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Your refund rights explained

Alicia Babaee, Consumer Finance Specialist
Written by Alicia Babaee, Consumer Finance Specialist

11 August 2020

When you buy something online or in store, you’re taking a leap of faith. But what if you change your mind? Is the company refusing refunds? It’s vital that you know your consumer protection rights.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 sets out refund rights for consumers. These include:

  • You have 30 days to return faulty goods and receive a full refund

  • You’re entitled to ask for a refund or price reduction after one failed attempt by the retailer to repair or replace a faulty item. Or you can request another repair or price reduction at no extra cost

  • No deductions can be made from a refund within the first six months after purchase, except for motor vehicles.

You can read the full details of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 at Gov.uk.

Reasons you might want to return an item

There are lots of reasons why you might want to return something. Here’s a rundown of some of those reasons, and your rights in each situation.

Changed your mind

If you’ve bought something in a shop but got home and changed your mind, you’re not automatically guaranteed to get a refund. Retailers each have their own policy on unwanted goods. Some give a full refund and others might just offer an exchange or gift voucher, but these are both goodwill gestures. Legally they don’t even have to do that. 

It’s usually larger stores that have better returns policies for unwanted goods. Always check the returns policy before you buy, and keep hold of your receipt.

Shopped online

When you shop online, you legally have a 14-day ‘grace period’ to change your mind, after you’ve received your item. After that, you have a further 14 days to return the item.

It doesn’t matter why you’ve changed your mind – you’re protected by the Consumer Rights Act 2015 regardless. These distance selling regulations apply to all purchases bought the item away from the seller’s premises. That includes purchases made online, by postal order, over the phone and through TV shopping channels

However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. You won’t be entitled to return the following types of items:

  • those that have been made to your specifications or personalised

  • those that are perishable (like flowers or fresh food)

  • those that were sealed on

    delivery but have now been opened (such as DVDs or computer games)

  • those that date quickly, such as newspapers, magazines or periodicals

  • those that are betting, gaming or lottery based

  • events tickets

  • are digital based (such as music downloads).

Of course, if an item bought online turns out to be faulty, then you’re protected by the same rights that apply to purchases made in person. The retailer must also cover the cost of return.

How long should a refund take?

Your refund should be paid within 14 days of your return being received – and it should also include a refund of the standard delivery cost. This applies to items you buy and also services you sign up to.

Problem with your shopping

If there’s a problem with your item, you’re entitled to a refund whether you bought it online or in store. This falls under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, and so it overrides the retailer’s own returns policy. This would apply if, for example, if the item:

  • isn’t of satisfactory quality

  • isn’t as described online

  • isn’t fit for purpose

  • doesn’t last for a reasonable amount of time.

If you’ve got an item that was faulty or damaged at the time of sale, it needs to be returned to the retailer within 30 days for a refund. If they ask you to return it to the manufacturer you should challenge this, as it’s the retailer’s responsibility to handle the problem for you. If you return a faulty item after this time, you may have to settle for a repair or replacement.

If a fault with your item emerges over time, you’re still entitled to a refund, repair or replacement from the retailer. But it’s likely to be easier to get your refund if the item’s less than six months old. Return the item to the retailer and they must handle it. They may try to direct you to the manufacturer, which is why it’s so important to know your rights.

If an item is more than six months old, you’ll need to prove to the retailer that the fault was present at the time of sale to be guaranteed a refund. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland you have six years from the date of purchase to return a faulty item. In Scotland, it’s only five years.

It’s worth noting that you don’t have any legal rights to return an item if it’s been damaged by wear and tear, an accident or misuse. You also don’t have legal rights to return an item if you knew about the fault before you bought it.

Can a company refuse a refund?

Retailers don’t always play ball, even if you’re within your rights. It might be tricky to get your money back, which is why it’s so important to know where you stand.

If you can’t get the support you need from the retailer in the form of a refund, repair or replacement, you can file a complaint with the company.

If that still doesn’t help, you can contact the Consumer Ombudsman. They’ll aim to help resolve your dispute within 10 working days.

Another option is to head to the Resolver website for more help making a shopping complaint.

When should you rely on the manufacturer’s warranty?

Any warranty that you have on a product is an extra, on top of your statutory rights with the retailer. The retailer should always be your first port of call when a product turns out to be faulty. They shouldn’t just refer you to the manufacturer.

What happens if goods are damaged in transit?

It’s the retailer's responsibility to make sure your purchase arrives in a timely and satisfactory condition. They’re responsible for giving you a refund, repair or replacement if the goods are lost or damaged during transit.

What are my rights if I bought an item in the sale?

It doesn’t matter whether you’ve bought your item in the sale or second hand – all the refund rights shared in this guide still apply.

What if the company’s gone into administration?

Getting a refund from a company that’s entered administration can be tricky. You’ll be put into a queue with all the company’s business creditors, and the situation will be assessed.

If the business isn’t sold or restructured, or if it’s liquidated, you’ll only get a proportion of what you’re owed.

Shopping tips

Here are a few things you can do when shopping to protect yourself when you shop.

Keep your proof of purchase

Most retailers will ask for proof of purchase when you return an item. They want to see that it was bought from them, and when you bought it. Try to keep your receipts. But if you don’t have the receipt, a credit card statement or cheque stub may be accepted.

Inspect the item

Doing a thorough inspection of the item you’re buying before you pay for it will help you to ensure that it’s not faulty at the time of purchase.

Ask about the retailer’s return policy

It’s important to know this before you buy your item. You might be able to buy the same item from another retailer with a better returns policy.

Pay with a credit card

You always have better protection if you pay for goods with a credit card. Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, you have rights to claim a refund from your credit card provider if something goes wrong.

This extra protection applies when you buy an item that costs between £100 and £30,000. If the seller goes bust or fails to deliver your item you can approach your credit card company to get your money back.

You can read our guide How Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act Protects Your Credit Card. Or, for a full definition of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, visit the GOV.UK website.

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