You’ve probably been there - signed on the dotted line and, almost instantly, had second thoughts. So what are your rights if you’ve signed your John Hancock on the dotted line, only to wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat?
Naturally, theer’s no simple answer - it all depends on what you bought - and where you’ve bought it
Buying in a shop
If you bought something in a shop and then just change your mind about it, you may be surprised to find out that you have NO legal right to return the goods. However, many shops have a returns policy which lets you to take your items back to the shop for any reason and get a refund
Shops that allow you to return goods if you change your mind will give a time limit for when you can do this, often 30 days. Sometimes shops will only let you exchange the goods for something else in the store, rather than giving you a refund. Or they may give you a credit note or voucher to use in their store. This is often the case if you’re returning something you bought in a sale
Watch out for variations on a theme such as no refunds without a receipt or no refunds if packaging has been removed. Also you can’t return some items for hygiene reasons, such as earrings, underwear and bondage accessories!
But if you buy something in a shop and it turns out to be damaged, broken or faulty in some way, you may have a legal right to return the goods and get your money back.
The law says that any item you buy from a trader must be:
- of satisfactory quality
- fit for purpose
- match any description given.
If it isn’t, you can usually get one of the following:
- a repair
- a replacement
- your money back
- some of your money back
It’s unlikely you’ll be able to get all your money back if you’ve kept the goods for too long before telling the trader, or tried to repair or change the goods yourself in any way
If you’re shopping online, by phone or mail order, you are protected by Distance Selling Regulations, a right to cancel for any reason within seven working days of receiving the goods. You must cancel in writing either by fax, letter or e-mail. You don’t have to say why. These rights don’t apply if you’re buying:
- In a shop rather than from home
- Financial services such as banking or insurance
- From an auction
- Land or property sale contracts
- Advance booking of accommodation, transport, catering or leisure services such as train tickets, air flights or holidays
- Betting or lottery services
- A service that has started within the cooling off period with your agreement
Or things you can’t return including:
- Perishables - such as fresh food or flowers
- Personalised goods
- Sealed video or audio tapes or computer software that you’ve opened
- Newspapers or magazines
Goods must be supplied within 30 days of your order, unless you’ve agreed to a longer delivery period. If they don’t arrive in that time you must get a full refund
If you buy something costing more than £35 from a trader who visits your home or place of work, whether you asked them to or not, you’re protected by Doorstep Selling Regulations, which also grant you a seven-day cooling off period. Just make sure you’re buying from a reputable company that can be traced afterwards. Other points to note:
- The rules only apply if the contract is agreed while the trader is with you
- These cancellation rights don’t apply if the trader visits and later sends you a written quotation, which you accept by phone or in writing when he is not present
- The trader must give you a written notice of your cancellation rights, including a cancellation form, which explains how you can cancel. If the trader fails to give you this written information he commits a criminal offence and does not have a legal right to demand payment. Contact Trading Standards if this happens to you
- You must cancel in writing. Cancellation takes effect the day you send the letter, not the day the trader receives it. Keep a copy and get proof of posting
You have plenty of protection when buying banking or financial services such as an insurance policy, a credit card, personal loan, pension or ISA. You have a standard 14-day cooling off period, rising to 30 days forlife insurance and personal pensions, regardless of whether you bought direct from the bank, by post, or through a broker.
However, your bank or broker is free to deduct reasonable charges, plus a fee reflecting the number of days cover you had.
If you switch your gas or electricity supplier after being cold called by a rival, you have seven days to cancel under the Distance Selling Regulations. But if you agreed the service could start immediately, you will have sacrificed this cooling-off period (a fact the salesman must point out to you at the time). You also have a seven-day cooling off period if you signed up on your doorstep, under the Cancellation of Contracts Made in a Consumer’s Home or Place of Work etc Regulations 2008 - trips off the tongue doen’t it?
Mobile phone contracts
Most people still sign new mobile phone contracts on the High Street, but Distance Selling Regulations give you greater protection if you buy online. If you placed your order by phone, mail or the web, you benefit from a seven-day cooling off period. But if you bought in a store, there’s no refund unless your phone turns out to be faulty
Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve just been talked into buying a pricy extended warranty on your product. The good news is that you are legally entitled to a full refund within 45 days, unless you’ve made a claim on the policy
If you’re daring enough to buy a timeshare, the Timeshare Act 1992 gives you a 14-day cooling off period, provided you signed the contract in the UK. Many European states offer 10 days. Having rights is one thing, being able to exercise them quite another, given the shelf life of many timeshare companies. The safest thing to do is not buy at all
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