Return and Refund Laws

Purchasing goods that are faulty or not fit for purpose is always a frustrating experience. And consumers’ rights in the eyes of the law vary significantly depending on where you are in the world. Whether retailers comply with the law is, in part, influenced by the willingness of consumers to enforce their rights, and that in turn is more likely in areas where laws are not opaque.

Of course, if you buy items from a shady character on a street corner, consumer rights go out of the window. But platforms like eBay are generally safe because consumer law still applies to professional sellers, and eBay reinforces confidence in private sellers with its Money Back Guarantee. Feedback systems are used by many online marketplaces to encourage good behavior by vendors.

Let’s see what kind of protection consumers can expect when they buy items in Europe, the UK and the US.

Examples of Return and Refund Laws

Let’s say you buy an item that proves faulty, unfit for purpose or is not as described. Your right to a refund varies, depending on where you are:

  • The UK – in the United Kingdom, consumers are entitled to a refund if they return faulty goods within a 30-day period accompanied by a receipt. That’s irrespective of store policy.
  • The EU – in the EU countries, goods are guaranteed for two years by law, though there is some leeway as to how consumers are compensated (items may be repaired or replaced or a refund offered).
  • USA – in the US, obligations for retailers vary by state. In some states, they are required to clearly display their return and refund policy.

Member states of the EU may set their own laws, provided they comply with overall EU law. For instance, if you buy products at Royal Design, the company abides by Swedish consumer law and will consider claims up to three years after a faulty item is received.

In the UK, consumers can make a claim on faulty goods up to six years after purchase (five years in Scotland). However, after six months, the onus is on the consumer to prove that the item was faulty at the time of purchase. The same is true in the EU countries, so it’s wise to check goods are satisfactory as soon as possible.

Which Laws Apply?

When you buy goods from abroad, local consumer laws apply. This is worth considering if purchasing items that are more prone to defects (e.g. electrical goods), since customer recourse may prove more problematic. Choosing vendors with a good reputation is always wise, irrespective of location.