Your rights as a consumer

Find out all you need to know about receipts, refunds and exchanges

Written by Evelyn Coffin


When you buy something, whether online, in person, over the phone, or any other way, you as a consumer have certain rights. Under consumer law, you have the rights to goods of a reasonable quality, the right to return faulty goods, and others that protect you. Here’s a look at your rights when buying goods in general.

Buying goods

When purchasing an item, the item sold to you must be:

  • Of merchantable quality – this means that the item must meet certain standards
  • Fit for its intended purpose – the item must be able to be used for what it was made for, so for example a kettle with a hole in it is not fit for its intended purpose
  • As described – the merchant can’t exaggerate in advertisements; the item must appear as it was described

When you are purchasing goods, you are entitled to do so without being harassed, lied to, coerced, or otherwise pressured by the salesperson.


Although stores are not required to give you a receipt, it’s a good idea always to ask for one, as they are an easy way to prove that you bought something in a certain store. Your consumer rights are protected even if you’ve lost the original receipt, too, and you can also use:

  • A credit or debit card statement
  • An invoice
  • A checkbook stub

When you are returning an item or getting an exchange for faulty goods, any of these receipts will suffice as proof of purchase.

Changing your mind

If you simply change your mind about buying an item, the shop you bought it from does not have to give you a refund; it is not a legal requirement.

Faulty goods

If the item you bought has a major problem, you are entitled under consumer law to work something out, for which you have several options. Some things to know first:

If you bought something that turns out to be faulty while it was on sale, your consumer rights are the same.

  • However, if the fault was pointed out to you before you bought the item, you do not have the right to return it
  • If the item’s fault is superficial, or should have been easily seen at the time of purchase, you do not have the right to ask for a refund or exchange
  • If stores have signs that say “no exchanges” or “no refunds,” those signs do not apply to items with faults
  • It is your responsibility to notice a fault, and it’s important to act quickly to inform the seller
  • If the item was a gift, you will still need to show a receipt

Options for faulty goods

  • Reject the item—full refund

If you buy something that does not work from the outset, you have the right to reject the item, and are entitled to a full refund. The item must have a major problem which does not allow it to do its intended job at all.

  • Repair

If you buy something that works for a little while before you discover something wrong with it, you have the right to request that the item be repaired or replaced for free—as long as you didn’t cause the damage. Usually, you are entitled to this within the first six months of using the item. If the seller repairs the item, and the problem occurs again, you can then demand a refund or a replacement.

If you caused the damage to the item, the seller can still charge you for the repair or replacement.

  • Replacement

If it is difficult or impossible to repair the item, the seller may replace it for you. The replacement item should be the same or a similar product, and of the same or a similar price. You should never pay more if your replacement was a better quality, and if you paid less for the original product, you should be given the difference in the price.

  • Price Reduction

If the item has been repaired or replaced but is still not doing what it is supposed to, you can demand a reduction in price if you would rather just deal with a partly working item.

Shopping in sales and secondhand

  • If you buy something on sale, your rights don’t change just because the item was on sale
  • If you buy an item at full price and it turns out to be faulty, and is now on sale, you have the right to demand a refund at full price, with proof of purchase
  • Before buying something on sale, check the return policy first, as it may be different and could affect whether or not you will be able to return it
  • Always check sale items before purchasing
  • Similarly, secondhand goods are often “sold-as-seen,” so make sure you inspect the item first and make sure it works
  • If the secondhand item still turns out to be faulty, you still have the right to return it to the shop and ask for a refund
  • If you are buying something from a private seller, you have no consumer rights—so buyer beware!

Making a complaint

If you feel that your consumer rights are not being respected, you can make a complaint. It may be that a product is faulty, you received poor service, or that you have complained already and received no response. In order to make an effective complaint, you should remember to:

  • Know your rights
  • Assert yourself—but don’t be aggressive
  • Try to stay calm and be polite
  • Keep receipts, notes, and records

In order to make the complaint, you should:

  • Be able to explain why you are complaining, as well as what you want from the complaint: a refund, exchange, etc
  • Act quickly; sometimes there are time limits on returns or exchanges, and sometimes it just weakens your argument if more time has passed
  • Get in contact with the right person, and make sure they know how to contact you
  • In a store, it’s best to ask to speak to a manager; over the phone or by email, make sure you know who you’re addressing, and that they know who you are
  • Formal complaints may need to be made if you’re getting no response, or if you were unsatisfied with the initial result
  • In a formal letter, it’s important to be clear and concise as to exactly why you’re writing.
  • If there is still no response to your complaint, you may have to take the complaint to the small claims court, which is designed to be simple for consumers
  • For more information about making a complaint, as well as help drafting a complaint letter

Need more information, advice or guidance?

We offer information, advice and guidance about the issues that matter to you. Our online Youth Information Chat service is for 16 to 25 year olds and is available Monday to Friday, 4pm to 8pm (excluding Bank Holidays).

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