Your rights if you change your mind

ShoppingSigned on the dotted line and wish you hadn't? Harvey Jones investigates what rights you have if you've changed your mind.
We've all signed on the dotted line only to have second thoughts the moment we finish scribbling our name. I've done it plenty of times, after buying a pricey new PC, yet another pair of shoes that I knew were too tight for my big flappy feet, and, most terrifying of all, exchanging contracts on a house (my instincts were correct, and I spent £25,000 sorting out the rot lurking in the basement).
So what are your rights if you've put your paw on the dotted line, only to wake up in the middle of the night yelling: "WHAT HAVE I DONE!" The answer depends on what you bought - and where you've bought it.

Stuff in shops
You may be surprised to discover that you have no legal right to return a new kettle, bed, bracelet or Xbox 360 simply because you decide you don't want it after all (unless it is faulty or not fit for purpose). You are at the mercy of the store. Luckily most will give you a refund, or at least a credit note, if you take it back within 28 days.

It is certainly worth checking out the shop's returns policy before you buy.

Note: you can't return some items for hygiene reasons, such as earrings, underwear and bondage accessories.

Buying online
If you're shopping online, by phone or mail order, you are protected by Distance Selling Regulations, which give you a seven-day cooling off period when you can cancel your order without loss.

Seven days isn't long, so don't hang about, and remember this cooling off period doesn't apply when responding to spam messages guaranteeing to make you more attractive to the opposite sex.

Doorstep selling
If you buy something costing more than £35 from a trader who visits your home or place of work, whether you asked them to or not, you are protected by Doorstep Selling Regulations, which also grant you a seven-day cooling off period. Just make sure you are buying from a reputable company that can be traced afterwards.

For a full guide on how to cancel, check out this section of the Citizens' Advice website.

Financial services
You have plenty of protection when buying banking or financial services such as an insurance policy, a credit card, personal loan, pension or ISA. You enjoy a standard 14-day cooling off period, rising to 30 days for life insurance and personal pensions, regardless of whether you bought direct from the bank, by post, or through a broker.

However, your bank or broker is free to deduct reasonable charges, plus a fee reflecting the number of days cover you had.

If you bought an investment fund and stock markets crashed within the cooling off period, you won't get your losses back (unless you can satisfy the Financial Ombudsman Service that you weren't made aware of the risks).

Energy contracts
If you switch your gas or electricity supplier after being cold called by a rival, you have seven days to cancel under the Distance Selling Regulations. But if you agreed the service could start immediately, you will have sacrificed this cooling-off period (a fact the salesman should point out to you at the time).

You also have a seven-day cooling off period if you signed up on your doorstep, under the catchily-named Cancellation of Contracts Made in a Consumer's Home or Place of Work etc Regulations 2008.

Mobile phone contracts
Most people still nip down their high street to sign a new mobile phone contract, but Distance Selling Regulations give you greater protection if you buy online.

If you placed your order by phone, mail or the web, you benefit from a seven-day cooling off period. But if you bought in a store, there's no refund unless your phone turns out to be faulty.

Extended warranties
You will be kicking yourself if you have just been talked into buying a pricey extended warranty on your new fridge or washing machine only to spot an article by Serena Cowdy or Cliff D'Arcy lashing this rip-off cover. The good news is that you are legally entitled to a full refund within 45 days, unless you've made a claim on the policy.

Sadly, if you scrap your warranty and the machine subsequently breaks down, Serena and Cliff don't offer refunds.

Timeshare agreements
If you're insane enough to sign up to a timeshare, a mistake even I haven't made, the Timeshare Act 1992 gives you a 14-day cooling off period, provided you signed the contract in the UK. Many European states offer 10 days.

Having rights is one thing, being able to exercise them quite another. The safest thing to do is not buy at all.

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