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Returning unwanted presents? Read this first!

Amanda Hamilton 1st Jan 2020 5 Comments

Reading Time: 10 minutes

So, Christmas is over for another year, and hopefully you’re satisfied with the presents you received.

But, let’s be honest, there’s one you probably don’t want, right? One gift that is either random, ugly or just plain faulty.

So can you get a refund?

Whether the gift was bought in-store or online, there are some pretty strong and clear consumer rights relating to returns: the 2015 Consumer Rights Act. This Act was updated to provide clearer shopping rights, especially when returning items bought online, including digital downloads.



Returning items

Woman opening disappointing Christmas present

Shops are required to take back goods that were faulty or damaged before you bought them. So if you take something home and discover it’s broken, the retailer must refund you.

  • However, if you want to return something just because you don’t like it or don’t need it – or it doesn’t fit – the retailer has no legal obligation to take it back or refund you.
  • However, many retailers have returns policies – generally with a time limit – which allow customers to take items back and get refunds, exchanges or credit notes/vouchers. See below for retailers with generous returns policies.
  • Also, be aware that if you don’t have a receipt for what you’re taking back and the item has been marked down in the sale, you will only get back the price on the sale ticket. You won’t get the original amount back. This is particularly annoying after Christmas!


30-day right to reject

Within 30 days of taking ownership, you have the greatest level of consumer protection. If any product falls short of the three criteria above, you can return with a receipt within 30 days for a full refund. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that the 30 days starts from when the item was received by the purchaser (unless otherwise stated), not from when it was gifted to you. So, you may have less time than you think.


Over 30 days ‒ Repair or replace

Just because you are outside of the 30-day window, it doesn’t mean you have to put up with an unsatisfactory, faulty, unfit for purpose or not-as-described gift. First, however, you must give the seller an opportunity to repair or replace the product. You can only claim a refund or discount if the seller’s attempt to repair the item is unsuccessful or they are unable to replace the faulty item.


Within six months

As I’m sure we’ve all found out the hard way, faults sometimes take a few months to develop. One day your new vacuum cleaner suddenly loses it’s sucking power, for example. As long as it’s within six months of the gifter receiving the item, it’s assume the problem was always there and the seller is responsible for repairing or replacing the item. Of course, if you want to keep the product anyway, you can always request a discount on the item.


Over six months

While trickier to prove, you can still make a return claim after six months. You’ll need to somehow show that the item was faulty when it arrived, which may require an expert report or other evidence. One common example is where there is a known fault across the entire range.

The maximum time to claim is six years after receiving the product and you’ll have to go through small claims court in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A bit of a hassle but potentially worth it for more expensive items.


Buying online

Festive man using laptop

Provided that you are buying from a UK-based company, you have exactly the same rights as a high street shopper.

  • In fact, online shoppers have an extra right – if you buy anything online or from a catalogue, you have a cooling-off period of 14 working days from the day of delivery.
  • During this time you have every right to change your mind and ask for a refund – even if there’s nothing wrong with what you’ve just bought.
  • You can change your order for any reason during those seven days. Just bear in mind that you still need proof of purchase – and if the item was a gift, you need to know the date that the buyer received the item.
  • You are also entitled to a full refund if your order doesn’t arrive by the date agreed. If you didn’t agree on a date, you’re entitled to a refund if the goods don’t arrive within 30 days.
  • Your contract is with the seller, not the courier. If there is a problem with the courier – they are late or have damaged the items – you take it up with the seller, not the courier. The seller has to deal with all those issues.


What about digital content?

As consumer goods increasingly come in digital formats, such as music, films or games, you may be wondering whether you can return these intangible products. Fortunately, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 also covers any goods sold as digital data. That means it still needs to be satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described by the seller. If not, you can return for refund, repair or replacement ‒ though you’ll need to keep in mind the same time limits on returns as physical goods.


What if I just don’t want the item?

What if you simply don’t like the item? Say it’s in perfect working condition, came as described, and works for its intended purpose, but it’s just not what you wanted ‒ can you still get a refund or exchange?

The answer is: it depends on the retailer. If you have the receipt, most retailers will still offer a refund or exchange for unwanted goods within a specific timeframe. Check the seller’s website for information on refund and exchange periods. Outside of those timeframes, there is no legal obligation to offer either a refund or exchange on an unwanted item.


What if they refuse to refund?

For difficult retailers, it’s always worth mentioning that you know your rights under the 2015 Consumer Rights Act…that will sometimes do the trick. If they are being particularly stubborn and the item is particularly pricey, then it may be worth getting legal advice.

A qualified and licensed Paralegal is your best bet as they are cheaper yet do much of the same work as a solicitor. Just make sure your paralegal is registered with a professional membership body, such as the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP), to ensure the best service as well as further buyer’s protection.


Relevant legislation

Sale of Goods Act 1979.

Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982.

Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994.

The Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002.

Consumer Rights Act 2015


A closer look – what you need to know

Man looking disappointed with gift

1. Anything you buy must ‘conform to contract’

This means that it must be…

  • As described
  • Fit for purpose
  • Of satisfactory quality

It goes without saying that products should live up to satisfactory quality, be fit-for-purpose and come just as it was described. And that includes digital content. Or course, you may not be aware of the description of a gift, so you will have to check with whoever gifted it to you.

