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Sometimes getting a refund is a lot trickier than it ought to be. A LOT trickier.
Sometimes a customer is entitled to a refund. Sometimes they’re not.
Sometimes they haven’t got a clue what they’re entitled to.
Different companies have vastly different policies: from ‘no quibble’ guarantees offering the prospect of utter joy and permanent customer euphoria to businesses which say that they provide refunds but will do everything—everything!—in their power to prevent shoppers from returning goods.
I recently spent a tiresome lunch hour trying to get a refund on a waterproof jacket that was more akin to a coat-shaped sponge than an item of outdoor clothing. The raincoat wasn’t cheap and I wasn’t happy. The shop assistant obfuscated, insisting that I could only be offered a handwritten credit note. After 30 minutes of tedious, low level arguing a manager was called. He too laboured under the misapprehension that a credit note was all that I'd get, asserting that his shop could not be held responsible for manufacturing faults.
I wasn’t sure whether the sales team were genuinely ignorant on the law—that, in particular, a customer is entitled to a refund if a product is faulty (even if the defect is not the shop’s fault as such)—or whether they were just being stubborn: they wanted to keep the money within their business.
Lawyers have been aware of these issues for years. The Law Commission recognised in 2012 that,
there may be a need for public enforcement [by consumers] against traders who regularly mislead consumers about their legal rights.
The Commission highlighted that traders which undertook these practices were a problem. It went on to state that this type of behaviour was ‘serious and undesirable’ but, in the end, it thought that:
traders who habitually or intentionally seek to deprive consumers of their legal rights are best dealt with by public enforcement,
In essence, the authorities stood back a wee bit, and despite many forthright statements, decided not to prioritise giving additional redress to consumers at that time as it would have amounted to a ‘major extension of the law’.
Traders shouldn't rest on their laurels though. Consumer law is constantly developing in the EU and the UK. If things don’t improve and businesses believe that they can get away with malpractice the law may well change in the future. What’s more, the authorities still have sanctions that they can impose on miscreant businesses now. Those laws haven’t gone away.
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