nidirect teamed up with Consumerline, part of the Trading Standards Service, to hold a one-hour live webchat on Thursday 14 January to answer your questions. Questions and answers from the webchat are available below.
Welcome to nidirect's first webchat. Consumerline's Stephen Thompson is available to answer your questions on returning unwanted Christmas presents.
Question: I ordered something online and it wasn't here in time for Christmas. Am I entitled to a refund, as I had to buy another pressie? I know the weather was bad but that isn't my fault.
Stephen Thompson: It depends when you ordered the goods and if any specific promise of delivery for Christmas was made. If no specific delivery time was specified in the contract, the Distance Selling Regulations state that goods should be delivered within 30 days.
If you order goods online, in most cases you have an automatic right to return the goods for a refund, provided you let the trader know within seven working days from the day after delivery that you wish to cancel your order. Online traders must advise you of your right to cancel.
There are a few exceptions from this right to cancel - for example perishable goods, goods made to your specific requirements, or CDs/ DVDs which have been unsealed by the consumer.
Question: I bought something on an auction website and when it arrived it was not as detailed. What can I do now?
Stephen Thompson: It depends. If the seller is a trader, and is based in the UK, the Trading Standards Service may investigate any breaches of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations which might have occurred.
These regulations prohibit traders from misleading consumers. You would also have a right to take a civil action against the seller if the goods were not as described.
In the first instance you should contact the seller and ask for a refund. If that doesn't work, you could consider taking action in the Small Claims Court.
Question: I was given, as a Christmas present, a coat which was too big. When I went to return the coat with the receipt, the coat was reduced from £140 to £85. The shop assistant said that I could exchange the coat, but I think I am entitled to exchanging the coat for the correct size and the £55. Can you let me know what I am entitled to, and also after what time limit is the receipt invalid? The coat was purchased on Christmas Eve.
Stephen Thompson: You are not legally entitled to anything if you have received a present which was too big. You would certainly not be entitled to get a replacement coat plus £55. If the trader has offered to replace the coat with one which is the correct size, I would advise you to accept their offer, as they do not have to do this.
Many shops will have a refund or exchange policy which goes beyond consumers' legal rights, but they can impose their own terms and conditions on these policies.
There is also the added problem in that you are unlikely to have a legal contract with the trader - usually it is only the purchaser who has any legal rights with the trader.
Question: I have a query which is personal and quite complex. What is the best telephone number to call for advice and is it a premium rate number?
Stephen Thompson: Call Consumerline. The telephone number is 0845 600 6262, which is charged at local rates. It’s not a premium rate number. Alternatively you can call us on 028 9025 3900, which is a Belfast telephone number, and may well be cheaper depending on your call package. Both numbers will take you to a Consumerline advisor.
Question: I bought a Christmas present for my wife. When she tried the blouse on it was the wrong colour and size. But thankfully I kept the receipt -previous experience taught me well! I brought it back to the shop for a refund because there was nothing else she wanted in the shop and she really wants a blouse. The shop has said that they will give me an exchange or a credit note but not a refund. Is this legal?
Stephen Thompson: You would not be entitled to a refund unless the goods are faulty or mis-described. If you simply have bought the wrong item, the trader does not have to even offer you an exchange or credit note, although many traders have policies which go beyond consumers' legal rights.
Question: What's the score if you have a gift you want to return but don't have the receipt?
Stephen Thompson: You really are relying on the goodwill of the trader, and on whatever refund policy the trader may have in place. There is no legal requirement for a trader to give a refund for unwanted Christmas presents, unless they happen to be faulty or mis-described.
Question: I've been given a gift which I want to return and preferably would like to get the money back, but I don't have the receipt. I want to know what I am entitled to, when the gift is now on sale at a lower price.
Stephen Thompson: You really have no legal entitlement to a refund, exchange or even a credit note. You will be relying on the goodwill of the trader.
Question: I bought gifts for friends and family which unfortunately were the wrong size. I cannot find the receipts for these purchases, where do I stand in terms of consumer rights? It’s not that I want the money back, but wish to change the sizes. However, if these items are not available for exchange, what do I do?
Stephen Thompson: You will be relying on the goodwill of the trader in these circumstances. The trader can impose such terms and conditions as he sees fit on returning goods, provided the goods are not faulty or mis-described.
Question: I received a pair of boots as a Xmas present. They cost £140. At no time was my partner advised that they were ex-display and the right boot was distressed and damaged, including having the leather loop pull ripped off. We asked for a refund but were advised that the time for returning Xmas presents was the previous week (we weren't told this at the time of purchase) and that it was not shop policy to refund on goods that could be replaced or repaired. Due to the shop's insistence, reluctantly we accepted a credit note but are not happy with this given the goods were clearly damaged. The boots were returned 23 days after purchase.
Stephen Thompson: In these circumstances, you may well have been able to insist on a refund, depending on the timescale. Basically the law is that if goods are faulty, and you return the goods to the trader before you have legally "accepted" the goods, you would be entitled to a refund. However, whether you have legally "accepted" the goods does depend to some extent on when the items were actually purchased.
We would always recommend that you examine goods as soon as possible after purchase to ensure that the goods are in good condition, and we would always advise consumers to contact the trader as soon as possible if a fault is discovered.
Traders cannot have a policy where they will not refund money in any circumstances, and if this is the case, I would suggest you contact Consumerline to let us know the identity of the trader.
