Shoppers lose out by £3 billion spent on poor quality goods and services

Citizens Advice are urging people not to get caught out if trying to return Christmas presents

New figures from Citizens Advice show consumers have already bought over £3bn of problematic products this year prompting fears many shoppers will lose out again trying to get money back for broken Christmas gifts.

The Citizens Advice consumer service in England and Wales dealt with over 400,000 complaints between April and November this year about products and services worth a total of £3 billion.

Over half of the problems were about faulty goods and sub-standard services and cost an average of over £2,800each.

A new report released today by Citizens Advice Redressing the balance will call for a change in the law so businesses must provide a refund within 30 days of promising money back. It also recommends a form class action to help groups of consumers take businesses to court.

Some of the complaints were about essential items that people need to make their Christmas go with a bang, including gifts like mobile phones, TVs, toys, games and women’s clothing. Problems ranged from tablet computers that freeze and won’t charge, clothes and shoes that split at the seam and DVDs that won’t play.

The top ten most complained about faulty goods were:

  • Second hand cars bought from an independent dealer
  • Upholstered furniture
  • TVs
  • Mobile phone handsets
  • Lap-tops, notebooks and tablet PCs
  • Used cars bought from a franchise dealer
  • Beds and mattresses
  • Fridges and freezers
  • Washing machines
  • Women’s clothing

Under consumer law retailers must give you either a refund, part refund, repair or replacement for faulty products. The remedy you get will depend on a number of factors, for example, how long you’ve had the product.

Yet many consumers are hitting a brick wall when they try to use their rights.

9 out of 10 people who responded to a Citizens Advice survey were not fully successful when they had complained, attempted to get a refund or get the problem put right.

Citizens Advice is also reminding people that if they don’t like a Christmas gift or it is the wrong size – they don’t have the automatic right to take it back. Returns policies can vary from shop to shop so Citizens Advice is releasing new top tips to help people take back broken or unwanted Christmas gifts.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

“Many people will be disappointed by broken gifts this Christmas. But it’s even more frustrating and expensive when you can’t get your money back.

“By law retailers must offer refunds, repairs or replacements for faulty products but all too often this is not happening. Household budgets are tight meaning many people don’t have the money to buy a new item if its broken and the seller has refused to sort it out.

“This is not good for consumer confidence. In these tough economic times people need to know that when they buy something they’re not going to be short changed if things go wrong.

“Stronger, clearer consumer rights will help protect squeezed spenders from expensive purchases that go wrong, and will give businesses a boost as shoppers feel more confident parting with their hard-earned cash.”

The current law does give consumers rights if they buy something which is faulty or substandard. Yet there is a huge void because if a trader refuses to comply with the law when you are buying high street goods like Christmas presents and electrical items – often the only other option for the consumer is to take them to court. This is a process which many consider too risky, too expensive or simply not worth their while.

In Redressing the Balance Citizens Advice is exposing the problems consumers face when something goes wrong with the product or service they have bought. The report draws on evidence from across the Citizens Advice service including the 180,000 consumer problems dealt with by bureaux between April and September 2012.

In the report Citizens Advice is calling for changes in consumer law including:

  • A clear 30 day time-limit for retailers to give refunds so consumers know where they stand.
  • An option for class action, which would allow groups of consumers to take businesses to court. This would give customers greater confidence, and would make it more worthwhile to take up smaller claims.
  • Clear information to be displayed when goods are bought. Some businesses try to apply their own returns policy to faulty goods when consumers should be protected under the law.
  • Greater powers for the Trading Standards services to get customers compensation without having to take businesses through the courts.

If you’ve got a problem with something you bought and want to know what you can do, call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 08454 04 05 06, or get online help at or visit your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

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