BRIXTON LEGAL: Returning purchases

Pam Douglas, Wainwright&CumminsPam Douglas is a solicitor with local firm Wainwright & Cummins. Each month, she takes a common enquiry and asks colleagues to answer it for readers

For a change, I thought it might be helpful to move away from the big legal issues and focus instead on the smaller, annoying stuff that we all have to deal with in our lives. Now that the festive season is behind us and we’ve had a chance to clear away the debris, many of us will be wondering what to do with that unwanted but well-intentioned gift.
Unwanted Christmas gifts
Photo: Angelina Litvin Unspash

Many large retailers will allow you to return the gift and either exchange it or provide you with a refund or credit note – some until the end of January.

But, when purchasing items yourself, please note, there is no automatic right to a refund just because you do not like an item or you have changed your mind. So you should check the store’s exchange policy before you buy.

But if you have bought something that turns out to be faulty or not fit for purpose (and you did not realise that when you bought it), here is a brief explanation of your rights on the high street. (Please note that the rules are different for purchases online).

Two statutes give consumers a right to redress.

If the item was purchased before 30 September 2015, then the Sale of Goods Act applies. After that date, it’s the Consumer Rights Act. I’ll assume that we are talking about a recent purchase.

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, retailers only have to offer a refund, replacement, repair and/or compensation when an item is:

  • Faulty;
  • Not as described; or
  • Does not do what it’s supposed to

If you spot that there is such a problem within 30 days of buying something, you can insist on a refund. Outside of this time and for up to six months, you are entitled to a repair or replacement.

The choice of repair or replacement is yours. Most retailers are very reasonable, but some will try to fob you off by talking about the guarantee period or saying that the responsibility lies with the manufacturer and you should contact them. But the truth is that the retailer is responsible and you should insist on your rights.

If an item is more than six months old, the redress procedure is more complicated and you have to prove that the item was faulty at the time you bought it. This could be easy if, for example, you have bought something and put it away to give as a gift. But, in other cases, it could mean you have to have it checked by an expert and submit a report. You have six years in which to bring a claim to court.

Understandably, in all cases, retailers are entitled to ask you for proof of purchase, but this can be a bank or credit card statement, so don’t panic if you’ve lost your receipt.

Finally, I’m sure, like me, you’ve noticed some shops that have signs up proclaiming “NO REFUNDS OR EXCHANGES”.

Well, if a sign misleads customers by giving the impression that their legal rights can’t be upheld it might be in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.

That’s a criminal offence punishable by an unlimited fine, so retailers, please beware.