Your rights when Christmas shopping and dining – all your question answered

Christmas shopping can be a lot of fun… but also immensely stressful.

There’s the panic of doing it last-minute, the struggle to find something decent for everyone on your list, and the endless faff of taking off your winter coat each time you walk into a shop with the heating on full blast.

And that’s before you get to the times when things go wrong.

To help avoid some of the festive misery, it’s vital to know your consumer rights.

Ahead, we answer some common questions about shopping for the big day, from gift cards to returns.

Can I return a gift if I don’t like it?

If the gifter has enclosed a gift receipt, you can take it back and you get a refund or a replacement or a voucher. This will be down to the retailer to choose which options are available.

If the item is faulty, didn’t match the description or didn’t last a reasonable length of time, the retailer is in breach of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA). You are therefore entitled to a refund, if bought within the previous 30 days, or a repair or replacement after 30 days. However, you will need a proof of purchase.

What are my rights if I buy a gift online and then change my mind?

You have a 14 day cooling-off period from the day after you received the goods when you buy via mail order or Internet. And a further 14 days to send it back.

Whether you pay return postage depends on the retailer’s terms and conditions – unless it is in breach of the CRA, in which case you do not pay the return postage.

What can I do with an unwanted gift card?

Get it spent! A retailer is very unlikely to give you your money back on a gift card! Buy something for someone else, or sell the gift card, perhaps?

What else do I need to know about gift cards?

Many have a limited time period on them. So, get it spent, particularly with retailers going under. If a retailer goes into liquidation it is very unlikely you will be able to use your gift card. But you are better off just getting it spent.

What do I do if a gift is faulty?

If you have the proof of purchase and it has been bought within the previous 30 days, you can take the item back for a full refund. After 30 days from purchase you can take the item back for a repair or replacement.

The same applies if it hasn’t lasted a reasonable length of time, didn’t match the description or wasn’t of satisfactory quality.

I paid for speedy delivery and it came late – what are my rights?

If you paid extra for delivery on a certain date, including next day delivery, you are entitled to the refund of that charge if the item did not arrive at the agreed date and time.

My parcel was damaged on delivery – what are my rights?

Your contract is always with the retailer. Therefore, complain to the retailer, not the courier. Some stores will try and fob you off – don’t let them!

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 your contract is always with the company to whom you paid your money.

My Christmas party meal booking was not honoured – what are my rights?

Speak to the manager and try to come to some agreement – perhaps a free drink while you wait for the table. If this cannot be done, then ensure you inform the manager that you will be taking the matter further to claim compensation.

If the booking was for a special occasion then this could be reflected in any compensation claim.

Make sure that the establishment knows that the booking is for a special occasion and what that is when you book. You can claim for loss of enjoyment and disappointment. You can also claim for out-of-pocket expenses such as travel.

Try to find an alternative place to eat. When you complain, show the
evidence of you attempting to find an alternative restaurant.

A note, though: please, honour your booking. Especially in these difficult times for the industry, your no-show could contribute to lost revenue and eventual closure.

The food was poor at my Christmas meal – what are my rights?

You should complain at the time to be taken seriously, and to be able to follow up.

Quote the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which entitles you to food and service that reflects the establishment, i.e. compared with a similar place serving similar food.

You do have the choice of refusing a replacement course and deducting the price of the unsatisfactory item from your bill.

If you are made to pay under protest complain in writing later and if possible write ‘paid under protest’ on the bill and take a photo of it. If you refuse to pay for anything and the establishment does not agree with you or wants to take the matter further, you must leave contact details, otherwise it could be considered theft.

Do not eat the food that you are complaining about. Take a photo for following up the complaint to show the quality problem and then complain in writing.

The service at my Christmas meal was poor – what are my rights?

You are legally entitled to not pay the service charge if service was poor. If the charge has been absorbed into the bill for the meal then you can deduct a reasonable amount e.g. 10%.

Again, use the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which entitles you to services to be carried out with ‘reasonable skill and care’.

How to complain effectively

Need to make a complaint this Christmas? Here are my top tips…

Quote the law

It shows you mean business. You don’t need to know all the details, just where to look for them and how to quote, such as with the CRA above.

Stay polite, objective, and succinct

Getting angry or berating someone won’t help matters.

Outline the issues and what you want as a solution. Is it a refund? Or is it an apology, for example?

Write, don’t phone

This gives you evidence if you need to take the matter further. If you do have to phone, follow up with an email outlining what was agreed during the call.

Provide a deadline

Give them a deadline for when you expect a satisfactory response and outline what you will do if you don’t get one, such as sharing your experience on relevant review sites and forums, going to the Ombudsman or Small Claims Court.

Write to the CEO

If you don’t get satisfaction from Customer Services, go to the top and write to the CEO. You can find the email address for the CEO at

Have yourself a Merry Christmas, confident you will get what you are due from traders, if not from Santa.

Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow consumer champion, is author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! and 101 Habits of an Effective Complainer.

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