Faulty receipts that block your right to a refund

Store Owner Counting Receipts for Day

Keeping your receipts - especially for valuable purchases - is the only sensible approach to protecting your rights. That way, if something goes wrong, you can take the receipt in when you return the item, and get a full refund, replacement or repair. The problem is that nowadays something is wrong with the receipts themselves, which is making it harder for shoppers to enforce their rights.

The problem is that the shops are using heat-sensitive paper and thermal printers - which is cheaper than traditional ink receipts, but has a fatal flaw. The printers don't use ink; instead, they use heat on heat-sensitive paper. It means that once they are exposed to light or body heat, they quickly start to fade.

Within a few weeks these receipts can be completely blank, which causes a major headache if you then need to use the receipt to claim a refund or replacement on a faulty item.

The Sunday Times has also highlighted that when you buy an extended warranty on an electrical item, this is also printed on the receipt, which risks going blank too.

What can you do?

If this happens to you, you should take the faded receipt or warranty back to the shop, and explain what has happened. It's worth trying a couple of tricks that have been known to rejuvenate the text in some cases. This includes ironing the back of it, or directing a hot hairdryer at it.

If the text is still there, but very faded, you can photocopy it, but turn up the darkness on the photocopier to its highest setting - so it brings out any text that's remaining.

If you have no joy, it's worth printing out a bank statement showing the transaction and taking it along with you.

If the retailer does not accept this, the Daily Telegraph suggests complaining to the Retail Ombudsman.

It's also worth taking precautions whenever you buy something expensive - by photocopying important receipts, or scanning them into your computer so you have a digital copy.

Keeping digital records should also make it easier to file and find each proof of purchase. Surely it's more sensible than having endless scraps of important paper littering every bag and stack of paperwork around the house - which are quietly fading into uselessness.

Limits to your rights

While these are useful ways to ensure you can take advantage of your consumer rights to a refund, exchange or repair on a faulty item, it's always worth bearing in mind that you're not on such strong ground when you simply change your mind.

In those cases, you should take any receipts, and track down any bank statements, but you should be aware that the retailer isn't obliged to give you your money back. This is entirely up to them, so instead of starting with an angry rant about their faulty receipts, it might be worth going in with an impassioned plea, and a helpful offer to show them a bank statement as proof of purchase.

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The law states that any goods you buy from a UK retailer should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable amount of time.

This applies even if you buy items in a sale or with a discount voucher. You may have to insist on these rights being respected, though.

Useful phrases to use when you want to show you mean business include, "according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979" and, if it's a service, "according to the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982".

Some shops will allow you to exchange goods without a receipt, but they can refuse to should they wish.

If the goods are faulty, however, another proof of purchase such as a bank statement should work just as well.

If you attempt to return goods within four weeks of the purchase, your chances of getting a full refund are much higher as you can argue that you have not "accepted" them.

After this point, you can only really expect an exchange, repair or part-refund.

The updated Consumer Credit Act states that card companies are jointly and severally liable for credit card purchases of between £100 and £60,260 (whether or not you paid just a deposit or the whole amount on your card).

Anyone spending between these amounts on their credit card is therefore protected if the retailer or service provider goes bust, their online shopping never arrives or the items in question are faulty or not as described.

Start by writing to the agency asking it to either remove or change the entry that you think is wrong. It will investigate the matter and find out whether you have been the victim of ID theft or a bank's mistake.

Within 28 days from receipt of your letter the agency should tell you how the bank has responded. If the bank agrees to change the entry, they will authorise the agency to update their records. They should also send updates to any other credit reference agencies they use.

You can also contact your lender directly to query a mistake. If the lender agrees to the discrepancy, ask them to confirm this in writing on their letterhead and send a copy to the agency, asking them to update your file.

The FOS settles disputes between financial companies such as banks and consumers.

If a financial organisation rejects a complaint you make about its services, you can therefore escalate that complaint to the FOS - as long as you have given the company in question at least eight weeks to respond.

The FOS will then investigate the case, and could force the company to offer you compensation should it see fit.

Bailiffs are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.

They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles. However, they cannot take essentials such as fridges or clothes.

What's more, they can only generally enter your home to take your stuff if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.

You are therefore within your rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity. If they try to force their way in, you can also call the police to stop them.

Private sector debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, whatever they tell you.

They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.

In fact, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt. As with bailiffs, you can also call the police if you feel physically threatened.

Thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations, you actually have more rights buying online or by phone than on the High Street.

You can, for example, send most goods back within a week, for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault.

You will usually need to pay for the return delivery, though. The seller must then refund you within 30 days.

We enter into contracts all the time, whether it be to join a gym, switch energy supplier or take out a loan.

In most cases, once you've signed a contract, you are legally bound by it. In some situations, however, you have the right to cancel it within a certain timeframe.

Credit agreements, for example, can be cancelled within 14 days. And online retailers must tell you about your cancellation rights for any contract made up to stand up legally.

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