Were your Christmas gifts not what you'd hoped for? While you can't make up for the disappointment of unwrapping a faulty gadget or a pair of dodgy socks, you may be able to get a refund, an exchange or a repair.

Your rights depend on where it was bought (eg, online or in-store) and, crucially, whether it's faulty. If it's simply an unwanted gift, your rights are much reduced, but you do still have some, as we explain below. For more info, check your full Consumer Rights,

My gift's faulty, what can I do?

Under the Sale of Goods Act the retailer is responsible for providing goods that are "of satisfactory quality, adescribed, fit for purpose and last a reasonable length of time". 

If it's faulty or damaged, the law says the retailer (not the manufacturer) needs to sort it out – so take it back to where it was bought within a month and you're legally entitled to a refund. See Martin's SAD FART rule and arm yourself with the Free Consumer Rights Wallet Guide.

What do I need to return a faulty item?

It's a common misconception that you need a receipt to return faulty goods – you don't. Legally you only need proof of purchase, so credit card/bank statements are just as good.

Who can return the item?

If the item's faulty, and you've proof of purchase or a gift receipt, many retailers will deal directly with you if you received the gift.

But when an item is bought, a contract begins between the purchaser and the retailer. This means you may need to ask the person who bought it for you to take it back to the shop or to give you the receipt.

Staff told me I can't return sales items. What can I do?

Many staff wrongly think their own store policy trumps the law – it doesn't. Faulty items, discounted or not, are subject to the same rules.

How long have I got to return it?

As a very rough guide, make sure you get things back in under a month if you want a full refund (the Government is proposing to clarify this rule to give a fixed 30 days to reject everything but perishable goods – see the Consumers set for stronger rights MSE News story).

After that, you're classed as having 'accepted the goods', meaning getting a refund is much more difficult. However, that doesn't mean your rights evaporate.

The Sales of Goods Act says goods must "last a reasonable length of time". This means after the first month, but within the first six months, the retailer must prove the item wasn't faulty when the transaction took place.

If it can't, you're due a free repair or replacement. After six months, you must prove it was faulty when sold, which is much more difficult.

You've actually got up to six years to bring a claim (five in Scotland). So in effect, that's the maximum time you have to take back faulty goods. If a £1,000 telly goes kaput after 18 months, you've still a good shot at getting a repair or refund.

What if my item was bought online and I can't take it in-store?

Confusingly, unlike buying in-store, you have a legal right to send goods back even if they are not faulty.

If you buy online, by mail order or catalogue from an UK or EU-based business, then the Distance Selling Regulations mean you have a no-fault right to return the goods.

However, you must tell the retailer within seven working days. Beware, there are some exceptions to this rule, including personalised gifts and perishables. Check your full online rights.

I just don't want it – can I take it back?

With faulty or damaged goods, it's a case of rex lex – "the law is the king". With unwanted gifts, the store's own policy rules, as it's under no obligation to give you anything.

However, to ensure they aren't upsetting customers, many stores do allow it. Most will want the item to be unused and in its original packaging. Again, if the goods aren't faulty, the retailer sets the rules.

Are there any items I can't return?

If you've been given a personalised photo book with pictures of your pet dog plastered inside, it's unlikely the retailer's going to take it, or other personalised items, back.

Most retailers will refuse to refund perishables such as flowers or food, as well as items such as DVDs, CDs and games where the seal has been broken.

What do I need to return a gift?

Awkwardly, you'll need to ask whoever bought the unwanted gift to provide you with the receipt to stand any chance of getting a refund or credit note.

If the store's generous enough to offer you a refund, and the buyer paid for an item on a debit or credit card, they'll need to return the item and take their card with them.

I love my Christmas jumper, but it's the wrong size. Can I change it?

Unfortunately, an item being a little tight after Christmas indulgence doesn't count as faulty, meaning it's down to the store's own returns policy. It's worth asking, though.

What about returning undies?

Many are told you can't return undies, but this isn't strictly true. If they're faulty, you can. But as with jumpers, getting the wrong size doesn't count as a fault.

The store won't take it – anything else I can try?

If the store won't take back the item, flog it. While you may not want a pair of thermal socks, someone, somewhere will probably take them off your hands (or should that be feet?)

Use our Flog It guide to declutter and earn extra cash.

Martin Lewis
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