Sunday 22 January 2017

Can a shop refuse to give me a refund for faulty jacket while its sales are on?

Fergal O'Leary - Your Questions

Published 03/01/2016 | 02:30

As an export market, Greece is worth £1 billion a year to the UK, representing just 0.3% of overseas sales
As an export market, Greece is worth £1 billion a year to the UK, representing just 0.3% of overseas sales

I went back to a well-known retail store to return a jacket which had a broken zip. I had bought it as a present for my husband.

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The store was having its Christmas sale and refused to discuss giving me a refund or repair - saying that it did not accept returns during their sales. It had signs up in-store saying this also.

Can it refuse to accept a faulty item during a sale?

Peggy, Dundrum, Dublin 14

It can be confusing to know exactly what your rights are during a sale, particularly if shops display signs saying you cannot return items during the sales or get a refund. However, you have the same consumer rights during the sales as you do at any other time of year.

So, if you buy an item and it turns out to be faulty, you are entitled to a repair, replacement or refund - depending on what the fault is.

You did the right thing by returning the jacket to the shop you bought it from as it is the store's responsibility to resolve the issue for you. The seller's obligations do not change if there is a sale on and it should not use this as an excuse. The shop can ask you for proof of purchase, such as a receipt or bank statement if you paid by card.

On a practical note, however, it is probably easier to speak to a manager in the shop at a time when it is not dealing with the pressures of the Christmas sales.

Try speaking to the manager if you go back to the store, show them the faulty zip and explain that you are entitled to a repair, replacement or refund under consumer law.

If you are unhappy with the response the retailer offers, you should make a formal complaint to it in writing. Further details on how to complain to a retailer are available from the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission's web site at www.consumerhelp.ie.

I am living in fear of my credit card bill arriving after I got carried away in the Christmas sales. I cannot check my balance online - but I do know that I spent very close to my limit.

I am now starting the year with a massive debt that I cannot clear even when I am paid. What sort of plan should I put in place to get me back on track?

Declan, Cootehill, Co Cavan

Overspending on credit cards is very easy to do but also very expensive - the interest rate charged on credit card balances can range from 13pc to 23pc.

While it is tempting to simply repay the minimum amount each month, by doing so you are being charged a high rate of interest on the outstanding balance and increasing the amount of time it will take you to clear the debt.

There are a number of things you can do to reduce your balance. Some credit card providers charge no interest on balance transfers for a period of time, so it might be worth checking if you can switch to a card with a zero or lower rate of interest. If you choose this option, aim to pay off as much as you can before the low rate offer runs out - and try to avoid using the card as it will take longer to clear.

If you cannot switch, consider getting a personal loan either from a bank or a credit union to pay off your balance. However, it is essential that any loan used in this way has a manageable repayment amount and term.

Consider cancelling your credit card altogether so that you aren't adding to the balance. If you need a payment card for booking flights online, you could use your debit card if you have one.

Alternatively, keep your credit card but leave it in a secure place rather than bringing it out with you where you might be tempted to use it.

I recently tried to use a voucher I had been saving for a rainy day only to discover that an 'inactivity fee' had significantly eaten into my balance. It appears I am being punished for not using the voucher quickly enough.

Are shops allowed to do this?

Jean, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow

The simple answer is yes. When someone buys you a gift of a voucher from a shop, the shop will attach terms and conditions of use to the voucher. Once an individual has agreed to buy the voucher, he has also agreed to the terms and conditions and is bound by them.

Terms and conditions are set at the company's own discretion and if you agree to the voucher without being aware of the conditions, you are still bound by them. The conditions can include details on expiry dates, fees - and whether or not you can only use the voucher in one go or over a number of times.

Should the retailer impose a fee for you not using the voucher within a certain time-frame, this should have been detailed in the voucher's terms and conditions.

So it is always very important to check the terms and conditions of a voucher - and if you are buying one for someone else; make sure they are aware of them.

I bought a newspaper in my local shop last week and noticed I had been short-changed. The amount was very small - I was owed 12 cents change and got 10 cents instead.

I queried this with the shop assistant who said that it was a new rounding initiative that had been recently introduced by the Government.

I have not heard anything about this and find it strange that shops have the right to short-change me. Is this a new practice?

Ian, Rathfarnham, Co Dublin

A rounding scheme has been launched by the Central Bank to reduce the amount of 1c and 2c coins being produced as consumers often don't use them after they receive them in change. This will bring down the cost of producing currency. The cost of producing these coins exceeds their face value - for example, a 1c coin costs approximately 1.7 cent to mint, according to the Central Bank.

Rounding works by rounding change up or down to the nearest 5c. For example, if something cost €1.07 and you gave in €1.10, then you should get back 5c, rather than 3c.

Rounding only applies to cash payments and participation is voluntary for both the retailer and the consumer. On this basis, there is no reason for a retailer not to accept 1c or 2c coins as these coins will remain in use and if you wish to receive your 1c or 2c change, the retailer should provide this to you.

You can learn more about rounding on www.betterallround.ie or if you have a specific query, you can call the Central Bank on 1890 777777.

Email your questions to lmcbride@independent.ie or write to 'Your Questions, The Sunday Independent Business Section, 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1'.

While we will endeavour to place your questions with the most appropriate expert to answer your query, this column is a reader service and is not intended to replace professional advice.

Fergal O’Leary is Director of consumer help and communications at the Competition and Consumer Protection

Commission

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