Personal Finance: No legal right to change your mind

A good return: it is business rather than the law that prompts stores such as John Lewis to offer quibble-free exchanges or refunds DILLON BRYDEN

SOME STORES have built their reputation on a customer-friendly approach to giving money back. Everyone makes mistakes, from clothes that don't look right to a sofa that won't fit through the door.

Marks & Spencer operates one of the best-known returns policies. It will give customers refunds, no questions asked, as long as the goods are in reasonable condition. Customers with receipts can have their money back in cash or refunded to their plastic cards; customers without a receipt will receive credit vouchers. Other leading stores, including Gap, John Lewis and Ikea, have similar policies.

Unfortunately, some companies' generous returns policies have given consumers a false sense of security. Companies that offer "no quibble" returns do so because it is good for their business, not because the law requires them to. Legal protection only applies to consumers who buy faulty goods, not goods they don't like.

"The devil in this is companies that let you take goods back if you change your mind," explains Harriet Hall, legal officer at the National Consumer Council. "You can't do that unless the retailer tells you that you can. They haven't broken their contract.

"Goods have to be safe, fit for purpose and durable, bearing in mind the price you paid for them," she says. "That is your legal guarantee."

The "fit for purpose" rule also includes any particular purpose the shopkeeper mentions either voluntarily, or because the shopper asks. A shopper who takes a purchase home and finds it does not work or is not "fit for purpose" has a right to a refund.

As long as he or she complains to the seller promptly, there is no obligation to accept anything other than cash, even if the shop offers a repair, replacement or credit note. This applies even if the goods were in a sale, but not if they are described as imperfect in some way, such as shop soiled.

These basic rights have a time limit. They apply until the buyer "accepts" the goods; this happens automatically after a "reasonable" period of time. There is no fixed legal definition of how long this is, as it depends on the product, but if there is a problem, it is worth telling the shop immediately.

If goods are unsafe and cause an injury, or damage costing more than pounds 275, buyers have rights against the manufacturer. Otherwise, the complaint is always with the shop, whatever the shopkeeper says.

Once a consumer has accepted the goods, he or she is only entitled to compensation, not a refund, if the product fails. This normally means a repair or the cost of a repair. Usually, it is less trouble to claim under the manufacturer's warranty. This might also be more generous, offering a full free replacement. Outside the warranty, consumers still have statutory rights.

A court might decide that a washing machine that failed after 54 weeks in normal use was not durable enough to be of satisfactory quality - but few consumers would relish the inconvenience and expense of legal action to prove it.

the knowledge

Warranties and return policies often state: "This does not affect your statutory rights." This means what it says. Whatever the benefits of the warranty, consumers still have rights under law (with the shop, not the manufacturer).

If you are unsure whether something is suitable, ask about the refund policy before you buy. If you buy something that is unsuitable or if it fails, tell the shop quickly: delaying reduces your rights.

The same rights apply to sale goods - but shops are free to exclude sale items from extra benefits such as no-quibble refunds. There is no need for a receipt in order to return goods, but proof of purchase, such as a credit card slip, will speed up matters.

Suggested Topics
Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee Recruitment Consultant Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

Recruitment Consultant - Soho - IT, Pharma, Public Sector

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000 first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

Sales Executive

£20 - 24k (Uncapped Commission - £35k Year 1 OTE): Guru Careers: We are seekin...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week