Monday 23 September 2019

Know your rights on refunds: why returning those unwanted gifts may prove harder than you thought

Unwanted presents: Everyone always seems to get at least one unsuitable gift each Christmas. Stock picture
Unwanted presents: Everyone always seems to get at least one unsuitable gift each Christmas. Stock picture
Sinead Ryan

Sinead Ryan

You might only own it less than a day, but if those woolly Santa pyjamas just aren't you, or the lovely stripy scarf you received as a gift yesterday has unravelled, then you'll be considering bringing it back for a refund or credit note.

But it's not that simple, unfortunately. Many people over or underestimate their rights when it comes to returning goods. The law, however, is quite clear.

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Put simply, you cannot exchange an item simply because you don't like it. This is true whether you buy it yourself or receive it as a gift. Many stores are very good at allowing refunds or exchanges, even during sales, and that can lead us to believe it's an automatic right, but it's not.

If a shop has offered a gift receipt with the item, this is tacit agreement that it will, in fact, treat returns sympathetically.

If the item is damaged, not as described or not fit for purpose, you have statutory rights (under the 'Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act 1980', strengthened by EU legislation 'EC Directive 99/44') to return it for repair, replacement or a refund. Your rights exist for up to six years, but are far stronger in the first six months, and apply irrespective of whether you bought the item at full price or in the sale. The store will ask for proof of purchase but this does not have to be the original receipt - evidence of the transaction on your bank app or credit card bill is fine.

Online returns

There is better news for items bought online, at least within the EU. In recognition of the arms-length nature of the transaction, you can cancel any purchase for any reason within 14 days, with another 14 days to actually return it. However, the person who bought it must do this, which may lead to an embarrassing conversation.

You'll also have to pay for postage if necessary.

There are some exceptions to this right including (fairly obviously) perishable or personalised goods, and tickets to events or hotel bookings.

Perhaps consider re-gifting later in the year to someone else, for a birthday perhaps, if you don't want all the hassle of returning.

Price reductions

If you're heading into the sales this week, hopefully you will already have scouted some bargains.

To qualify as a 'sale' price, an item must have been marked at the original, higher price, for a minimum of 28 days. The ticket must show the original and discounted price.

Shops are allowed to (and liberally do) plaster windows with "up to" notices to entice you in, which will be in very small print, with a huge 40, 50 or 60pc figure discounted. They do not have to offer all their goods at the same discount, and indeed, if you find an errant garment on a '50pc off' rack, only to be told it's new stock, or isn't reduced, that's the shop's right too, if it was clearly a mistake. What they're not allowed to do is 'bait and switch', offering, say, a TV for €200 only for you to discover they have none on sale, but you are 'offered' another, more expensive model.


Most of us will have got at least one gift voucher yesterday. Although legislation is due in to extend expiry dates to five years, it's not here yet. Up to 20pc of vouchers are never redeemed. Shops can set pretty much any terms and conditions they like. Some of the more annoying ones I've come across are:

:: 'Inactive balance fee' which some retailers impose after 12 months of non-use - an automatic monthly deduction of €3 or more, for absolutely no reason, until the entire value is stripped away;

:: No change on purchases, even in other vouchers (this will be addressed in the legislation);

:: Not allowing you to use two vouchers against one purchase;

:: To top it all, if the shop closes down while you still have the voucher, chances are you'll go to the end of a very long queue of creditors.

Irish Independent

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