These are your rights on returning unwanted Christmas gifts for a refund - and what to do if a firm goes bust

Amid the ongoing pandemic, many shoppers will have turned to online stores and gift vouchers this year in an effort to sort presents in time for Christmas.

But after a difficult year for retail, which has seen several big brands forced into administration, there is a risk that customers could be left with vouchers, gift cards and pending orders in the event a store goes bust.

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If you are concerned about what to do if you need to return an item, these are your rights to a refund and what it means for outstanding gift cards and vouchers.

Can I return an item for a refund?

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, you are legally entitled to return goods that are of unsatisfactory quality, unfit for purpose, or not as described, and you have up to 30 days from the date you take ownership of the product.

While shops are not obligated to provide a full refund for goods purchased in store unless they are faulty, many retailers often still do – providing it is within the time frame outlined in their returns policy.

After the 30 day period, you will not be legally entitled to a full refund and will have fewer rights, meaning you may only be able to ask for a repair, replacement or partial refund. However, some stores may often extend their refund policy around the festive season.

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For goods purchased online, under the Consumer Contracts Regulations you have 14 days after your order is received to notify the seller you want to return the item and claim a full refund.

After you have informed the seller you wish to cancel your order, you then have a further 14 days to send the goods back. These rights only apply to the person who made the purchase, so if you wish to return a present a store may ask the original buyer to make the return.

In the event a firm goes bust, returning items is at the discretion of the administrators, but it is best to try and sort it as soon as possible. You may also be able to ask your bank or card provider to ‘charge back’ your money for any undelivered items or pending refunds.

What do I need for a return?

All retailers will usually require the following items to approve the return of a product:

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  • A receipt – You will need your receipt for proof of purchase, so be sure to take it along with you. If the item was a present, you will need to take along the gift receipt
  • The card you paid with – You will require the card that was used to buy the item in order to process the refund
  • The original packaging – Always ensure you return the items as you received it in the original packaging

Return policies differ across various retailers, so while some may provide a full refund for an item, others may only offer an exchange or a credit voucher instead.

What items can I return?

You are entitled to return items that don’t meet the following criteria:

  • Satisfactory quality – Goods should not be faulty or damaged when you receive them, and must be in a condition that is considered ‘reasonable’
  • Fit for purpose – Goods should be fit for the purpose they are supplied for
  • As described – Goods should measure up to the description given to you at the time of purchase

However, there are some exceptions which cannot be returned, including:

  • Perishable items – such as food and flowers
  • DVDs, music and computer software – These products will likely be refused a refund if the packaging seal has been broken
  • Made to order items – If a product has been personalised, it is unlikely you will be able to return it

What about gift cards and vouchers?

Gift cards and vouchers typically have an expiry date printed on them, meaning they must be used by the given date to be valid.

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If you have either of these to spend, make sure you use them before the given date or you’ll lose your cash.

In the event a company goes bust, shoppers who have a voucher or gift card are added to the list of creditors who are owed money by the business, but in many cases this can render them worthless.

However, the process of a firm going into administration is not usually immediate, meaning shoppers have a short window to spend their vouchers before the company goes under.

Some administrators will also honour the vouchers and cards if a firm gets taken over so they can still be spent, although this is not always the case.