Know Your Consumer Rights

31 December 2012

Here we are, about to start a whole new year. Have you made any resolutions?Perhaps you're thinking of working off all that food you ate over the holidays. Or maybe you're thinking of getting fit this year. I always think about that one. With emphasis on the word 'think'.

You may have gifts that need to be returned. Perhaps they're the wrong size, or faulty. And what about making planning your new year's resolution for 2013? That was one of mine. I got some fabulous bargains in the end of January sales. People don't seem to want to buy winter gear, so I got a ski jacket for my son for this year for £10 when it was originally £60! And what's more, I not only remembered I had brought it but when the cold weather hit I was actually able to remember where I'd put it!

Whatever you reasons, it is a good idea to make sure you know exactly what your consumer rights are when it comes to shopping. Too many people assume they know, but that won't help you if you're standing in a shop being told by a shop assistant you're wrong. If you want to make sure you're not taken for a ride, you need to know exactly what you can, and can't, expect. Read on to find out more.

Know your returns policy

There different rules if you bought online, compared to buying in a physical store. More about the online rules later. A store isn't obligated to have a returns policy, but if it does then they are obliged to abide by that policy. So it is a good idea to have a read of that first.

There's no obligation on a store to accept a return or exchange if the item is simply not something the person actually likes after all, or is the wrong size. So before you buy a present for someone, such as an item of clothing, check they can return it. We bought a cardigan for my mother in law that is actually too small (although I thought it looked too big!) so even if you think you've got it right you can still be wrong.

Returns policies for Christmas and New Year

Some retailers, especially the bigger chains, have special returns policies for this time of the year.

For example:

  • Amazon: today is the last day of their extended returns policy. An item bought from the 1st of November 2012 can still be returned up to the 31st of December. After this it reverts to the standard 30 day return.
  • Marks and Spencer: their policy is a lot more generous. Items bought from the 21st of September 2012 can be retuned up until  the 15th of January. There are exceptions. Click on the link for full details.
  • Debenhams: I'm not entirely sure what the policy is for buying in store. But on the website it says "throughout the Christmas period online purchases come with a temporary extension to the returns deadline - now up to 28th January 2013 - applicable to anything bought up to the last order date."
  • House of Fraser: Gifts bought after the 30th October can be returned for a full refund until the 9th of January 2013, or for a eVoucher until the 20th January 2013.

Sale of Goods Act

While there's no compulsion on a store to have a returns policy, or to take items back if there's nothing wrong with them, there are obligations they do have to meet.

The process of buying an item from a store enters you into a contract according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979. That contract is with the seller - the store you're buying from. Not with the manufacturer. According to the act, the items you buy must be  as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose.

If you're returning an item because it has a fault, you need to be quick. There's a time limit of two weeks. But don't give up if it is later than that. For the first six months, it is up to the seller to prove that the fault came with the item. In other words, they have to prove it was of satisfactory quality when you bought it, it isn't you who has to prove it wasn't. If the retailer says you caused the fault, then they have to be able to prove that.

You'll need proof of purchase. This is normally the receipt but a credit or debit card receipt may be acceptable too.

If you've bought using a credit card, then you may be able to take this up with the credit card company if the retailer fails to address the problem.

When you've bought online

The rules are a bit different when you're buying online. For the better, I might add.  The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 give you seven working days from the day after the item was delivered to cancel the order. This is for any reason, from the wrong size to simply changing your mind.

The retailer you bought from has up to 30 days from the time you cancelled the order to give you a refund.

There are exemptions though. It doesn't apply to  unsealed CDs, DVDs, computer software or personalised goods.

Trading Standards has reported a huge increase in complaints about items bought from other countries. While that international aspect is a major plus of the internet, it is also a major minus. You're only covered by the rules and regulations of this country while you and the retailer are in this country.

One means of recourse if you've bought online is to approach your credit card company - and this is a good reason to pay by credit card. If you've spent more than £100 on an individual item and things go wrong, the credit card company is jointly liable for any breach of contract.

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