Consumer Council offers advice on returning unwanted gifts

The Consumer Council has issued some timely advice for anyone wondering what their options are regarding a Christmas gift they can’t use or recycle.

The Consumer Council’s Philippa McKeown-Brown, Head of Consumer Education said: “None of us wants to seem ungrateful, but sometimes we can end up with a present we just won’t use and can’t offer to someone else. For those situations the Consumer Council has some advice:

• Check if the store will offer you an exchange, credit note or refund - While not bound by law to do so many stores offer them in goodwill even if the item isn’t faulty, doesn’t fit its description or isn’t fit for purpose – but act fast as there are often time limits imposed for non-faulty goods.

• Bring a debit or credit card statement showing the purchase if you don’t have a receipt. Although it helps to have a receipt, by law you don’t need one and in fact many stores, especially the larger ones, are willing to use their discretion.

• Don’t throw away packaging or remove labels as it may look like you’ve used the item.

• Note that some things can’t be returned, for example music, films and games which have had the seal broken; personalised gifts like printed t-shirts; and perishable gifts like food hampers. Other items like jewellery, underwear and make-up may also be refused for hygiene reasons even if not used.

• Even if something was in the sale you may be entitled to a repair, replacement or refund if the product is not as described, not fit for purpose or not of satisfactory quality. If you don’t have a receipt and the item isn’t faulty it’s likely you’ll only be offered the item’s current, cheaper value.

• Shop returns policies vary so it’s worth checking when you’re the one buying the gift whether you’ll be able to return goods that aren’t suitable and also get into the habit of requesting a gift receipt.

“These days more and more people are doing their shopping online,” added Philippa. “But not everyone is aware that they actually have more rights when shopping online compared to the high street, for example:

• If the gift was bought online, (or by mail order catalogue, TV shopping channel, telephone or post), you have seven working days, starting the day after the item was delivered, to change your mind and ask for a full refund. However, you must cancel your order in writing i.e. email, fax or letter. Once again exceptions include orders for personalised and perishable goods, CDs and DVDs if they’re unsealed, or tickets for events. Remember though, you may need to ask the gift buyer for proof of purchase, e.g. an order confirmation and you’ll also need to know when the item arrived, if it wasn’t delivered directly to you. You might have to pay postage costs for returning the item, although some online retailers will let you return them to a high street branch of their store.

“The Consumer Council has produced useful Receipt Wallets so that you can keep gift and sales receipts in a safe place and we have handy guides called ‘Online Shopping Tips’ and ‘Safer Ways to Pay’, which contain lots of valuable information. To request free copies, phone us on 028 9067 2488 or e-mail You can also get in touch with us on facebook and twitter,” added Philippa.