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When Bargains Become Big Mistakes


By Pepi Sappal


Christmas has come and gone. The winter blues have set in. It's cold, wet, dark and gloomy. But it's not all bad; there's still the prospect of the January sales to keep us warm at night; the perfect feel-good fixes that pick us up when we are feeling a tad low.

Unfortunately, many of us are simply compounding the misery of January with our impulse purchases. Often goods are discounted because they are broken, damaged, or simply not fit for the purpose they were intended. And when we finally get them home we are plunged into a frustrating round of complaints and rejection.

So it's important to know your rights.

If the goods are damaged or faulty, you have every right to take them back to the shop and ask for an exchange or refund. "When you buy in a sale, you have exactly the same rights as when you buy at any other time. The only things you can't complain about are defects that were pointed out to you at the time of the sale, or defects you should have noticed," says Graham Lambert, trading standards advice services manager for Nottinghamshire County Council.

Returning goods

From the very first contact you have with the retailer, make a note of the time, date and the name of the person you spoke to, which may help if some sort of dispute arises.

Lambert says disputes are not uncommon: "The most common scenario is a retailer that fobs you off with 'it's not our responsibility, you have to go to the manufacturer'. But, although you do have a manufacturer's guarantee, you also have a Sale of Goods guarantee, so you do have a claim against the retailer too."

The roots of this guarantee lie in the amended Sale of Goods Act 1979. It protects consumers by three implied rights:

The goods must be as described

Be of satisfactory quality

Be fit for a particular purpose made known to the seller.

Therefore, if a product becomes defective in less than six months, the onus of proof is on the retailer, and they have to repair or replace it. If they can't, they have to offer a refund or part-refund. "Generally, goods should last a reasonable time. This varies from item to item, and there's no stipulation in law, but you can claim for up to six years," says Lambert.

Consumers also have the right to consequential loss, he adds. "So, for example, if your fridge-freezer breaks down due to a defect and food gets damaged, you can make a claim."

Returns policy

You may come up against the retailer's returns policy if you need to take something back. Lambert explains: "Get them to spell out their policy. If they point to a 'No Refund' sign, then report them to the local Trading Standards service, because that's illegal. You may well be entitled to a refund, especially if there's a defect."

If the retailer isn't forthcoming, you can take them to the small claims court, which is fairly straightforward and cost-effective. This is where it's useful to have a note of the approaches you have made to the retailer so far.

You simply pick up a form from your local County Court, complete it, and return it with a small fee. The claim will be sent to the retailer, who can either pay up or file a defence. If there's a defence you will get a copy and the court will set up a time for you and the retailer to meet up in a judge's chambers and negotiate a settlement. It's all very informal, and you won't need a lawyer.


You can get help with the process from your local Citizen's Advice Bureau. However, it takes a bit of time, so before you go down this route you should approach the manufacturer.

If you have a guarantee that's in date you can claim on that guarantee, and will be entitled to an exchange or repair. If you still can't get a result and need to know your rights, then call Consumer Direct on: 08454 040506 or visit your nearest Citizen's Advice Bureau.

Credit cards

If you are yet to make your purchase, you have a chance to build in an extra layer of protection by paying for anything worth £100 or more with a credit card. "As part of the Consumer Credit Act, credit card companies are equally responsible for breach of contract, or misrepresentation," says Lambert. "So they will refund the cost to your card, and pursue the retailer themselves. This is particularly useful if the retailer goes bust or disappears."

So if you pick up something faulty in the January sales, you don't have to write it off as an expensive mistake - you can do something about it. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for purchases that were simply misguided. So in the aftermath of the sales frenzy, if you find yourself the proud new owner of an unwearable jumper then you're on your own.

Beware the perils of temptation

There are more potential mistakes to be made when buying in the sales than simply getting faulty goods. So it's worth being aware of the pitfalls:


Recognise why you want to buy particular things.

Think your purchases through rather than being blinded by the deal. Avoid getting into debt to buy your bargains.


If you don't have the cash to buy your bargains now, you can hunt for special offers all year round.


With thanks to Interactive Investors


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