What are your refund rights?

Millions of us have received an unwanted Christmas present or bought something we later regret in the January sales, but do you know what your rights are when it comes to getting a refund?

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Rather than pushing that unwanted jumper from granny to the back of your wardrobe, or throwing out the bargain skirt which doesn’t look quite as good on you as it did on the hanger, check to see if you might be able to return them and get a credit note or your money back.

Here, we explain everything you need to know about when you are - and aren’t - entitled to a refund or exchange....

I really hate the clothes I’ve been given for Christmas, can I exchange them or get a refund?

You have no legal right to a refund or replacement if something is the wrong size, colour or style, for the simple reason that there is nothing actually wrong with the goods.

Most shops, however, do offer ‘goodwill policies’, whereby, provided you have a gift receipt, they will agree to exchange what you have been given, or give you a credit note.

You must usually return the goods within 28 days, although this varies depending on the shop.

Shops are only able to give a refund to the person who actually bought the gift and, as the recipient, you will either be offered a credit note or the opportunity to swap the item for something else.

What if I don’t have a receipt for an unwanted present?

If you weren’t given a gift receipt, you may still be able to swap your unwanted present for something else. Shops can often use their discretion and agree to an exchange or credit note, even though you have no legal right to one.

Marks & Spencer, for example, says it will allow items to be returned without any receipt provided they are returned within 35 days of purchase, and you will be offered a credit receipt or exchange to the value of the last known selling price.
Debenhams will also accept items without proof of purchase, provided they are returned within 28 days, and says it will let you exchange them at the current or last selling price for an alternative product.

Similarly, John Lewis will let you exchange unwanted items without a receipt provided they are still in the condition they were when you received them. Customers have until the end of January to exchange their presents for something else.

If you return a gift purchased for you at Amazon.co.uk, you'll receive a gift certificate for the value of your return, which you can use as part or full payment for future purchases. You must pay the cost of returning the item and items must be sent back by January 31.

Amazon says it won't let the person who sent you the gift know about your return, so they will be none the wiser.

Remember that no stores are likely to offer refunds or exchange for toiletries, earrings or food, for hygiene reasons. Similarly, you won’t be able to return items that have been personalised especially for you.

Do I have fewer rights if I’ve bought something in the January sales?

Contrary to popular belief, a shopper’s rights are exactly the same during sale periods as they are at other times of the year.

When you buy goods from a shop, regardless of whether or not they are in the sale, you are entering into a contract that is controlled by the Sale of Goods Act 1979.

What this means is that any items you buy should be of satisfactory quality, fit for the purpose for which they are sold, and as described by advertising or on the packaging. If, when you get your purchases home, you discover that they are faulty, or are not as described, then you are legally entitled to a refund, replacement or repair. Always hang on to your receipts as proof of purchase.

You also have rights under the Misrepresentation Act. For example, if you have been told something factual about goods that made you decide to buy them, but which turns out to be false, then they have been misrepresented to you and you are again entitled to your money back.

What about things bought in the sales that are faulty?

Some sales goods may be reduced because of slight defects, so check carefully before buying. The shop is not obliged to give you your money back if you are want to take something back which is faulty if the fault was pointed out prior to purchase, for example, on a sign or label.  

Although your statutory rights are not affected when buying sales items, stores do have the right to alter their returns policies during sales periods.

This means you might have to return items within a shorter timeframe than usual if you want a refund or exchange, or you might not be able to return sale items at all, unless they are faulty.

Most shops will have a sign at the till showing their sales return policies, so check carefully before buying.

What if I can’t get a refund, credit note or exchange?

If you aren’t able to return an unwanted Christmas present or item bought in the sales, you might want to consider selling it on the online auction site eBay.co.uk or via the free classifieds website Gumtree.com.

Alternatively, you could think about giving any unwanted items as Christmas presents next year – just make sure you don’t end up giving the same present back to the person who gave it to you.

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