When you can get your money back, and when you can’t.
We’ve all made that impulse purchase that turns out to be not such a great idea. And we’ve all had items which seemed fine but over time turned out to be duds. So are you stuck with these unwanted or broken purchases?
Well you might be able to get your money back, but whether you can or not can depend on why you want to return it, where you bought it, and how you paid for it.
Why you’re returning it
Because it’s faulty
If your purchase is damaged or stops working the shop needs to give you a refund. You’ve 30 days to take something back in this case. You’ll obviously need proof of purchase.
Once this first month is over you’ve another five months (so six months after you got the item) to ask for a repair or replacement. And if the shop can’t or won’t do that, then you can get a full refund.
After this you’ll need to prove that the problem is down to manufacturing, not wear and tear. This can make it a lot harder to get a refund. But you’ve got up to six years to do this and it’s worth a try.
Of course you might also have a guarantee with the item, so check whether you can claim on that for a refund or to get something fixed outside the first six months.
You’ve changed your mind
It’s a different story for refunds if you simply decide you don’t want something – you might not actually be able to get your money back. It all depends on where you bought it and potentially how you paid for it – keep reading for more on each of these.
Where you bought it
You bought it in a shop
Legally, the shop doesn’t have to accept returns when you change your mind. This can even include simply wanting to swap clothes for a different size.
Fortunately, many, if not most, shops will happily give you your money back if you give them your receipt.
There’s normally something like 28 days or a month to bring your return back. And these are often extended in the run-up to Christmas. But do check the shop’s policy, ideally before you buy anything.
Your money will be refunded to your original card. If you don’t have it, you might be able to get a gift card. But some shops are cracking down on this to prevent money laundering and fraud. I took a coat back to M&S for Becky a while back and they wouldn’t accept it without her bank card.
The receipt is really important. Without it, the shop doesn’t have to accept the item back, or might refund you at the current selling price, which could be lower if it’s now in a sale.
If a shop’s return policy doesn’t include refunds, it might let you exchange it or give you a credit note to spend at a later date. Not great, but it’s better than being stuck with something you won’t use or is the wrong size.
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You bought it online
You actually get better rights if you order and pay online. You have 14 days from receiving your items to decide to send them back and let the retailer know – no questions asked. You’ve then got another 14 days to return them.
You can get a refund on the original delivery charge too, but you might need to pay to return it. Every retailer is different, so it’s worth checking before you buy. Amazon has different rules for the reason you return it – sometimes it’s free, sometimes there’s a charge.
And you get the same rights online as buying in a shop if something is faulty.
When shops can refuse a return even if they have a returns policy
There are some exclusions, even if a shop does offer refunds or you got it online. Perishable items such as fresh flowers or frozen foods won’t be accepted for example.
You won’t be able to return personalised or made to order items. This could also include things like furniture even if you’re choosing the standard fabrics as they might only make the item once it’s been ordered.
You might also get turned down if the original packaging is missing, damaged or opened. My mum spotted in-store at John Lewis that you now can’t return electronics that have been opened. She’d bought a new phone, but the handset didn’t get reception in the garden – the whole point of her buying it.
The store’s justification was that if you’ve seen it in-store you know what you’re buying. Fortunately, my mum had ordered it online for click and collect, so she had further rights and got her refund (more on this in a sec). But it shows you just be extra careful when unpacking anything.
How you paid for it
You paid with a credit card
Anything you buy with a credit card that costs £100 or more is protected by section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.
This law means credit card providers are equally responsible if something goes wrong with a purchase. So if a retailer is refusing to refund you, you can try the credit card company.
However, this is only going to be effective if there’s an issue with your purchase or it just doesn’t turn up. Changing your mind when a shop doesn’t have a returns policy won’t cut it.
You paid with a debit card
Here you can try for “chargeback”, as long as the purchase was under £100. This isn’t covered by a law, but if your bank agrees you’ve got a fair claim for money back with 120 days of your purchase, then they can reverse the charge to your account.
You paid via PayPal
Though PayPal can be convenient, it could also mean you lose the consumer rights that come with credit card or debit card payments. This is because you’re effectively breaking a direct chain between the card provider and the retailer.
So though it’s fine to use it (and I do), it’s worth avoiding it on bigger purchases, just in case. Here’s more on the pros and cons of PayPal.
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You paid with cash
You’ve got no extra rights when you pay with cash, and if you lose your receipt you’ve also no proof of purchase at all. So try not to pay with cash if you can avoid it – though there are a few times it can be useful or you have no choice.
You paid with a gift card
I’m a fan of using discounted gift cards to save a little extra on purchases. There’s a danger with paying by gift card. If you decide to return your item, you will get the refund to a gift card. Why is this bad?
First, you need to make sure you keep the original gift card as some retailers will only refund to the one you paid with.
Second, you’re locked into shopping with that retailer again. It’s a small risk if we’re talking about a £30 M&S gift card. But it’s a lot worse if you’re left with £400 on one for Curry’s.
So if there’s a good chance you’ll take something back, avoid paying with a gift card unless you’ve already got one.