How to return unwanted presents

16 December 2009

If you've been given a Christmas jumper that's two sizes too small or a DVD box set you already own, you will have more than a passing interest in how easy it is to get a refund. As always, it's best to be armed in advance, so know your rights and how to use them.

Your rights

Retailers don't have to automatically refund items, unless they are faulty, don't match their description, or are not fit for their purpose. So, if you don’t like something – or it doesn’t fit – then don’t automatically expect a refund.

However, most retailers will have a goodwill policy, especially after Christmas. This can range from seven days to three months after purchase, and you will normally be offered an exchange or credit note.

If it’s a refund you’re after, then you may be asked to provide proof of purchase – normally a receipt. If the item you want to return has since been discounted, then the receipt will also ensure you get a refund on the original price.

Gift receipts (where the price is blanked out) may also be accepted, although this is not guaranteed.

If you aren’t able to use the receipt, then the item's tags or packaging should be acceptable – again this is at the discretion of the store in question. According to Consumer Direct, traders should accept credit card slips, bank statements or even cheque stubs as proof of purchase.

Remember, if the item was paid for using a credit or debit card, then the retailer may insist on refunding the card rather than handing you the cash. In this instance, your best bet might be to ask for a credit note – unless you are comfortable asking the gift-giver to return the money to you.

Your rights under the Sale of Goods Act 1979:

Items for sale in shops or online must be: as described and of satisfactory quality
If an item is faulty, or wrongly described, you have the right to a refund, replacement or repair
To receive a refund, you should reject an item 'within a reasonable time' - normally one-month
For the first six months after you buy an item, the ‘burden of truth’ is on the retailer – this means it must prove the fault is down to you if you want a replacement or repair
After that time the ‘burden of truth’ falls on the consumer

Non-returnable items

Many items are difficult to return. For example, many entertainment retailers will not accept returns if the seal on your CD or DVD is broken, as they will be suspicious that you might have copied it.

Other items cannot be returned for hygiene reasons, such as underwear, earrings, toiletries and make-up. Perishables such as food and personalised or made-to-order items also tend to be excluded.

Online shopping

If your gift was bought online it will fall under the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000, giving consumers a seven-day cooling-off period – although some will offer up to 28 days.

You will need proof of purchase and to know when the item was delivered.

Sometimes you will have to pay postage costs, but high street brands may allow you to return in-store.

As with high street shops, goodwill policies are often extended.

Faulty items

If you were given an item that is faulty, not fit for purpose or doesn’t match the description, then you can take the item back under the Sale of Goods Act for up to six years after purchase (five in Scotland).

Retailers should give you a refund if you return the item within a  ‘reasonable time period’ – this is normally considered to be one-month after purchase. However, after this time you may only be offered a replacement or repair.

You could also try to return items directly to the manufacturer under the warranty – this normally lasts for one year. However, according to the legal team at Which? most manufacturers will only offer replacements or repairs, rather than refunds.

Watch Moneywise TV's guide to returning faulty items

Other options

If you aren’t able to get a refund or credit note, then you could try to get some money back by selling the item – on eBay or Amazon, for example, or on a trading website such as gumtree.

Read Moneywise’s guides to selling online.

Alternatively you could ‘sell’ your item on a swapping website, potentially picking up something you actually want or need instead. is one of the better swapping websites. It’s completely free to join, and allows you to earn points for your your unwanted items. These points can then be used to ‘buy’ items offered by other users.

Items up for grabs include DVDs and music, computing accessories, furniture and children’s toys. isn’t exactly a swap shop, but it still allows you to get rid of unwanted items and request other people’s unwanted possessions. All you need to do is register for free and list your items.

If you've been given unwanted fashion items, then you could consider swapping them at a 'swishing' party. promotes what it calls the art of swishing – basically, getting a group of friends or colleagues together to swap clothes and socialise at the same time.

Swishing party etiquette demands that you bring with you at least one item of clothing or an accessory (and make sure it’s of good quality and clean). You then have the opportunity to try on other people’s offering before the ‘swish’ opens and you grab what you can. It’s great fun, environmentally and wallet-friendly, and could see you give your wardrobe a new breath of life without the expense of hitting the shops.

Read Moneywise’s guide to swapping and swishing

Finally, most charity shops will be grateful for good-quality donations (especially when items haven’t been used) or you could save it up and hold a car-boot sale when the weather improves.

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