Advice: Refunds, exchanges, returns and sale goods

Pat Hutchinson MBE.
Pat Hutchinson MBE.

By Pat Hutchinson MBE, Citizens Advice Newtownabbey

1. Can I change a gift I’ve had second thoughts about?

You have no legal right to do this. You have a right in law to return goods to a shop and obtain a refund only if they are not of satisfactory quality, not as described or not fit for purpose. No one has a right to exchange goods just because they change their mind or have made a bad decision. Of course many shops, in the interests of good customer service, have their own returns policy, which may involve exchanging goods or giving you a credit note. But unless the goods are defective they are not obliged to let you exchange them or give you your money back.

2. Can I get a refund on something I bought online?

Your right to return something you just don’t like is stronger if you bought it online. Under the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations, which cover all goods purchased remotely, such as by internet, telephone or mail order, you do have a right to return goods within a specified period, since you have not had a chance to examine them first. Some items are excluded, such as food and other perishables, personalised items and CDs and DVDs where a seal has been broken.

The right to cancel a purchase starts immediately from the date you make the purchase and ends seven working days after the date the goods are received (the “cooling-off period”). You don’t actually have to return the goods during the cooling-off period, but you do need to send written confirmation that you are cancelling the sale. Once the order has been cancelled, you have a duty to “restore” the goods to the seller. The seller must always pay the cost of returning a faulty item.

3. Can I exchange something I received as a gift?

The contract of sale is made between the shop and the purchaser. So even if a gift you have received turns out to be faulty you could have problems getting a refund or even getting it exchanged. The giver of a gift can however transfer the refund and exchange rights to the recipient by obtaining a gift receipt or by writing on the original receipt that the item is a gift.

5. Can I get my money back if the goods don’t arrive on time?

Only if the retailer promised delivery before Christmas, in which case that promise forms part of the contract of sale. If you’ve bought online you can return goods under the Distance Selling Regulations if your gifts haven’t turned up and you had to rush out to buy something else to give on Christmas Day. If you ordered from a shop and a delivery date did not form part of the contract you may not be able to do so.

6. If the gift is faulty do I have to send it back to the manufacturer?

If goods are faulty, you should return them to the store. The Sale of Goods Act says that it is the retailer’s responsibility to ensure that goods are of saleable quality. So don’t be fobbed off if a shop assistant tells you that you need to send the item back to the manufacturer – you don’t. For more information go to

10. What about sale goods?

The Sale of Goods Act also applies to goods bought in a sale, which must be as described and fit for purpose, no matter how much they are reduced. However, that doesn’t stop a shop selling a raincoat with buttons missing or a split seam for a knock-down price as long as it tells you that that’s what it’s doing- perhaps with a note on the label. The coat should still be wearable once you’ve done a bit of home mending, and the fact it was in the sale doesn’t mean the shop can get away with selling it if it shrinks when you go out in the rain (not fit for purpose) or the label says it’s waxed cotton and turns out to be nylon (not as described).

• Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice – go to or call at: Citizens Advice Newtownabbey, Dunanney Centre, Rathmullan Drive, Rathcoole, Newtownabbey, BT37 9DQ. Telephone advice is available 9am – 4pm each day on 028 9085 2271 (Lunch 1:00 - 1:30pm), email advice is available at