What becomes of the broken parted?

Shoppers: do you know your rights? Damaged goods mean a full refund, says Steve Lodge, no matter what the retailer tells you

You Buy something from a shop and almost instantly regret it. But how many people know their rights for getting money back or even just exchanging the item?

With Britain set for a summer spending spree, thanks to the millions of people getting pounds 1,000-plus windfalls from building societies and insurers, some poor purchases are inevitable. Dissatisfied shoppers will in some cases be surprised just how strong their rights are and how well protected they are from themselves, in other cases they may feel cheated.

Regardless of any separate guarantees or warranties, if goods are faulty you are legally entitled to an automatic refund from the retailer - note, not just an exchange or a credit note, but a full refund. And if you pay by credit card and an item costs more than pounds 100 you also have the alternative of claiming the refund from the credit card company, although card companies will almost certainly want you to pursue the retailer vigorously in the first instance.

But if, instead, you simply don't like something you may be surprised at how weak your legal rights are - technically zilch, even to exchange the item. In practice, however, many shops will allow customers to return unwanted items, and with some this will even extend to refunds.

The law (the Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994 is the one to quote) says goods sold to shoppers have to be of "satisfactory quality" and be "as described" (so if they do have defects or they are shop-soiled these should be pointed out). If they are faulty take them back as soon as possible, with a receipt if at all possible (although in theory any proof of purchase should be adequate) and you should be offered a refund. If, for example, clothes wear out or fall apart quickly you should be entitled to a refund based on the "satisfactory quality" test. It does not matter if goods are in a sale or if a shop has a sign claiming no refunds, you are still entitled to the same legal ("statutory") rights.

There are grey areas, however. The law says that goods should be returned within a "reasonable" period but there may be different views on how long this is. The Consumers' Association says that if you buy skis out of season and don't discover they are faulty until the following winter, you should still be entitled to a full refund. But what if something wears out or breaks down - how long have you got? Basically, you should aim to return items as soon as you discover the fault.

Whether a defect is sufficient to entitle you to a refund is also an area potentially open to dispute. If clothes literally fall apart after a week it would seem clear they have failed the "satisfactory quality" test, but what if a button falls off? The fault may not in itself be that great but a consumer might argue that if it was an expensive item of clothing they could expect much better quality for their money, and therefore be entitled to a refund. "The law is not black and white [on small defects]," says Lynn Gould of the Institute of Consumer Affairs.

However for every purchase that proves defective there are likely to be plenty of others, particularly with items like clothes, where you simply change your mind about wanting to keep the item, or where it is an unwanted present. But here you have to rely on the goodwill of the retailer as shops are under no obligation to allow any sort of comeback, nor do they do have to highlight a no-returns policy. That said, many shops do in practice allow returns of unwanted goods. Again, having a receipt will do no harm and will often be a requirement.

Consumer advisers recommend checking a shop's policy on returns when you buy something, or at least getting verbal agreement that if you change your mind about something you can get your money back.

If a retailer refuses to pay up on faulty goods, remind them of your rights under the 1994 Sale and Supply of Goods Act. Failing that, threatening to go to the trading standards department of the local authority may help. As, of course, may a letter to the company's head office, if it is elsewhere. Citizens' Advice Bureau may also be able to help, including giving an outline of the small claims court procedure, even if many people may be inclined to write the money off if it reaches this stage.

q 'The Buyers Guide' is a free booklet produced by the Office of Fair Trading covering buyers' rights. Call 0181-957 5058 for a copy.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
This phoenix rose from the stage at the London Olympics. The insurer grew out of zombie life insurance funds

Phoenix Life: Chance of a refund for overcharged policyholders has risen

A retired adviser got his money back from the insurer after claiming he had been overcharged. Thousands of others may have a strong case
Expect a new wave of fishing expeditions by fraudsters now we can invest our life savings

Cold callers and your pension: watch out for dangerous boiler room scams

Sean O'Grady received a cold call last week that was much more sinister than normal. Yes, someone wants to get their hands on his pension...

Fuel poverty could claim 100,000 lives over next 15 years, warns energy charity

The NHS is currently bearing a yearly burden of approximately £1.5bn treating cold-related illnesses every winter

MPs call for Equitable Life policyholders to be paid £2.8bn owed by government

Hundreds of thousands of people's policies were hit when the mutual insurer almost collapsed at the turn of the century

The elderly woman's family discovered the mistake

DWP criticised after it left a pensioner £26,000 worse off

The Department for Work and Pensions has been slammed after a series of cock-ups left an elderly pensioner £26,000 worse off.

The FCA has today issued a consultation paper on its plans to tighten up consumer credit rules to give consumers greater protection on guarantor loans and in other areas

Payday loan companies must publish their rates, says CMA

A 20-month investigation concluded that a lack of price competition between lenders has led to higher costs for borrowers

Vulnerable consumers are defined as those with poor literacy skills, those who have caring responsibilities, people with disabilities, dementia or the old

Financial companies are not meeting the needs of vulnerable consumers, says City Watchdog

The Financial Conduct Authority said the industry needs to start thinking about solutions to these challenges

The FTSE 100 is inching closer to its record high but can it maintain these levels?

In 1999 stock markets quickly tumbled, losing many a fortune in the process

Tax-free savings: Freedom dawns for the junior savers caught in low-income accounts

The parents of six million children stuck with low-interest saving accounts worth more than £5bn will be able to move the cash from this April. But what are their options? Samantha Downes reports

How much lower will mortgage rates go?

Another day, another cut. As lenders compete to offer the cheapest deals, Simon Read asks if borrowers should jump in now or wait for further falls

Are bills ruining your family life? Try the lover's guide to coping with debt...

If you're in the red and can't find a way out, it's time to get some help. Neasa MacErlean hears that relationships will suffer unless you are open with your partner, but there are organisations that will put you on the right track and get you talking

How to complain: From retailers to energy suppliers, it's easier than you think

When companies let us down, millions of us just take it on the chin. Simon Read shows how to make your voice heard
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Christine McCleave: FP&A Analyst

    £36,000 - £40,000: Christine McCleave: Are you looking for a new opportunity a...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

    £15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

    £50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

    SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

    £20000 - £21000 per annum + uncapped commission: SThree: As a graduate you are...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn