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Many Happy Returns – Return to Sender

The Evening Herald
Linda Higgins, January 5th, 2005

So Christmas has come and gone and you’re left with loads of pressies you already have, don’t like, or just can’t fit into. But don’t despair, writes Consumer Affairs Editor LINDA HIGGINS – you’ve got rights and we know how to use them.

Now that the holidays are over, you may just find yourself left with piles of unwanted gifts. It’s sweet of auntie Mabel to think that you’re still the size 10 you were in your teenage years, but there’s no way that you’re going to fit into the pretty cardigan that she bought you.

Meanwhile, your brother has given you a DVD that you already have, while you purchased a pair of expensive designer high heel shoes…only for a heel to fall off at your New Years party!

So, what can you do? You can make use of your consumer rights and return the above products to the outlets in which they were purchased.

As a nation, the Irish have long been ridiculously reluctant to complain about shoddy goods or bad service, but that is changing rapidly.

We’re now becoming far more aware of our power as consumers … and our rights when things go wrong.

Under the law, the consumer is entitled to expect that the goods are of merchantable quality, fit for their purpose, reasonable durable, and as described. If the goods do not meet these requirements, then it is up to the seller to put matters right.

You don’t have to accept a credit note if your complaint is covered by the Sale of Goods Act – you can insist on a refund, a replacement or a repair. If you have a genuine complaint about faulty goods, then ignore shop notices such as “No Exchanges” or “No Refunds”, as these cannot take away your statutory rights.

As the consumer, you have rights regarding the seller, and the seller has the duty to rectify the matter. You can pursue this, if necessary, through the courts.


“I can personally confirm that it pays to complain and demand the rights to which you are entitled,” says Dermott Jewell, Chief Executive of the Consumer Association of Ireland.

“The only point that I would like to see clarified is that any sign that suggests the consumer is not entitled to a refund is illegal – especially if it also suggests that this is the case during a sale.

“You will always be entitled to a refund if the goods you bought are not fit for purpose which they were bought, are of poor quality, damaged or, finally, are not as they were described and which prompted you to buy them in the first place.”

You are not in as strong a position if you are trying to return a gift rather than something that you purchased, particularly if you don’t have a receipt.

When goods are bought, the consumer has a contract with the seller. A person who receives goods as a gift is not considered to be a consumer.

That said, many retailers operate a goodwill policy, and will exchange unwanted gifts that are in pristine condition. Bring the receipt, if you have it, or you may have received a “gift receipt” (which gives product details and name of shop, but not the price).

However, the law doesn’t allow for a change of heart. You may have decided that you don’t like the colour of the dress you bought before Christmas, but that doesn’t mean you’re entitled to exchange it. The shop where you purchased it has no legal obligation in these circumstances.

“I would say that we receive good reports of co-operation from retainers, particularly if consumers explain their case politely,” says Carmel Foley, Director of Consumer Affairs.

Make sure that you know your rights, and the policy of the shop, before you charge in to complain.

The Office of Director of Consumer Affairs (ODCA) is an independent body that provides advice and information to consumers on their statutory rights. If does not intervene in individual disputes.

While the Small Claims Court is a useful resource for dissatisfied consumers, many people find their complaint is solved to their satisfaction after a discussion with the retailer.

For a start, make sure that you direct your complaint to the appropriate individual or body.


The information agency Comhairle recently published a useful free book called Where to Complain.

It’s a comprehensive guide to organisations that deal with citizen and consumer rights enforcements, and includes contact details for 150 organisations at Irish and EU levels.

“There has been an increase in the number of enquiries from the public to the national network of Citizens Information Centres (CICs), says Leonie Lunny, Chief Executive of Comhairle. Indeed, over 600,000 enquiries on all aspects of rights and entitlements were processed by CICs last year.”

Around 32,000 people phoned the consumer helpline last year and there were 3,223 contacts by email, post and personal callers, on a wide range of consumer issues.

Over half of all contacts were from consumers enquiring about their rights under the Sale of Goods Act.


Courtesy of www.valueireland.com, here are some handy tips on making your voice heard if you’re unhappy with a product…

Act Quickly – As soon as you realise you have a problem, either with a product or service you are paying for, bring it to the attention of the seller as soon as possible. Do not delay. This is particularly important if you are in a restaurant – there is no point in complaining at the end as you haven’t given them an opportunity to rectify the situation.

Always be polite – There is no point in “attacking first”. Calmly and politely explaining the situation is the best way to get a good reaction from those you are complaining to.

Be clear/precise in your complaint and what you expect to resolve the situation – Vague and generic complaints are of no use to those you are complaining to as they cannot properly respond to such complaints. When you are making a complaint, you must have an idea of what it is that you want to achieve. Decide what you want if you are entitled to a full refund, a replacement or a repair. Are you prepared to accept a credit note or an exchange? You should however also be aware of what the consequences may be if you do complain.

Allow the retailer/seller an opportunity to explain the situation, and hopefully suggest a solution – Listen to what they are saying in response to your complaint in order to avoid misunderstandings. This may save time, aggravation and money.

Complain to the right person – If you return to a shop with a faulty or unsatisfactory product, ask for the manager. In a large store, restaurant, or supermarket, ask for the department manager or customer services desk. Shop assistants and waiters are not always authorised to deal with complaints, especially if you want a refund. If the manager is not available, insist that someone else must have been left in charge and ask to see that person instead. If this fails, make an appointment to call back and see the manager.

If you are dissatisfied with the response to your complaint, put it in writing – Put your complaint in writing, following all of the tips above, to the person in the shop, business or organisation that is responsible for dealing with complaints. If possible, find out also the person they report to so you can follow up with them also, if necessary. Where necessary, don’t forget to send copies of receipts, documentation and anything else relevant. Again, be clear on what resolution you expect to your complaint, and in your letter you should provide a reasonable deadline for action, and what subsequent actions you will be taking then.

What to do if no response to a written compla
int – Firstly, being the reasonable person that you are, send a second letter, only this time send it registered, and send a copy to the persons manager, or other senior people within the organisation. If you still receive no satisfactory responses, you should follow up with the relevant consumers organisations who will help you, and be better able to advise you on next possible steps – they may follow up for you, or provide assistance on whether you should pursue any legal actions. The Irish Consumer Organisations are listed here.

Finally, know your rights – You should be aware of what your consumer rights are, and clear on how they have been infringed in any situation where you are complaining. Click here for a summary of your basic consumer rights. Or else click here for full details of your consumer rights under the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act 1980.

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