of protection offered – and the level of cover this includes – can vary enormously, so if you do want one make sure you shop around for the best deals.
Not only do the same rights apply to buying from online retailers as they do on the high street, but there is also an extra layer of protection in place because you will not have seen the item before you purchased it. In most cases, you have seven working days from the receipt of the goods in which to change your mind and get a full refund. Although you may be asked to cover reasonable costs of return carriage, these should have been made clear in the terms and conditions. To cancel your order, you must tell the seller in writing. If sending a letter, make sure it is mailed by registered post, so you can prove that you sent it and track its progress.
However, it is a different scenario with second-hand goods bought from individuals on auction sites such as eBay. As Richards points out: "The only rights you will have in this case will concern whether the goods bought actually meet the description given."
According to Dan Wilson, the author of Make Serious Money On eBay UK, there are a number of ways to spot potentially dodgy sellers, including inflated postage costs, no photo of the item for sale, or a request to pay for the item with cash. In addition, buyers should consider using the money transfer service PayPal for purchases as this usually offers buyer protection for certain items.
"If a listing on eBay has two or more danger signs then the chances are that it's best avoided," says Wilson. "Some areas are also more risky than others. For example, mobile phones and plasma television screens will attract more fraudsters than stamps or Beanie Babies."
Avoid problems in sales
Whether or not you've had a bad experience buying Christmas presents, it makes sense to be equipped to deal with the annual sales, most of which will start today (Boxing Day) with shoppers expected to start queuing at the crack of dawn.
The good news is that your consumer rights remain exactly the same during the January sales as at any other time of the year. "People will have the same rights to refunds, repairs and replacements as they would on full-price items," says a spokeswoman for Consumer Direct. "If a product is reduced because it's faulty, this should be pointed out to them in advance."
However, in the rush to get your chosen items to the till, it's worth taking a couple of minutes to double-check the store's returns policy and whether refunds, exchanges or credit notes will be made available if you do bring the goods back.
Keep your receipts, as well as any other proofs of purchase, such as bank or credit-card statements. If the item is for someone else, then ask if the shop provides gift receipts that enable the recipient to make a claim against the retailer. Check your items as soon as possible. The quicker you can return a faulty product, or an unwanted one if you have been reassured that the shop will take it back, the better your chances of enjoying a positive outcome.
However, stores do have the right to alter their returns policies, so if you have any queries you can give Consumer Direct a call on 08454 040506 or visit its website at www.consumerdirect.gov.uk.
Buying on credit cards
It's worth flashing the plastic on big-ticket items. For goods costing more than £100 and less than £30,000, a credit card can provide another useful layer of consumer protection as the card provider becomes liable for breaches of contract. Generally, this includes cover in case the goods never arrive, are faulty or not as described, or are damaged.
The protection also applies to purchases where only part of the payment was made by the credit card – even if it was only the initial £10 deposit.
Giving something back: The art of re-gifting
*More than three-quarters (78 per cent) of shoppers think it is acceptable to recycle gifts, with more women than men admitting they are repeat "offenders".
*Topping the UK's list of least-wanted presents are power tools and other DIY equipment, as well as home appliances. More than a quarter of Britons plan to recycle these gifts by passing them on to someone else, or by selling them on eBay.
*A US survey last year found the items most likely to be "regifted" were ornaments and pampering products, such as body lotions and bubble bath. Those least likely to be recycled were hand-made presents and "experience" gifts such as concert and theatre tickets.
*A separate study in 2008 estimated that £48m of unwanted gifts would be on their way to Britain's landfill sites after the festive season.
Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk
The best deals on personal loans: Peer-to-peer providers are more competitive for smaller sums
China stock market: My portfolio's in pain, but it was never for the financially faint-hearted
China stock collapse: Five things you need to know about 'Black Monday'
Questions of Cash: 'Our dividends seem to have disappeared when TSB was bought and then born again'
Bargain Hunter: Groupon has a great deal at Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium
- 1 The difference between a migrant and refugee, in one sentence
- 2 Miley Cyrus calls out hypocrisy of women’s nipples being taboo
- 3 Celebrity Big Brother 2015: Tila Tequila kicked off show after 'describing Hitler as a good man'
- 4 iPhone 5c to be discontinued, no iPhone 6c to replace it
- 5 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Labour leadership: Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'deluding' young supporters with 'claptrap'
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
Iain Duncan Smith calls for urgent ESA overhaul as part of drive to cut down welfare costs
iJobs Money & Business
£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...
£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...
£15000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...
Day In a Page
In a sandbanks location, moments from the beach, this three-bedroom apartment has a large open-plan living area and a south-west facing balcony.
This four-bedroom home has an annexe accessed from the side of the house, with potential for improvement and conversion subject to the necessary permissions.
In the heart of the hamlet of Wardley, this five-bedroom period home offers countryside views and a stylish interior, with original features and open fireplaces.