  • Satisfactory quality – The word ‘satisfactory’ is a bit ambiguous here but, generally, products shouldn’t come faulty or damaged unless clearly stated (e.g. selling a broken item for parts). For everything else, it largely depends on the item. Luxury products tend to be held to a higher standard than bargain store items. A frayed stitch on a Gucci bag is a bigger deal than on a market-bought bag, for example.
  • Fit for purpose.  This is much less ambiguous. If the item doesn’t do what it should do, then it’s not fit for purpose. If your new diving mask lets in water, it’s not fit for purpose. If, before buying, your gifter informed the salesperson of a novel use for the item and was assured it would still work, but it doesn’t, that also counts as not-fit-for-purpose.
  • As described.  The least ambiguous of the three. If the product is different from the description provided or models or samples shown before purchase, then it’s not as described. If you’re unsure, check with the person who bought the item.

If your gift doesn’t meet any of the criteria above, then you have a strong claim under the Consumer Rights Act. It’s also up to the seller to fix the problem, so don’t put up with any excuses about sending it back to the manufacturer.


2. Who you need to complain to

Woman on the phone while looking at bad Christmas present

If you buy something that doesn’t ‘conform to contract’ the seller is responsible, NOT the manufacturer.

So – you must complain to the retailer when you discover any problem with goods. Don’t let them fob you off by saying that you need to go to the manufacturers.


3. You need to be quick

Woman unhappy with gift

You can demand your money back within a ‘reasonable time’. This hasn’t actually been defined, but cover yourself by checking anything you buy as soon as you get it home. Complain to the retailer immediately if there are any faults.

If you miss the boat for a full refund (rarely more than 28 days after purchase) some retailers will offer credit notes, or replacements.


4. Who needs proof?

Woman using faulty curling iron

Within the first six months, a store still has to repair or replace the goods without charge, or offer a partial refund. You don’t need to prove that the item was faulty when you got it.

After six months the onus is on you – the consumer – to prove that the goods were faulty when you bought them.


5. You don’t need a receipt


All you really need is proof of purchase, so a bank statement/ cheque stub/credit card slip should be sufficient.

However, it will make your life much easier if you keep receipts for everything you buy and store them in a sensible place.

It’s helpful to attach receipts to the boxes of any goods you buy, so you don’t have to sift through hundreds of receipts.

It may seem a bit cheeky, but at Christmas and on birthdays try asking for gift receipts so that you can easily return any faulty items.


6. Sale items

Sale sign above clothing rack

Shops will sometimes say that sale items are non-refundable – this isn’t true if the items are faulty (unless that was made clear before you purchased the item).

Whether an item is on sale or not makes no difference if the item turns out to be broken.


Credit card spending

Festive woman shopping online with credit card

Section 75 – Consumer Credit Act 1974

This is probably one of the most important laws to know about as a shopper. This law states that if you pay for something on your credit card that costs between £100 and £30,000 your card issuer is equally liable.

It doesn’t matter what you buy – if you use your card to pay for it and it costs at least £100 (to a maximum of £30,000) the company is responsible too.

N.B. You must have spent between £100 and £30,000, but do not have to have paid the full amount – even part of the payment, as little as a few quid, will suffice for a claim.

This sort of protection is especially important. If you buy something and the company goes under, Section 75 protection means that you can claim your money back from your credit card company.


This also applies to items that are bought abroad.

It’s so important to use this protection for expensive purchases – and even if you don’t particularly need a credit card it may be worthwhile getting one just to use for this purpose.

If you’re wary of credit cards, don’t be – as long as you’re sensible you can use them to your financial advantage. Set up a direct debit to pay off the credit card bill every month and you won’t get stung by any charges.

  • Get a cashback credit card – which rewards you with money, airmiles or points which you can redeem against purchases every time you spend on it. Get all the info in our full article on cashback credit cards.
  • Get a 0% on purchases credit card – there are various cards out there which offer 0% interest for as much as a year’s worth of spending. Find out more here.


Who offers generous refund policies?

Amazon – You have 30 days after purchase to return any item, in its original condition, for a full refund. Any seals must be fully intact and clothing must have labels still on. Items dispatched between 1 November and 31 December can be returned up until midnight on 31 January. Their returns policy reverts back to the standard 30-day period for items purchased after December 31.


 Boots – Full refund with proof of purchase for all goods except food, cosmetics and medicine, within 35 days of purchase. You will lose any Advantage card points gained from the purchase.


John Lewis – John Lewis gives you up to 35 days to get a refund or exchange,


 M&S – You can bring your purchases back up to 35 days from the date of purchase. The item(s) must be unused, in the  original packaging and in a re-saleable condition.

Over the Christmas shopping period you have even longer: goods bought from 11 October can be returned up until 11 January.

Toiletries, cosmetics, bra accessories, earrings, food, bedding and made to order items including cushions and curtains are excluded from these ‘goodwill’ refunds.


Lakeland – They give you up to three years to make a return and get a refund! Plus all returns are free


So many major retailers are not expecting you to return those unwanted gifts within the first week of January.  But do your bank balance a favour- take advantage of your rights and take back what you don’t want.


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5 years ago

Returning items always seems to be difficult.

Nicola Lizzielane
Nicola Lizzielane
12 years ago

Really like your website, it is very clear and straight forward to understand.

14 years ago

How do I instigate a claim for non delivery of event tickets purchased witha M & S Credit Card. Total value of purchas £191. Unfortunately I seem to have been scammed.

Jasmine Birtles
14 years ago
Reply to  graham

You should get in touch with your credit card provider, explain in detail the way in which you consider you have been scammed and ask them to pursue the debt. As the amount is over £100 it is the duty of the credit card company to get compensation. This is one of the great advantages of paying for things with a credit card.

mr m ideson
mr m ideson
14 years ago

this website is an absolute must for the shopper

Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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