Rights do not come off with the gift wrapping: You are entitled to a refund for a duff present, writes Sue Fieldman

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IF YOU receive a faulty present, the right to complain - legally and sometimes embarrassingly - remains with the donor of the gift.

'The person who bought the presents should go with you to the shop so that you can complain together,' said a spokesman for the Office of Fair Trading.

Sound financial advice in theory. But in practice can you really face asking your aunt where she acquired those florid floral cushion covers, how much she paid for them, and could you both trot off to the shop to complain about the splitting seams? And worse, she might insist on a replacement rather than a refund.

Under the Sale of Goods Act there are three rules. An item must be of merchantable quality - in simple terms it must not be broken or damaged; goods must correspond to the description given by the seller on the label or packet; and they must be fit for any use you specify to the shop.

Generally if any of these rules are broken and you return the goods immediately, you are entitled to a full refund. Alternatively you could keep the item and get a cash repayment for the difference between what you paid for the goods and what they are worth.

You may agree to a repair or a replacement, but the choice is yours and not one that can be imposed by the shopkeeper.

You do not need to accept a credit note for faulty goods. If you do and later cannot find anything to buy, it may be difficult to get your money back.

Some traders try to wriggle out of their obligations if you cannot produce a receipt.

Keith Richards, a senior lawyer with the Consumers' Association, said: 'You can offer some other evidence as proof of purchase - a cheque stub or credit card voucher, for example. The shop may also be able to recognise the goods, so even if you have lost the receipt it is still worth complaining.'

It is the retailer's responsibility to sort out your problem. He cannot pass the buck on to the manufacturer.

However, a request for a refund for unwanted underwear or surplus socks will fall on deaf ears. Shops are under no legal obligation to give refunds just because a recipient does not like or want a present.

If a shop does offer cash in these circumstances, it is purely a goodwill gesture - take the money and run. And do not turn your nose up at a credit note or straight exchange.

A guarantee is in addition to your legal rights, which do not run out when the guarantee does. It is up to you whether you use the guarantee or not. If the fault is fairly small you might not have the right to a refund and the guarantee could then be useful.

If you used a credit card to buy your presents, then provided the item cost more than pounds 100, you have the right to claim money back for faulty goods from the credit card company in addition to the retailer. Some cards also provide automatic insurance cover for purchases.

If you use your Barclaycard for items costing between pounds 50 and pounds 15,000, you get free cover against theft, loss or accidental damage for 100 days after purchase. The scheme covers presents, but it must be the cardholder who claims.

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