My gift: a lesson in the law of returns

By Martin Lewis, December 15, 2011

With Chanucah and Christmas coinciding this year, if you're buying for yourself, family and colleagues, the list could be serious. Far too many people throw cash away thinking "I can always exchange it later".

Often that's just wrong. Shops can be sticklers at this time of year, so the only way to protect your pocket is bone up on your legal consumer rights.

So here's a crash course - these are the 10 things everyone should know about shopping during the festive season.

● You have NO rights if you change your mind

If you buy goods IN-STORE and it's the wrong colour or size, or little Johnny turns his nose up at his gift, you have NO legal right to a refund, exchange or credit note.

Some of you may be thinking, "Surely that's not correct? They've let me do it many times".

Well they may have let you do that, but the legal position is that you've no right to do so. And if they want to choose not to - as is more common during the busy Christmas or January sales periods - they can.

● Buy online or by phone and you've more rights

Many worry about online shopping safety but, in consumer rights terms, it's a boon. The Distance Selling Regulations mean: buy online or by phone and you can change your mind within seven days of receiving goods, even if there's no fault. Just send it back for a refund of the price and delivery charge, though not the cost of returning it.

This is why many people have become "roboshoppers", researching offline, buying online. Mrs MoneySavingExpert often does this for bigger items, going to the store to look and ordering online for extra rights.

● If it's faulty, you always have a right to return

If you buy faulty goods or services, in-store, online or even in a sale or with a voucher, take them back quickly and you've full refund rights – simple as that.

● Learn your 'SAD FART' rights

The real question is - what is "faulty?" To help you remember, I came up with the mnemonic SAD FART.

So, all goods must be: Satisfactory quality, As Described, Fit for purpose, And last a Reasonable length of Time

If not, they're faulty. If you're returning goods, it helps to quote the name of the law this comes from: the Sale of Goods Act 1979, or, for services, the Supply of Goods & Services Act 1982. To help, I've a free mini-wallet "Sad Fart" guide you can download and print at

● Your rights are with the store, not manufacturer

Don't be fobbed off. With faulty goods, if the shop says "send it to the manufacturer", that's nonsense. Legally, your relationship is with the shop and it must sort it, so stick to your guns.

● If it's not faulty, then what it says goes

I often hear: "It wouldn't let me change the colour without a receipt, but I had my bank statement as proof. What are my rights?" Sadly, you've none. Stores are going beyond the law just by giving no-fault exchanges, so if they say a receipt is needed, it is - unless its published returns policy says differently, then it's part of your contract.

● Write 'it's a gift' on the receipt (if it is)

Legally, only the person who bought the gift has rights, so the recipient can't exchange. Many shops ignore this, but, for safety, use a gift certificate or get the shop to write on its copy of the receipt and yours that it's a gift and who for. Rights are then transferred.

● Receipts aren't necessary if goods are faulty

To return faulty goods, any legit proof of purchase, eg, bank statement, should be fine. Yet receipts are easiest (and usually required for no-fault returns), so try to keep them.

● Buying on a credit card gives more protection

Pay on a credit card (not debit, cash or cheque) and if the goods cost over £100, the card company is jointly liable if anything goes wrong - valuable extra protection. Though, of course, do repay in full each month to avoid interest.

● Return faulty goods at speed. When you return goods determines your rights. These are the key timelines:

Under about four weeks for a full refund. You are entitled to a full refund if you have not "accepted" goods - this isn't strictly defined, but a good rule of thumb is within a month. After that , expect exchange or repair.

Under six months and the law favours you. Until then, the shop must prove goods weren't faulty when it sold them. After that period, you must prove they were faulty.

Goods must last a reasonable time. One of the definitions of "fault" is not lasting long enough. As for what is reasonable, I'd say it's reasonable to expect a £1,000 TV to last 18 months, but not a 50p torch.

Those are your rights, but if a shop refuses, the problem is enforcing them. If you're struggling, see my more detailed guide for help.

Last updated: 11:32am, December 15 2011