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Shoppers out of pocket with £3 billion spent on poor quality goods and services

27 December 2012

Citizens Advice urges people not to get caught out if trying to return Christmas presents

New figures from Citizens Advice show consumers have already bought over £3bn of problematic products this year prompting fears many shoppers will lose out again trying to get money back for broken Christmas gifts.

The Citizens Advice consumer service in England and Wales dealt with over 400,000 complaints between April and November this year about products and services worth a total of £3 billion.

Over half of the problems were about faulty goods and sub-standard services and cost an average of over £2,800 each.

A new report released today by Citizens Advice Redressing the balance will call for a change in the law so businesses must provide a refund within 30 days of promising money back.  It also recommends a form class action to help groups of consumers take businesses to court.

Some of the complaints were about essential items that people need to make their Christmas go with a bang, including gifts like mobile phones, TVs, toys, games and women’s clothing.  Problems ranged from tablet computers that freeze and won’t charge, clothes and shoes that split at the seam and DVDs that won’t play.

The top ten most complained about faulty goods were:

  • Second hand cars bought from an independent dealer
  • Upholstered furniture
  • TVs
  • Mobile phone handsets
  • Lap-tops, notebooks and tablet PCs
  • Used cars bought from a franchise dealer
  • Beds and mattresses
  • Fridges and freezers
  • Washing machines
  • Women’s clothing

Under consumer law retailers must give you either a refund, part refund, repair or replacement for faulty products.  The remedy you get will depend on a number of factors, for example, how long you’ve had the product.

Yet many consumers are hitting a brick wall when they try to use their rights.  

9 out of 10 people who responded to a Citizens Advice survey* were not fully successful when they had complained, attempted to get a refund or get the problem put right.  

Citizens Advice is also reminding people that if they don’t like a Christmas gift or it is the wrong size – they don’t have the automatic right to take it back.  Returns policies can vary from shop to shop so Citizens Advice is releasing new top tips to help people take back broken or unwanted Christmas gifts.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

"Many people will be disappointed by broken gifts this Christmas. But it’s even more frustrating and expensive when you can’t get your money back.

"By law retailers must offer refunds, repairs or replacements for faulty products but all too often this is not happening.  Household budgets are tight meaning many people don’t have the money to buy a new item if its broken and the seller has refused to sort it out.

"This is not good for consumer confidence.  In these tough economic times people need to know that when they buy something they’re not going to be short changed if things go wrong.  

"Stronger, clearer consumer rights will help protect squeezed spenders from expensive purchases that go wrong, and will give businesses a boost as shoppers feel more confident parting with their hard-earned cash."

The current law does give consumers rights if they buy something which is faulty or substandard.  Yet there is a huge void because if a trader refuses to comply with the law when you are buying high street goods like Christmas presents and electrical items - often the only other option for the consumer is to take them to court.  This is a process which many consider too risky, too expensive or simply not worth their while.

In Redressing the Balance Citizens Advice is exposing the problems consumers face when something goes wrong with the product or service they have bought. The report draws on evidence from across the Citizens Advice service including the 180,000 consumer problems dealt with by bureaux between April and September 2012.

In the report Citizens Advice is calling for changes in consumer law including:

  • A clear 30 day time-limit for retailers to give refunds so consumers know where they stand.
  • An option for class action, which would allow groups of consumers to take businesses to court. This would give customers greater confidence, and would make it more worthwhile to take up smaller claims.
  • Clear information to be displayed when goods are bought. Some businesses try to apply their own returns policy to faulty goods when consumers should be protected under the law.
  • Greater powers for the Trading Standards services to get customers compensation without having to take businesses through the courts.

If you’ve got a problem with something you bought and want to know what you can do, call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 08454 04 05 06, or get online help at or visit your local Citizens Advice Bureau.


Christmas returns top tips

1) Depending on the circumstances, you’re entitled to either your money back, a repair or a replacement if you unknowingly buy faulty goods or services. Everything you buy must:

  • be of satisfactory quality – in good working order when you buy it
  • match the description – if an item is sold as being 24 carat gold or HD ready, then this has to be the case
  • be fit for their purpose - if you checked with the retailer that software is compatible with your computer but it isn’t, you can return it

2) You don’t have the right to return something if you just don’t want it. Some shops do allow customers to swap unwanted or unsuitable items, but unless it’s faulty or not described properly you aren’t covered by consumer law.

3) Act quickly. Last-minute online buys may still be covered by a minimum seven-day cooling-off period for distance purchases, and some shops will let you return unwanted goods within a set time frame.

4) You have the same rights when you buy things in the sales as you do with full-price goods. But if there is a fault which is pointed out to you, then you can’t return it for that reason.

5) If you used a credit card to buy presents then you may have extra rights. ’Section 75’ rights mean that if your goods cost more than £100, the credit card company has the same responsibilities as the trader, so you can get your compensation from them directly. It’s usually used when traders go bust or the consumer is unable to resolve their problem directly with the trader.

6) Your rights are with the seller, not the manufacturer.  In the first place you should always return faulty products to the seller, and question them if they try and get you to go to the manufacturer instead.  But in some cases it might be more beneficial for the consumer to claim directly from the manufacturer under their guarantee or warranty if this looks like a better deal in their circumstances.

7) The right to return presents is with the person who bought them. Many shops do allow people who have received presents to return them, but they are normally under no legal obligation to do so. Be prepared to get the person who gave you the present involved, and next year make sure that you let the shop know it’s a gift so they can transfer rights to the receiver. The Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act 1999 allows third parties to claim as long as the purchaser makes it clear that the item is for someone else e.g. items bought from a gift list.

Top ten complained about faulty productsTotal no. of complaintsTotal spend on these faulty goodsAverage spend per faulty product
Used cars bought from independent dealers25,740£115,592,373£4,490
Upholstered furniture5,483£7,745,229£1,412
Mobile phones handsets4,634£471,213£101
Lap-tops, notebooks and tablet PCs4,467£1,980,240£443
Used cars bough from franchise dealer4,207£37,206,701£8,843
NoWrapNoWrapBeds and mattresses3,781£2,440,149£645
Fridges and freezers3,110£1,568,676£504
Washing machines3,070£1,434,530£467
Women’s clothing2,776£625,153£225

Notes to editors:

  1. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
  2. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  3. To find your local bureau in England and Wales, visit You can also get advice online at
  4. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers
  5. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.3 million clients on 5.4 million problems from October 2013 to September 2014. For full 2013/2014  service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends
  6. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 3,000 service outlets across England and Wales.