Offering countryside views and landscaped gardens, this three-bedroom Grade II-listed lodge has a spacious conservatory and a large cellar that could serve as a workshop.
Set in approximately 1.5 acres, this four-bedroom home comes with a second, detached property that's currently used as an annexe.
In the hamlet of Newchurch, this former parish church is now a four-bedroom home complete with clock tower and eyrie.
Offering scenic views from a large balcony and sun terrace, this four-bedroom home has a wraparound garden and a heated swimming pool.
Offering views across the Humber and East Yorkshire Wolds from a glass panelled balcony, this four-bedroom barn-style home befits a life of leisure.
This four-bedroom home offers versatile accommodation with annexe potential; features include a hot tub, sauna and Norwegian BBQ hut.
Well-located for schools, colleges and the town centre, this contemporary thatched cottage offers flexible living space with six bedrooms.
Built in 1907, this four-bedroom Edwardian period home has been refurbished by the current owners, retaining many original period features.
Surrounded by landscaped gardens, this five-bedroom home offers living space across three floors.
This lovely country home in Burnham Market is currently run as a popular holiday cottage, with five en suite bedrooms and colourful gardens.
This three-bedroom 17th-century former village bakery is just a few miles from the East Sussex coast.
Set on a landscaped plot, this light and airy four-bedroom home comes with a log burner in the lounge, a fitted kitchen and an open-plan ground-floor layout.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Built on a former chapel site, this impressive four-bedroom home boasts balconies, stunning views and contemporary modern living.
This three-bedroom house is situated in a quiet mews and set over three floors. Features include glazed staircases and high ceilings.
A period townhouse set over four floors, this five-bedroom home was built in the 18th Century and retains many original features.
With five bedrooms, this spacious home offers beautiful gardens and modern interiors - set within the popular market town of Bingley.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
In the pretty market town of Bungay, this grade II-listed Mill House is arranged over four floors, offering four bedrooms and three reception areas.
This first-floor flat comes with two bedrooms, an impressive open-plan reception room and two lovely roof terraces.
This five-bedroom home comes with a range of outbuildings including a large barn which could be converted into a self-contained granny-flat or rental.
Moored at Taggs Island and reached via a pretty garden, this two-bedroom houseboat has a vaulted reception room and skylit garden studio - currently a beauty salon.
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
A contemporary house spread over three storeys, this three-bedroom detached home has large sliding doors that open out to the River Quaggy.
Moored in Chelsea's Cheyne Walk, this houseboat offers two double bedrooms and a teak deck that's ideal for al-fresco dining.
This former village bakery, dating back to the 17th century, is now a three-bedroom detached home just a few miles from the East Sussex coast.
On the picturesque Isle of Man, this four-bedroom character home has a ground-floor shop that's currently run as a newsagents and a flat that would make an ideal holiday let.
In a new collection of flats, this first-floor two-bedroom apartment offers ample entertaining space and a prime view of Furze Green from a private balcony.
This three-bedroom stone-built cottage currently trades as the village store with a restaurant in the annexe and family accommodation on the upper floors.
Previously two semi-detached properties, this five-bedroom home is spread over three floors with a large breakfast kitchen, orangery, office and gym on the second floor.
This five-bedroom home enjoys countryside views over the Blyth estuary to Southwold, offering flexible living space with a ground-floor annexe - ideal for use as a holiday let.
Close to the market town of Eye, this four-bedroom detached home offers a double-height living room which takes the place of the original, 19th-century, chapel nave.
Dating back to the 19th century, this four-bedroom home needs modernising. Spanning three storeys, the red-brick house has a fireplace, a small terrace and a cellar.
Just outside of Cambridge, this single-storey home offers three double bedrooms, a living room with vaulted timber ceiling and ladder steps that lead to a mezzanine study area.
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn.
A former coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, an attached office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Located beside an impressive Victorian viaduct, this four-bedroom home has an open-plan living area that is glazed on two sides, with skylights and high ceilings.
A former furniture workshop, this three-bedroom home has high ceilings and painted brick walls, in a village setting only fifteen miles from the coast.
This five-bedroom stone townhouse features a pine staircase and an Inglenuk fireplace, double doors from the lounge give access to an enclosed courtyard.
This five-bedroom, detached home blends traditional and modern design; the sleek kitchen features a gas hob and oven set within an exposed chimney breast.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B or countryside retreat, subject to change of use permissions.
This Grade II-listed three-bedroom home is situated on a private road, just a short walk from the sandy beaches of Frinton-on-Sea.
Less than five miles from Malmesbury, this four-bedroom cottage comes with equestrian facilities and gardens that extend to approximately three acres.
Spanning three storeys, this late-Victorian five-bedroom farmhouse is a spacious family home with a modern interior and B&B potential.
With an original church arch, this triplex one-bedroom church conversion has a light, spacious, feel and comes with a secure off-street parking space.