Some people will be lucky enough to get the gifts they want this Christmas, but others will find have that awkward moment where they unwrap yet another pair of novelty socks or naff toiletries they just don’t want.
Rather than leave unwanted presents gathering dust at the back of the wardrobe, a far better option is to try and return them. That way, you can get the money back or replace the item with something you do really want.
But just how easy is it to go about getting a refund on an unwanted Christmas present? And what are your rights if the gift arrives late – or if it is broken?
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Getting a refund
While you might assume you can return goods simply because you don’t like them or want them, this is not the case.
Under the Sale of Goods Act, you have no legal right to return an unwanted Christmas gift, as stores only have to offer a refund, replacement or repair if an item is damaged or faulty.
In other words, retailers are not legally obliged to give you the value of the item back in cash just because you don’t want it – or because you got the wrong size or colour.
However, in reality, most retailers have a “goodwill policy” in place at Christmas which means they will usually offer a refund on unwanted gifts; others will offer an exchange or credit note.
Read Paul Lewis' guide to giving money as a gift.
Check for time limits
If you are looking to return an unwanted item you need to check the individual store’s policy on refunds.
Most retailers stipulate that you must take back non-faulty goods within 28 days from the day of purchase.
That said, some shops will offer an extended returns window over the festive period so that people who buy presents early in December aren’t penalised if the recipients don’t like them.
Improve your chances of getting a refund
To help your chances of getting a refund, it’s worth taking along a receipt or gift receipt and, where possible, the card that paid for the item.
If the item was bought with a card, the store will usually refund the money to this card.
But if the item is a gift, this may not be an option, so, the store may offer cash or gift vouchers instead.
You should also try and take unwanted gifts back to the store as soon as possible after Christmas, and ensure that items are in pristine condition (which means unworn), with labels still intact.
Note that some retailers won’t accept the returns if the packaging has been opened or damaged.
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Returning goods bought online
When goods are bought over the internet, you have more rights to return them than you do when buying items in-store under a set of rules known as the Consumer Contracts Regulations.
These rules allow you to return anything up to 14 days from the day you receive your goods – even if you just don’t want them or like them.
Equally, some internet retailers will extend this even further, so it’s worth checking the Ts and Cs, as you may have longer to return unwanted items.
Find out more about your rights under the Consumer Rights Acts.
Certain items cannot be returned
While most goods can be returned, there are some exceptions that you cannot take back, regardless of whether they were purchased in-store or online. These include fresh food, flowers and other perishables, personalised gifts, or other items that could not be re-sold.
Stores may also refuse to take back DVDs, music and other software if the seal on the packaging is broken.
What if the gift arrives late?
While retailers will usually do their best to ensure that Christmas orders arrive in good time, there will be cases when this doesn’t happen.
If you specified Christmas delivery when you made your order – or chose a set delivery date – you will be entitled to a refund. Do not let a firm wriggle out of this liability.
Note, however, that if no particular date was specified, the retailer only has to deliver within 30 days to remain with the terms of its contract.
What if the gift arrives broken?
The Sales of Goods Act states that goods must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose, and “as described.” If you receive a good that is faulty or damaged, the retailer has a legal obligation to accept the return.
That said, strictly speaking, only the person who bought the item has the right to take it back to the store to request a replacement or repair.
However, a good way to get around this is to ask for a “gift receipt” when you make your purchase.
That way, it should be possible to transfer these rights to the recipient, who can then return the damaged item.
Read our guide to paying online.
Changes to the rules on faulty goods
It’s also worth noting that under a change which came into effect at the start of October in the Consumer Rights Act 2016, you now have 30 days to take faulty goods back and get a full refund.
In the past, the time limit was only loosely defined as “you can take it back as long as you haven’t accepted the goods.” This new clarification on the time you have to return something is a welcome move.
Other options for unwanted presents
If you aren’t able to get a refund on unwanted presents, you do have a few options.
• Re-sell them – you could try and re-sell items on a site such as eBay, Amazon, or Musicmagpie.co.uk. Find out more about selling unwanted items.
• Re-gift – you could also pass on any unwanted gifts to someone else. But be careful not to give a present back to the person who bought it for you.
• Donate unwanted presents to your local charity shop; stores are almost always seeking new stock, and by giving items away, you can also feel that you are “doing your bit.”
• List goods on local sites such as Freecycle and Freegle which match people who want to get rid of things with people who can use them.
Your consumer questions answered
I’ve started my Christmas shopping and bought my grandson a remote-controlled car from a local market stall. I got it home and tried it out and it doesn’t work. I paid in cash and have no receipt. Is there any way I can still get my money back?
Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 the remote-controlled car you bought should be ‘of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and be as described’. As it isn’t working, it doesn’t satisfy these criteria, so you have 30 days to request a working replacement or a refund, even though you paid cash and have no receipt.
‘The difficulty will come if the market trader denies selling the car to you, as you would have no evidence,’ explains Katie Whitehead, associate solicitor, Ramsdens Solicitors. ‘In this case, you would have to look at bringing a claim through the small claims court for a refund.’
By Hannah Jolliffe, consumer rights journalist
For more tips and hints, browse our money articles.