The point of no return?

‘Tis the season to be jolly – make sure you know your consumer rights, Lesley Purveur tells June Rowlands, and you will be!

It’s Christmas morning, the tree lights are twinkling on a pile of discarded wrapping paper, the kids are already making short work of the selection boxes and you’re surrounded by perfect presents. Or are you?

We’ve all been there at one time or another, doing our best to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ convincingly over one particular gift when deep down what we’re really thinking is ‘When do the shops re-open so I can take it back?’

“Under the Sale of Goods Act – or the Distance Selling Regulations where items have been bought online, over the phone or by mail order – if something’s faulty, not as described or not fit for purpose you have a statutory right to take it back and ask for a full refund,” says Lesley Purveur, a partner and head of Dispute Resolution with Larken & Co Solicitors.

“You should be able to return it without a receipt, although you must be able to provide some form of proof of purchase, and you don’t need to go back to the manufacturer or accept a credit note.

“And if you’re the one making the purchase, it’s worth bearing in mind that you have additional protection when you pay by credit card. However, there are restrictions here – this only applies when the price of a single item is over £100 and less than £30,000.”

But things aren’t always quite so clear cut when it comes to returning a present simply because you don’t like it.

According to a recent survey by consumer champions Which?, 53 per cent  of people questioned didn’t know they had no legal right to return an unwanted gift.

“There’s nothing in law which says a shop has to take back a present you don’t want,” says Lesley. “However, many high street retailers have returns policies which give you more than just your basic legal rights, offering you a refund, an exchange, a credit note or a gift voucher.

“If a shop has a returns policy, it must be adhered to and details must be readily available on its website, printed on receipts, on signs in-store or from its customer services department.”

The good news is that, at this time of year, even retailers who don’t have an established returns policy may enter into the festive spirit by offering to take back unwanted presents as a goodwill gesture.

Either way, don’t leave it too long – there’s usually a time limit within which you have to act. Again, some shops may go the extra mile here by extending that limit around Christmas to allow a few extra days for you to return a gift.

What’s more, some of the bigger stores now offer gift receipts at the time of purchase, something that’s worth asking about if you’re the one doing the giving and in any doubt about how well it might be received!

“It goes without saying that the goods must be in perfect condition and that they haven’t been used,” comments Lesley. “And don’t forget to check the returns policy too for the inevitable exceptions to the rule, as many retailers understandably refuse non-faulty returns in certain instances.”

Generally speaking, you won’t be able to send back perishable items such as food and flowers; if you’ve taken a DVD or a computer game out of its plastic wrapper, don’t be surprised if the shop won’t give you a refund; and if an item has been made to order or personalised, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to return it.

“Know your rights, check the small print on the returns policy and do everything you can to comply with its conditions,” advises Lesley.

“And if all else fails, you could always donate that unwanted gift to your favourite local charity and give someone else a belated happy Christmas!”

This story was previously published in the November/December issue of Around Town

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