By Amanda Hamilton, CEO of National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP)
Phew…Christmas is over for another year. All that planning, all those gifts, and it’s all finished so fast. Hopefully, you received some lovely gifts from some great friends and relatives this year. But I bet there was at least one bogey in the punchbowl. A gift that is either random, ugly or just plain faulty. You may be asking yourself, can I get a refund?
The short answer is: not without a receipt. Of course, you could keep those feelings of goodwill alive a little longer by donating it to a local charity shop. Even if it’s not for you, there’s someone out there who will love it!
If an item is broken or faulty, however, it’s always best to ask for the receipt and get it replaced (or returned if you actually don’t like it). You may also feel confident enough to ask for a receipt for an unwanted item or your gifter may have been kind enough to include a gift receipt.
With a receipt in-hand, it’s a totally different story. Whether the gift was bought in-store or online, there are some pretty strong and clear consumer rights relating to returns: the 2015 Consumer Rights Act. This Act was updated to provide clearer shopping rights, especially when returning items bought online, including digital downloads.
Quality of the Product
It goes without saying that products should live up to satisfactory quality, be fit-for-purpose and come just as it was described. And that includes digital content. Or course, you may not be aware of the description of a gift, so you will have to check with whoever gifted it to you.
● Satisfactory quality. The word ‘satisfactory’ is a bit ambiguous here but, generally, products shouldn’t come faulty or damaged unless clearly stated (e.g. selling a broken item for parts). For everything else, it largely depends on the item. Luxury products tend to be held to a higher standard than bargain store items. A frayed stitch on a Gucci bag is a bigger deal than on a market-bought bag, for example.
● Fit for purpose. This is much less ambiguous. If the item doesn’t do what it should do, then it’s not fit for purpose. If your new diving mask lets in water, it’s not fit for purpose. If, before buying, your gifter informed the salesperson of a novel use for the item and was assured it would still work, but it doesn’t, that also counts as not-fit-for-purpose.
● As described. The least ambiguous of the three. If the product is different from the description provided or models or samples shown before purchase, then it’s not as described. If you’re unsure, check with the person who bought the item.
If your gift doesn’t meet any of the criteria above, then you have a strong claim under the Consumer Rights Act. It’s also up to the seller to fix the problem, so don’t put up with any excuses about sending it back to the manufacturer.
Just remember to provide the receipt to the seller. You should also try and claim as soon as possible as there are certain time limits placed on returns…
30-day right to reject
Within 30 days of taking ownership, you have the greatest level of consumer protection. If any product falls short of the three criteria above, you can return with a receipt within 30 days for a full refund. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that the 30 days starts from when the item was received by the purchaser (unless otherwise stated), not from when it was gifted to you. So, you may have less time than you think.
Over 30 days ‒ Repair or replace
Just because you are outside of the 30-day window, it doesn’t mean you have to put up with an unsatisfactory, faulty, unfit for purpose or not-as-described gift. First, however, you must gift the seller an opportunity to repair or replace the product. You can only claim a refund or discount if the seller’s attempt to repair the item is unsuccessful or they are unable to replace the faulty item.
Within six months
As I’m sure we’ve all found out the hard way, faults sometimes take a few months to develop. One day your new vacuum cleaner suddenly loses it’s sucking power, for example. As long as it’s within six months of the gifter receiving the item, it’s assume the problem was always there and the seller is responsible for repairing or replacing the item. Of course, if you want to keep the product anyway, you can always request a discount on the item.
Over six months
While trickier to prove, you can still make a return claim after six months. You’ll need to somehow show that the item was faulty when it arrived, which may require an expert report or other evidence. One common example is where there is a known fault across the entire range.
The maximum time to claim is six years after receiving the product and you’ll have to go through small claims court in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A bit of a hassle but potentially worth it for more expensive items.
As consumer goods increasingly come in digital formats, such as music, films or games, you may be wondering whether you can return these intangible products. Fortunately, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 also covers any goods sold as digital data. That means, it still needs to be satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described by the seller. If not, you can return for refund, repair or replacement ‒ though you’ll need to keep in mind the same time limits on returns as physical goods.
As you can see, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 is a very helpful piece of legislation. Consumers are protected from faulty, unfit or not-as-described goods, digital content and services. But what if you simply don’t like the item? Say it’s in perfect working condition, came as described, and works for its intended purpose, but it’s just not what you wanted ‒ can you still get a refund or exchange?
The answer is: it depends on the retailer. If you have the receipt, most retailers will still offer a refund or exchange for unwanted goods within a specific timeframe. Check the seller’s website for information on refund and exchange periods. Outside of those timeframes, there is no legal obligation to offer either a refund or exchange on an unwanted item.
For difficult retailers, it’s always worth mentioning that you know your rights under the 2015 Consumer Rights Act…that will sometimes do the trick. If they are being particularly stubborn and the item is particularly pricey, then it may be worth getting legal advice. A qualified and licensed Paralegal is probably your best bet as they are cheaper yet do much of the same work as a solicitor. Just make sure your paralegal is registered with a professional membership body, such as the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP) to ensure the best service as well as further buyer’s protection.