Which? Legal advice on Christmas gift returnsReturns policies and statutory rights explained

26 December 2008

Unwanted Christmas gifts that don't quite hit the mark can be harder to return than people might imagine, according to Which? Legal Service, the telephone advice service from consumer organisation Which?.

If an unwanted Christmas gift was bought on the high street, consumers have no legal right to return an unwanted Christmas gift just because they don't like it. 

This means that, after Christmas, even if you have a receipt for an unwanted Christmas gift, shops could reserve the right to refuse a refund, exchange or offer of a credit note. 

Each store is likely to have its own returns policy - particularly when it comes to items bought before Christmas - so shoppers could face a whole host of different refund rules in just one trip.

Returning faulty goods - your rights

Regardless of a shop's own returns policy, on Christmas gifts or any other item, people shouldn’t be stuck with faulty items. Under the Sale of Goods Act, consumers currently have the right to ‘reject’ an item that is not of ‘satisfactory quality’ within a limited time – usually a few weeks.

Which? Legal Service offers the following advice to people looking for refunds on unwanted Christmas presents after Christmas:

  • Check the retailer's returns policy Any returns policy in a store can be as strict as the store wishes so it should be read carefully. Many shops will refund, exchange or give credit notes as a gesture of goodwill.
  • Take the receipt It's always best to keep the receipt, but you can still try to return goods using any proof of purchase, including a bank statement or credit card bill.
  • If you don’t have the receipt and the Christmas sales are on? Don’t expect a full refund if the item you want to return has been reduced in the Christmas sales and you don’t have proof of purchase.
  • Stand your ground If goods are faulty, not fit for purpose or not as described, you can return them to the retailer under the Sale of Goods Act as long as this is done in a reasonable time.
  • Not all goods are refundable Many items often bought as Christmas presents - such as CDs, DVDs and computer games - can be refused a refund if they are no longer sealed.

Buying online

The above tips on returning unwanted Christmas presents apply no matter where the Christmas gift was bought, but Which? Legal Service also offers specific advice for returning unwanted Christmas gifts that were bought online:

  • When you buy online, check who pays for postage and packaging on returns If you shop online the website’s terms and conditions should say who is responsible for paying postage on unwanted returned goods. If they don’t say, they pay.
  • Know your online rights Purchases made online, by post or by phone benefit from a ‘cooling-off period’, starting the minute you place the order and ending 7 working days the day after receiving the goods, during which time you are free to cancel.

Which? in-house lawyer Chris Warner says: 'There’s nothing worse than getting excited about opening your presents on Christmas morning, only to find that your new electric shaver doesn't shave and your mixer doesn't mix - it should be a given that if something doesn't work, you can return it and get your money back.'

Which? legal service

Which? Legal Service, set up 38 years ago, offers subscribers unlimited consumer legal advice from qualified lawyers for less than £1 a week.

The telephone service covers a wide range of everyday topics, from employment issues to holidays from hell, cowboy builders to speeding fines and how to return faulty goods.

For more information about Which? Legal Service, visit www.whichlegalservice.co.uk or call freephone 01922 822 828.

Which? advice on your shopping rights 

For more information on refund rights for unwanted Christmas gifts, take a look at the Which? guide to returning unwanted gifts - including return policies from the likes of John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Amazon. Which? Online also has an explanation of the Sale of Goods Act, plus how to deal with online shopping and mail order problems.

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