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If you’re shopping in the sales you’re still protected by consumer law if there’s a problem

Article by Savvywoman Sarah Pennells

The Christmas sales have meant bumper takings for the high street and for online stores, with millions of us on the hunt for a bargain. But what happens if you buy something that turns out to be faulty? According to Consumer Direct, problems with clothes are consistently amongst the top ten complaints they receive, with over 20,000 complaints in 2011 (and 40% of those were made in January – the busiest month of the year).

Your rights; the basics
The Office of Fair Trading has a ‘Know Your Rights’ campaign, which is designed to make sure we’re all aware of our rights.

When you buy clothes (or any other goods), even when they are in a sale, they must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described. If they aren’t, then the items are faulty and you’re within your legal rights to ask for a refund, repair or replacement. It doesn’t matter whether you pay full price for something or buy it in the sales, the same rules apply. The only difference is that you can’t get a refund on something that’s been sold as defective or a ‘second’ as long as the defect has been pointed out to you before you buy.

The OFT’s Know Your Consumer Rights campaign advises you to check the clothes you have bought. Do this as soon as possible and before using them. If you do find a fault, don’t wear them and contact the trader or return them as soon as possible.

SAVVYWOMAN TIP: You don’t have an automatic right to a replacement or a refund as the shop can offer to repair them.  However, realistically, very few clothes retailers (unless they’re not part of a chain) would offer to repair clothes that are faulty. They would normally let you take a replacement or give you your money back.

You have better protection when you buy online, by phone or mail order. If you’re buying clothes over the internet (or by phone or mail order – basically any transaction where you’re not face to face with the seller) you have seven working days from when your clothes arrive to change your mind and ask for a refund. In this case the clothes don’t need to be faulty, you can simply send them back because you don’t like them or because they look different to the image on the website.

SAVVYWOMAN TIP: If you’re planning to return something because you’ve changed your mind, you don’t have to send it back within seven working days. However, you do have to tell the company (either by email or over the phone) that you’re going to return it. You have 30 days from the date you received the item to send it back.

The main exception to this is if you bought something that was custom made for you. In this case you don’t have a right to get a refund because you’ve changed your mind. However, you’d still be able to get a repair, replacement or refund if the clothes were faulty.

If you don’t like something..

Check the shop’s return policy when buying on the high street. If you simply change your mind, you won’t have any legal right to a refund, however many stores do offer additional rights to return as part of their customer service

What should you expect?

The grey area is that the law doesn’t define what counts as satisfactory quality. It depends on:

How much you paid. If you bought a pair of shoes for a tenner they wouldn’t be expected to last as long as a pair that cost £100.

What you’ve used them for. If you’ve worn delicate party sandals every day (unlikely, I know!) they may fall apart after a few months but a pair of shoes or boots should be able to cope with a fair amount more wear.

Photo credit: Danilo Rizzuti




Sarah Pennells

Sarah is the founder of SavvyWoman.co.uk, a website aimed at smart women aged 30+ who want to get more from their money. Sarah is a personal finance journalist and author who has written three books; about money and relationships, divorce and finance and green and ethical money. Sarah regularly appears on BBC1's Breakfast programme as a finance expert and reported on consumer and finance issues on the programme for several years. She also writes for a number of women's magazines. www.savvywoman.co.uk

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