Consumer return policy laws in the UK

Updated February 21, 2017

Consumers in the United Kingdom are protected to an extent under consumer protection regulations. Under the Sale of Goods Act you have a statutory right to return something and get your money back if it's faulty. However, if the goods are not faulty then the shop has no statutory obligation to refund you the money. Thankfully, the old adage that the customer is always right means that in most cases high street shops do offer "goodwill" returns policy offering an exchange, refund or credit note for most returns.

The Sale of Goods Act

The Sale of Goods Act 1979 offers you ample protection under contract law. Under the Act, goods "must be as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose." Fit for purpose means both their everyday purpose, and also any specific purpose that you agreed with the seller. Goods sold must also match any sample you were shown in the shop, or any description provided in the retailer's brochure.

A faulty product

Under the Sale of Goods Act, your claim is with the supplier and not the manufacturer. If a product develops a fault then you can reject it and get your money back or, alternatively you can have it repaired or replaced. You should return the product as soon as possible (usually within two weeks). You have a right to get a full refund within four weeks of purchase. The retailer will have to replace or repair the product within six months of purchase or you can rely on your guarantee. If the retailer claims that the product is faulty because it's something you have done then the onus is on them to prove it.

If the retailer refuses to cooperate then the claim should be reported to your local Trading Standards department as the shop is likely to be breaching your statutory rights.

"Goodwill" returns

The good news for British consumers is that most high street shops operate a "goodwill" returns policy. This means regardless of whether the product is faulty or not then they will accept a return and provide an exchange, refund or credit note for most returns. This is usually limited to 28-days. It's worth checking the shop's return policy before buying because they are legally obliged to honour their stated policies.

Distance selling regulations (Internet purchases)

The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000, which is often referred to as the Distance Selling Regulations or DSRs, offers the consumer a little extra protection when buying online. Under the DSRs the seller is obliged to give key information to the consumer, including where the seller is located. The right to cancel starts the moment the order is placed and doesn’t end until seven working days from the day after you receive your goods. Confirmation of your cancellation should be sent by email, letter or fax. If your goods are faulty, or you're sent substitute items that you don't want, the retailer must pay return postage costs. There are certain items that you cannot return just because you no longer want them, they include: CDs, DVDs or software if you've broken the seal. The items also include tailor-made or personalised goods and underwear and earrings.

Hire purchase

The Sale of Goods Act will not apply to goods that you have bought on hire purchase (HP). Instead the Supply of Goods Implied Terms Act 1973 applies, which makes the HP company responsible for the quality of the goods supplied and gives you slightly different rights.

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About the Author

For three years, Etch Tabor worked as the technology and online editor at "InsideCounsel" magazine, a national publication for in-house counsel. He currently is a full-time freelance writer, specializing in legal, technology and comedy writing. He graduated in 2004 from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a degree in journalism.