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Christmas shoppers urged to use their rights as complaints soar

2 November 2015

Faulty goods, misleading claims and substandard services mean Christmas presents fly back on to the shelves in January, according to new figures from Citizens Advice.

Analysis by the charity shows that people are more likely to call its Consumer service helpline with complaints about items such as toys, computer games and jewellery in January than any other time of year.

Citizens Advice, Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills today launch National Consumer Week and are urging people to get to know their new consumer rights as Christmas shopping gets underway. The organisations are highlighting how the new Consumer Rights Act, brought into effect on 1 October, can help people to shop with confidence and get their money back when things go wrong.

The findings reveal that complaints to the Citizens Advice consumer service about toys doubled in January 2015 in comparison to the rest of the year, while problems with DVDs, video games, games consoles, and sound systems rose by two thirds.

The top five most complained about personal goods in January 2015 were:

  • Tablets, notebooks and laptops hit the number one spot. Last January saw 850 complaints, one third higher than the rest of the year.

  • Women’s clothing - complaints rose by a fifth.

  • Televisions - the helpline saw 29 per cent more enquiries.

  • Toys - toys had the biggest increase in complaints, which were more than double than any other time of the year

  • Jewellery -  complaints increased by 40%

Complaints were most likely to be about defective goods, while one in seven people contacted the service because of misleading claims and descriptions about their purchase. One in twenty complained that businesses didn’t honour their cancellation rights.

Citizens Advice has developed a ‘Know Your Rights’ guide explaining the big changes to consumer law that Christmas shoppers should know.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Buying gifts should be hassle-free but not everyone gets what they pay for.

“Too often, we hear from people with problem purchases struggling to get the replacement or refund that they deserve. Clearer consumer rights will make it easier for shoppers to know what they are entitled to, so if a Christmas gift isn’t up to scratch, they know how to get their money back.

“Citizens Advice urges people to do their homework before they hit the shops this Christmas and make sure they know their rights if they have problems with their purchases.”

Consumer Minister Nick Boles said:

“Whether downloading music or buying a fridge freezer, the new Consumer Rights Act makes it easier for shoppers to understand their rights and simplifies the law for businesses.

“UK consumers spend £90 billion a month and the “Know your New Rights Campaign” will help them to shop with confidence.”

Leon Livermore, CTSI Chief Executive, said:

“Retailers are responsible for training their staff but consumers should spend a few minutes familiarising themselves with the new laws too.

“Consumers who know their rights shop with confidence, saving time and money, which is good for all concerned. People should consider their rights whenever they make a purchase but they may wish to take extra care at Christmas.

“Nobody wants to give or receive a defective product but it is important to know how to resolve any issues, should they arise.”

Fraser Sutherland, Consumer spokesman for Citizens Advice Scotland, said:

“By releasing these figures now, we are sending a message to Scotland’s consumers ahead of this year’s Christmas shopping. You have new rights to protect you against scams and shoddy goods. You don’t have to put up with second-rate smoothie-makers or terrible toys. If it doesn’t work or is of poor quality you have a right to have a refund. If you are unsure of your rights, visit our website or talk to your local Citizens Advice.”  

Christmas shopping - know your rights

  • When did you buy?  Everyone knows someone who starts their Christmas shopping in August - and sometimes even in January. Check the date on you purchase - the new rights in the Consumer Rights Act only apply to goods bought after 1 October 2015, when the Act came into force.

  • Want your money back? You may have tried to take a faulty item back and been offered an exchange or a credit note. Now, if you get a product that’s faulty, poor quality or not fit for purpose, you can return it within 30 days for a full refund.

  • Poor quality purchase? It can be hard to prove that something just isn’t as good as you were expecting. The new Act states that products must match the description given. If they don’t, your rights to a refund can come into play.

  • Delivery not explained? If you're shopping online or with a salesperson who's visiting your home, certain information including any cancellation rights, delivery charges, delivery restrictions and returns policies must all be clearly given. If cancellation information isn't provided, this could extend a right to cancel from 14 days and possibly up to one year.

  • Bamboozled by the small print? In the past, terms and conditions were often tucked away in the small print. Now, important terms and conditions must be made more prominent. This makes it easier to know what you’re signing up to, and to compare contracts so you know you’re getting the best deal.

  • Can’t resolve a dispute? Resolving a dispute has been made easier.  Previously consumers would often have to pay to take businesses to a small claims court to get their problem sorted. Now it’s simpler for people to go via Alternative Dispute Resolution, which uses other routes to solving disputes such as going to an Ombudsman for free.

Anyone who needs advice on goods and services they have purchased can call the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 04 05 06, go online at www.citizensadvice.org.uk

Notes to editors

  1. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local Citizens Advice, 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 get advice online or find your local bureau in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
  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. Local Citizens Advice in England and Wales advised 2.5 million clients on 6.2 million problems in 2014/15. For full service statistics see our publication Advice trends.