Returning purchases – know your rights

Read the article

You’re protected by certain rights whenever you buy something from a retailer. These are called your statutory rights. In this article, we look at how you can use your statutory rights to return goods if they’re faulty or if you’ve changed your mind.

This article deals mainly with the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013.

Returning faulty goods

A product is counted as faulty under the Consumer Rights Act if:

  • The quality is unsatisfactory, e.g. it doesn’t work properly or is damaged. If the product is second-hand, any wear and tear should be as described (see the last point)

  • It’s not fit for purpose. This means it doesn’t do the job it was designed to do

  • It’s not as described. This means the product doesn’t match the seller’s description, photo, model or sample

Whether you can get your money back on a faulty product depends on how long you’ve had it for:

30 days or less

You get a full refund up to 30 days after purchasing or receiving the product (whichever is later). Digital content (such as audiobooks and software) is an exception – the seller has one opportunity to repair or replace the content before you can claim a refund.

Over 30 days

Once the initial 30 days have passed, you can ask for the product to be repaired or replaced. You can choose which – repairs or replacement – but the seller can refuse your decision if it’s a lot more expensive than the alternative.

You can ask for a refund if the repairs or replacement are unsuccessful. Note there’s an exception for cars and other vehicles – retailers can knock money off your refund if you’ve used the vehicle after the first 30 days.

Over six months

You may still be able to get a refund, replacement or repairs under the Consumer Rights Act. But you must prove the issue existed when you received the product. You could try getting a report from an expert or giving evidence of similar issues across the product range.

You can complain about a faulty product up to six years after you bought it (in Scotland, it’s five years after you noticed the issue).

It’s worth checking if you’re covered by a guarantee or warranty. A guarantee is typically a promise from the manufacturer that they’ll repair or replace the product if it’s poor quality or doesn’t last. A warranty is more like insurance – it may offer better protection, but you usually need to pay for it when you buy the product.

How do I return a faulty product?

You can return a faulty item directly to the retailer – you don’t need to go to the manufacturer. If you’re returning it by post, the seller should refund you for any postage costs.

You don’t necessarily need the receipt (although having one may make things easier). A bank statement showing you purchased the product should be enough.

What if the seller won’t help?

Try explaining your rights under the Consumer Rights Act. If the seller refuses to respect your rights, you may want to report it to your local trading standards department and contact a consumer ombudsman.

You may also be able to get your money back through your credit card company if you used them to pay for the item.

Returning something you don’t want

You may be able to get a refund for an unwanted product, even if it isn’t faulty. Your rights vary depending on whether you bought the item in-store or online.

In-store purchases

You don’t have an automatic right to return something you bought in-store just because you’ve changed your mind. This includes things like clothes that don’t fit and books you didn’t like.

Luckily, most retailers have their own returns policy. This may let you:

  • Get a refund (i.e. your money back)

  • Exchange the product for another from the same store, chain or brand. You may need to pay the difference if the original product is a different price from the new one

  • Get store credit. This is like a refund, except you can only spend the money with the store you bought the product from. You may get the credit in the form of a store card or voucher

Stores don’t have to have a returns policy. But if they do, they must stick to it. You’ll normally find a store’s returns policy on their website or printed on your receipt.

Note that retailers usually set out time limits and other conditions in their returns policy. For example, you may need to return the item within 28 days and in its original packaging.

Online purchases

You have extra rights for returning items if you bought them online. This is because it’s harder to know exactly what you’re buying from descriptions and photos.

Cooling-off period

Under the Consumer Contracts Regulations, you have 14 days to tell an online seller if you’ve changed your mind and want to return something. This is called the cooling-off period.

Your cooling-off period starts the day after your order is delivered. You then have another 14 days to actually send the item back.

There are a few exceptions. For example, you can’t use the cooling-off period when you buy:

  • Perishables, such as flowers or food

  • Custom orders, such as made-to-fit clothes

  • Purchases from private sellers rather than businesses (e.g. casual sellers on eBay)

  • CDs, DVDs and software if you’ve broken the seal

Some online retailers offer more than the minimum 14 days. So it’s worth checking their returns policy, even if you’re past the cooling-off period.

It’s also worth knowing that your cooling-off period is bumped up to one year and 14 days if the seller doesn’t give you certain information in writing. This includes their business address, phone number, and your right to cancel the order or get a refund.

How do I return an online purchase?

You need to make sure the product doesn’t get damaged in the post, e.g. with bubblewrap and waterproof packaging.

You don’t need to use the product’s original packaging if you return it during your cooling-off period. This may be different if you’re relying on the seller’s returns policy (e.g. because your cooling-off period has ended).

You must pay postage to send the product back – unless the product is faulty or the seller said they’d cover this cost. It’s worth getting a certificate of posting from Royal Mail. This can be useful proof if the seller says they haven’t received the item.

When will my money be refunded?

You should get your money back within 14 days of the seller receiving the returned product. If you paid for standard delivery when you first bought the product, the seller must refund this too. But they don’t have to pay extra if you chose a more expensive delivery option.