Returning goods: know your consumer rights

Caroline Cassidy

Pic: Getty

No matter how well thought out your Christmas list, there are always going to be gifts, either given or received, that don't quite fit the bill.

So when all the festive fun is over, many of us will be left with the prospect of returning or exchanging those unwanted pressies. Here's what you need to know about your rights when it comes to returns.

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Under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, there are a number of rules that sellers must adhere to. Goods sold must be "as described", which sounds obvious enough, but it's worth remembering that your "100 per cent silk" shirt must be exactly that.

"Satisfactory quality" is a little trickier to deal with, but essentially if the goods you have paid for are in a state that any reasonable person would accept, the retailer is not at fault. Similarly, anything you buy must be "fit for purpose" and last for a "reasonable length of time".

If you want to return an item that is not faulty or covered by the above, it may still be possible. Each store has its own returns policy, which is usually displayed on receipts or on signs in-store or online, but it's always best to return non-faulty products within 28 days to give you the best chance of a refund.

Faulty goods
Proof of purchase is essential if you are returning faulty goods - if the buyer doesn't have the receipt a credit or debit card receipt, or even a bank statement can also be used. While you do have the same rights if the receipt is lost, many retailers will insist on proof. In the case of faulty items, it is important to return as soon as possible as that makes it easier to get a refund and remember - you are under no obligation to accept a credit note, vouchers or repairs as long as you have returned the goods within a reasonable time (usually within four weeks).

The wrong size
If you've received clothes as Christmas gifts, they can often be the wrong size or the wrong colour. Though you have no legal right to a refund or replacement, many stores have a "goodwill policy" which means they will offer a refund, credit note or exchange within a specified period, even if there is no fault with the item.

Non-returnable items
While most stores will accept non-faulty returns in many cases, provided they are unused and in their original packaging, there are some exceptions. DVDs, music and computer software generally won't be exchanged or refunded if the seal or packaging has been broken, and if you have ordered a personalised or made-to-order item, you'll probably struggle to get a refund.

Buying online
If the unwanted gift was bought online, you actually have more rights thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations. This means you have a legal right to send most goods back within a week (even if there is no fault with the item). Though that may be difficult because of the Christmas period, online retailers would have to offer a full refund, including outgoing delivery costs, if returned within this time.
"Buyer beware" - that's the rule when it comes to eBay. If you have bought an item from an eBay "trader" then you can assume the same rights that are applied to shop-bought items but buy from a private seller, and as long as the item is "as described" there is little you can do in terms of getting a refund.

Who's responsible?
If you return a faulty item, some underhanded shops may try and tell you that they are not responsible and that you must contact the manufacturer - it's not true, the retailer is responsible for whatever they have sold and must solve the problem.

Have you ever had trouble returning an item? Leave your comments below...