Returning unwanted Christmas gifts

Whether it's a Christmas jumper that doesn't fit or a gadget you'll never use, chances are at some point you've received a present you don't want. But there's no need to let an unwanted gift go to waste – this guide explains how to return it, sell it, regift it or just give it away.

I've been given a naff woolly scarf I'll never wear that was bought in a store – can I just return it? Legally you've no automatic right to return items bought in stores, unless they're faulty (see more on this in our Consumer Rights guide).

Many shops do have their own return policies, which means that you may be able to return it and get a refund, exchange or credit note. But if that's the case this is a voluntary goodwill gesture offered at the shop's discretion – it's not a legal right.

I didn't buy the present. Assuming the store allows returns, can I take it back? Return rights, whether legally enforced or voluntary, generally apply only to the person who actually paid for the item, and you'll usually need a receipt to prove it.

If you have a gift receipt or the present-giver got the shop assistant to write on your receipt and the store's copy of the receipt that it was a gift, eg, "bought as a gift for Bob", then having this should help to at least exchange the item – though unless it's faulty, there's no guarantee as you're at the whim of the store's own returns policy. It can't hurt to ask though.

If the item is faulty, you should be able to return as the gift receipt transfers the buyer's legal rights to you (or Bob…).

But what happens if it was bought online and I don't want it? Do I have more rights? If your gift was bought online, over the phone or by mail order then the good news is the person who bought it has additional return rights under the Consumer Contracts Regulations.

Essentially, they have 14 days after they receive their order to notify the seller that they intend to return the item and get a full refund – and if they choose to do this, they then have a further 14 days after notifying the seller to actually return the item.

So even if there's nothing wrong with the item and you just want to get something else, you can ask them to return it. (There are some things you can't return though, including perishables and personalised items – full details in Consumer Rights.)

However you as the recipient have no rights in law, even if the gift is faulty, unless the buyer has transferred their rights to you by requesting a gift receipt. Not all online retailers offer these, but some do. For example, M&S says you can return items bought online to its stores with a gift receipt, and you'll receive a credit note.

Without a gift receipt, even if a retailer does let someone other than the buyer return an item, you'll still have to go via the buyer as any refund would go back on to the original payment card and any exchange would likely be delivered to the same address.

Drat – I don't have a receipt. Do I absolutely need it? If you weren't given a gift receipt, it's definitely worth trying to get the original receipt from the person who bought the present – some shops may allow you to return items without one, but it depends on the individual store's returns policy. But if the gift is faulty, you don't need a receipt – you simply need to show 'proof of purchase', eg, a cheque book stub, bank statement or credit card statement.

Can I get a refund or only an exchange? If you're returning an item that's faulty, the buyer can get a full refund if they return it within 30 days (though it's safest to do it ASAP). After, the store's obliged to provide a repair or replacement item in the first instance – though of course it may choose to offer a refund you if you ask (see our Consumer Rights guide for more information). If not faulty, it's up to the store (unless it was bought online, where the buyer has more rights).

Do I need the card the item was bought with? You may find it difficult because some shops will only process refunds via the same payment method – so, if your Nan bought that scarf on her debit or credit card, it won't be possible to give you cash for it. You may have to settle on exchanging the item or getting a credit note.

It's not looking too good, is it? What about this jumper – I like it, but it's too big for me. Can't I at least exchange it? Set out formally, your legal rights may seem limited, but the reality is that in practice most shops are more lenient if you're only asking for an exchange. In fact, after Christmas many retailers actually extend these policies to allow more time for people to return gifts in January.

It varies between stores, so it's worth checking. For example, Debenhams' refund policy allows customers to return items and get a refund within 28 days. However, after Christmas it extends its refund policy so this year customers buying goods from 19 Oct have until 31 Jan 2018 to return them.

While M&S normally operates a 'goodwill' returns policy which gives customers 35 days to return or exchange an item with a receipt, for items bought online from 9 Oct onwards it has an additional Christmas returns policy. This allows you to return items (bought online only – not in store) until 13 Jan 2018.

This sounds like a hassle – can't I just regift it to a niece/friend/great-auntie-once-removed? Absolutely. This is probably the easiest and most cost-effective way of disposing of an unwanted gift.

It might be a good idea to keep a drawer or cardboard box in your wardrobe for such gifts and make it your first port of call before you buy anything new. Just make sure you don't give it back to the person who gave it to you in the first place. Putting a tag on it when you receive it will help prevent any future regifting embarrassments.

If I can't get a refund, exchange or credit note, what are my options? Can I sell it? Yes, this is an excellent option. Flogging your unwanted presents is a good way of converting them into cash without offending anyone.

You can try selling items on eBay, local Facebook selling groups and other sites such as Gumtree – but bear in mind that in January lots of people will be doing the same, so prices can dip. See our 40+ eBay selling tips and Facebook Selling guides for more.

For CDs, DVDs or books there are specialist trade-in sites which make selling quick and easy, though again you may not always get the best price.

It's too much effort to sell it, what's the best way to give it away? Charity shops are crying out for unwanted or duplicate gifts and you'll get a warm fuzzy feeling for doing something good. Or alternatively you could always list the item on Freecycle or other giving sites – see Freecycle & Freegle guide for more details.