OVER £1 billion worth of last-minute Christmas gifts and Boxing Day bargains are likely to be returned as shoppers – and recipients – regret their choices, but many will be disappointed by the response they get.

According to consumer organisation Which?, more than half over-estimate their rights if they change their minds after making a purchase on the high street.

When asked about taking back an unwanted item, 52 per cent wrongly thought they would be entitled to a full refund.

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There is an automatic right of return for most goods bought online, by phone or mail order, provided the retailer is notified within 14 days of delivery and the item is sent back within the following 14 days.

The exceptions are tailor-made or personalised items, those bought from private individuals, perishables such as food and flowers, and unsealed CDs, DVDs and software, which can only go back if faulty, not as described or ordered.

But the same generous terms do not automatically apply to purchases made in shops. Retailers can set their own returns policies for non-faulty goods, and many will not take back unwanted purchases or gifts.

Just one in five respondents to the Which? survey said they always asked about the returns policy before buying, while twice as many admitted they never did.

Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services, said: “Make sure you know your return and refund rights before you hit the shops.

“Most of us have bought something that we later want to take back, so do your research and check the retailers’ returns policies to avoid a nasty surprise.”

If the seller arranges delivery and the goods do not arrive or are harmed in transit, it is responsible for dealing with the courier and rectifying the situation.

If any purchase is damaged, not as described or develops a fault, the seller is legally obliged to provide a repair, replacement or full refund, regardless of its returns policy.

It does not matter if it was bought online or in a shop, at full price or in a sale, as long as the problem was not pointed out before the purchase was completed, the retailer – not the manufacturer – must give appropriate redress, including reimbursing postage or collection costs.

If the problem becomes apparent within 30 days, you do not have to accept a repair or replacement, as the retailer has to give a full refund, and some may extend this time limit voluntarily over Christmas. The rules for digital purchases are slightly different, as explained below.

If it is between 30 days and six months before the problem becomes evident, you are entitled to a free repair or like-for-like replacement. If this is also unsatisfactory and you do not want the retailer to try again, you can then have a full refund.

After six months, you may get a repair or replacement, but you could be asked to prove you did not cause the fault. If the item still does not work or the replacement is not identical, you can opt for a partial refund that reflects use to date.

If a purchase is in some other way not fit for purpose or as described, even if it is second-hand, you can insist on a full refund.

For digital content, such as an app, film, music, game or ebook, which does not work or is not as described, the Consumer Rights Act gives the retailer one opportunity to make a repair or replacement before you can insist on a refund.

If you have any concerns about a purchase that costs £100 or over, paying by credit card gives additional protection. If it is broken, faulty or fails to arrive, or the seller goes bust, the card company must reimburse you.

If there is nothing wrong with an item bought in a shop and you or the recipient simply do not want it, some sellers will give a refund, swap or credit note for up to 28 days and they may even extend this period over Christmas. But others will refuse, so it is always wise to check before parting with your cash.

Leon Livermore, chief executive of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said: “While consumer law can be daunting, taking the time to understand your rights pays off in the long run.”

For information on how to claim a credit card, debit card or PayPal refund, plus what to do if a retailer refuses to fulfil its obligations or goes out of business before you can gain redress, call the consumer helpline on 03454 040506 or see citizensadvice.org.uk/scotland.