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; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown
- 1 Russell Brand accuses FOX News anchor Sean Hannity of terrorism after aggressive Israel-Gaza debate
- 2 Pope Francis issues top 10 tips for happiness
- 3 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 4 The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
- 5 Now diplomacy has failed, boycotting Israel might be the only way we can protect the people of Gaza
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
Land for gas: Merkel and Putin discussed secret deal could end Ukraine crisis
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse'
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – Britain as others see us
- < Previous
- Next >
iJobs Money & Business
£28000 - £32000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manage...
£20000 - £24000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider of web based m...
£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Secretary (Sales Team Support) - Mat...
Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an Assistant Management Ac...
Day In a Page
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village
A secluded seven-bedroom detached house with large private garden, £490,000
A three-bedroom cottage overlooking Sarratt village green with open fires and solid oak floors
A three-bedroom maisonette flat in a Grade I-listed, Georgian townhouse in a sought-after location
A one-bedroom apartment located within a private gated development, north of Turnham Green
Look forward to a brighter future at two-bedroom Sunny Cottages, ideal for Londoners looking to downsize
A three-bedroom red-brick cottage with outbuildings and pretty gardens, £200,000
This three-bedroom flat within a former textile factory spans the corner of the fourth floor and has a balcony
A charming four-bedroom Oxfordshire cottage with oak floors and chunky-beamed ceilings, £465,000
A beautiful one-bed flat in a sought-after portered block, with access to Norland Square communal gardens
A one-bedroom flat within a Sixties school conversion with high-spec design and open-plan kitchen, close to Lambeth North Tube, £435,000