Shop around before parting with cash

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

Q Can you help me clarify a pricing matter? I understood that firms have to publish their prices inclusive of VAT, but a business friend says that his price lists exclude VAT and indicate that a further 20 per cent has to be added to arrive at the final price. Who is right please?

DP (e-mail)

A You told me this query arose because you were looking to replacing your carpets. You saw an advert in a local monthly magazine sent to households in your locality that appeared to offer good value carpeting until you noticed the prices were all ex VAT.

You believed quoting ex VAT prices was deliberately misleading the public.

You then asked a business friend, who was adamant that it was perfectly OK to indicate prices ex VAT, and couldn’t understand where you were coming from.

The answer is that it all depends on whether the firm is primarily selling carpets to other traders, or the general public.

It’s an offence to indicate prices exclusive of VAT if you sell to non-traders. Clearly an advertiser in a magazine aimed at selling products to households should know that its prices must be inclusive of VAT if it is to comply with the law.

But your business friend was not really wide of the mark either. It’s not an offence for firms to advertise products to sell to each other exclusive of VAT.

That explains why a firm that sells both to the public and to other traders usually quotes both the ex VAT and VAT inclusive prices in its advertising in order to ensure scrupulous compliance with the law.

Q My dad bought and paid for a 42-inch flatscreen TV from Currys at what he believed was a bargain price. I did a quick search on the web and discovered he could have bought it from an online supplier almost £35 cheaper. I took it back to Currys for him but they refused to refund his money. Where do we stand?

GT (e-mail)

A I’m frequently asked to explain situations where traders refuse to refund shoppers’ money just because they could have bought the very same product cheaper elsewhere.

The plain fact is that Currys made your dad an offer to buy the TV at the displayed price, and he agreed to buy it.

Traders have rights too. Currys is completely in the right to refuse a refund on goods simply because they could have been bought cheaper elsewhere.

The moral of the story is to shop around for the best price before parting with any money.

I can understand your dad feels the £35 quid is better off in his pocket, but there is nothing wrong with stores selling their merchandise for the highest price they can get for it.


Richard Thomson has worked for leading UK and European companies as a market research analyst, and in consumer education and protection with trading standards. Write or e-mail him with your consumer questions or to fight for your rights at An individual answer cannot be guaranteed. Replies are intended to give help or advice, not a complete statement of law.