Dec 18

Returning unwanted presents? Read this first!

Reading Time: 8 mins

January is traditionally the time to take some gifts back or make the most of the sales, before we all have to get back to work!

Whatever you’re doing in the shops, though, remember your rights. You do still have all your usual legal rights, even with sale goods. Find out here what you’re entitled to and how to protect your money- and see how clever spending on a credit card can protect your money.



Your rights at a glance

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, do 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!


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.


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

‘As described’ means that the product should meet the purpose of its design and match the description given by the retailer.


‘Fit for purpose’ means that the item must be able to perform its function correctly – i.e. an iron needs to be able to iron out creases.

It also needs to meet any extra functions that the retailer brings to your attention. For example, if a jacket is described as beige 100% cotton it must be exactly that, or the retailer has broken its contract. For more information on how to avoid being ripped off, see our Scamwatch article.

‘Satisfactory quality’ refers to both minor defects like scratches and larger problems like broken parts. It also covers the durability of any product i.e. how long you might reasonably expect something to last.

This is a fairly murky part of the act – and as such there is no steadfast rule about how long any particular item should last. However, use your common sense. A pair of shoes may reasonably have a life span of around six months – but an iron should last for at least 12 months.


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 2012 and 31 December 2012 can be returned up until midnight on 31 January 2012. Their returns policy reverts back to the standard 30-day period for items purchased after December 31 2012.


 Boots – Full refund with proof of purchase for all goods except food, cosmetics and medicine, within 28 days of purchase.     You will lose any Advantage card points gained from the purchase.


John Lewis – John Lewis abandoned its 28-day policy earlier this year in favour of a ‘never-ending’ returns policy with no time limit.  So even if you don’t visit a John Lewis store very often, claiming a refund or gift vouchers (if you don’t have proof of purchase) should be a doddle. You must return the item in undamaged packaging and if the product isn’t returned in a re-saleable condition they have the right to refuse the return altogether.

This doesn’t apply to food, flowers or made-to-measure goods.


 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 21 September can be returned up until 15 January 2013.

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


Lakeland– Another company offering no time limit on refunds as well as free return postage for unwanted goods.


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.


Useful Links


Leave a Reply

Notify of

Returning items always seems to be difficult.

Nicola Lizzielane

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


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.


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

this website is an absolute must for the shopper

Related Articles


Make Money and Save Money

ideas for everyone

Send this to a friend