Unwrapping the truth on returning online goods

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Have your say

Each week former trading standards officer Richard Thomson answers your questions.

Q I read with interest your answer to a reader about returning unwanted or unsuitable products to suppliers. As a serial internet shopper I frequently come across shops and stores that say goods can only be sent back to them for a full refund if they are unwrapped. Can you clarify the situation please?

TJ (e-mail)

A I’ve had a number of enquiries from readers about returning goods ordered over the internet or by phone.

Without going into the mind-numbing complexities of contract law, the basic rule is if you order goods from a distance without first having had the opportunity to inspect them, you’ll be covered by the Distance Selling Regulations (DSR).

This gives you the right to return goods for any reason for full refund within seven days, beginning on the first day after you receive them. You may have to pay the return postage, but that depends on the reasonableness of the supplier’s ‘small print’ terms and conditions.

Alongside your DSR rights are your rights under the Sale of Goods Act. These spell out the necessity for buyers to be able to inspect goods to check whether they are ‘in conformity with the contract’.

This is a convoluted legal way of confirming your right to check that your purchase will do what it says on the tin.

It follows that unless you can unwrap them there’s no way you can decide whether they meet your expectations.

I therefore have no hesitation in advising you that any internet shop returns policy insisting that the goods must be returned in pristine unopened original packing is unenforceable and not worth the paper it’s written on.

Many shopping websites do not spell out your rights under the DSR or comply with the Sale of Goods Act. If you come across such sites you should report them to trading standards.

Of course the law wouldn’t be the law if there weren’t exceptions. The DSR don’t apply to computer software and games, DVDs, or any other ‘intellectual’ type property. They must be returned unopened if you’re to get your money back.

These rules only apply to distance selling. If you buy anything from a shop and you change your mind about it, you can’t insist on your money back unless the goods don’t work as they should, or are otherwise not up to scratch.

Q Is it possible for me as an Englishman now living in the USA to receive an old age pension? I worked and paid taxes from when I left school until I came to the US in 2001.

LS (e-mail)

A Yes you can receive your UK pension entitlement in the USA because the UK has a social security agreement with the US Government. You can get the information you need by going to direct.gov.uk and using the search facility for ‘payment of UK state pensions, reciprocal agreements’ or payment of UK pensions abroad’.


Richard Thomson is a former trading standards officer with many years experience. If you have a question, e-mail him at richardjthomson1@sky.com and wherever possible he will try to provide practical assistance. Unfortunately he cannot guarantee to respond to every letter or e-mail. Richard Thomson welcomes letters from readers on consumer issues. Replies are intended to give general help or advice, not a complete statement of law.