It will be difficult now to insist on a refund, as you have, albeit reluctantly, accepted the credit note. You say that your partner asked if there would be any problem with getting the boots changed, but many traders will exchange in circumstances where they are unwilling to refund.
Question: I wish to know what my rights are in relation to an MP3 player (received on 13 December, having been dispatched by post on 26 November) that I bought online which, when received, was not what I had expected. On contacting the retailer to arrange return I was informed that there would be a 30 per cent re-stocking charge. I consulted their terms and conditions of sale and these do not have any reference to such a charge. I understand that consumer regulations provide that goods returned within seven days should be refunded in full.
Stephen Thompson: The Distance Selling Regulations give consumers additional rights when buying goods online. These include a right to return goods within seven working days (starting from the day after the goods are received) for a full refund. The only cost you should incur, if you have just changed your mind, or the goods are not quite what you expect, is the cost of returning the goods. If the goods were not as described, you should not have to pay for the cost of returning the goods either.
The trader should not be imposing a re-stocking charge, and if the trader is based in the EU, you should report the details to Consumerline. It becomes a little more difficult if the trader is based outside the EU as, although you may have the same entitlement, exercising your rights becomes much more difficult.
Question: I bought my son a CD from a large supermarket chain for Christmas, and he doesn't like my choice. I have no receipt, what are my rights?
Stephen Thompson: You have no legal right to any form of redress in this situation. The goods are not faulty, so the shop does not have to refund or exchange, even if you did have a receipt.
Question: I bought a gift from a large toy store. I want to return it but I have no receipt.
Stephen Thompson: You have no legal right to any form of redress in this situation. The goods are not faulty, so the shop does not have to refund or exchange, even if you did have a receipt. However if you have some sort of proof of purchase, such as a bank statement or perhaps a shop label on the goods, you could certainly approach the store to see if they will offer an exchange or credit note. You will be relying on the trader's goodwill and their policy in relation to returns.
Question: I purchased a lava lamp from a well-known toy shop a few days before Christmas for my daughter. The lamp is faulty. Unfortunately I have lost the receipt for it – can I take it back for a replacement?
Stephen Thompson: If the goods are faulty at the time of purchase, you should return the goods to the store as soon as possible, for a refund or replacement. You will need some proof that you bought the lamp from that trader. A receipt is obviously the best proof of purchase, but other proof of purchase, such as a bank or credit card statement may also be considered to be acceptable.
Question: I received two now unwanted CDs at Christmas which were bought in a large supermarket. I have tried to return them but the supermarket says they don’t accept returned CDs due to copying/ piracy. Are they within their rights- their disclaimer at the customer service desk states they MAY refuse to accept returns on CDs but there is nothing about this at the CD sales display. Personally, I think it’s because they reduced the CD prices after Christmas.
Stephen Thompson: You have no legal right to any form of redress in this situation. The goods are not faulty, so the shop does not have to refund or exchange, even if you did have a receipt. It is common practice for traders who do normally exchange goods as part of their goodwill policy to exclude CDs, DVDs and computer software from those policies, due to the fact that these items can be easily copied.
Question: A friend purchased a clock from a jeweller the week before Christmas knowing that they had a returns policy for unwanted gifts.
When my friend was making the purchase she was provided with a voucher for money off a future purchase. She tried to return the clock and obtain a refund two days after Christmas. The shop manager pointed out that she had been given a voucher and that she had to return the voucher if she wanted a refund on the clock. He pointed out that the fact that she had been issued the voucher was included as a line on the receipt. This was not pointed out at the time of sale and no mention was made of the need to bring it back to get a refund when the purchase was made. The receipt had no mention of the shops returns policy on it at all.
We queried that there had been no mention of the need to return the voucher at the time of sale. We also asked for confirmation of what the shops returns policy was as we were unable to find the written returns policy in the shop. The manager confirmed that they refunded items which were unsuitable within 30 days of purchase and that there was no mention of the need to return the voucher in the policy (which was in a cabinet somewhere in the shop).
He subsequently made the refund begrudgingly and noted that he had refused to refund a lot of people in the same circumstances in the previous few days.
Stephen Thompson: The position here is that the trader is doing more than they are legally obliged to do by having a returns policy for unwanted gifts. They can attach whatever terms and conditions to the policy they see fit. If the trader agrees to refund for unwanted goods, it would seem reasonable to ask for the voucher back as well.
A consumer should not be better off than before the transaction took place, especially when the trader is implementing a policy which is over and above what they are legally obliged to do.
Question: I bought a purse as a gift for a relative in April 2009 from a local shop. I discovered that she already had a purse similar to the one I had bought and returned the purse to the shop within a week with the receipt. I was informed that it was shop policy not to give back money, but a credit note. Recently I decided to buy a handbag for myself and use the credit note.
When I tried to use the credit note I was informed that it was stamped that it could only be used to buy items at full price, and as I had chosen a bag at 20% off I was unable to use the credit note. The credit note is stamped ‘full price items only’ I didn't buy the bag and still have the credit note. I feel that, as the credit note is my money, I should be allowed to spend it as I chose in the shop, but would like to know what the legal position is.
Stephen Thompson: As the trader is doing more than he is legally required to do by giving you a credit note, he can impose terms and conditions on the use of that credit note.
Question: I want to know what you're entitled to when you want to return a gift which is now on sale at a lower price.
Stephen Thompson: If you are returning the goods simply because they are unsuitable, you are relying on the trader's goodwill for any sort of refund or exchange. The trader has no legal obligation to do anything in these circumstances.
The webchat session is now closed. Thank you for your participation.