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Brits spend £2 billion and six million hours fixing consumer gripes since October alone

New research from Citizens Advice finds almost a quarter of Brits (24%, equivalent to 12.4 million people) have experienced a problem with an item they’ve bought since October 2023.

The charity’s study found consumers spent over £2 billion and six million hours - an average of £64 and 94 minutes per person - trying to fix these issues. This was made up by, for example, people needing to take time off work to return a parcel within set hours, or racking up phone bills hanging on the end of a customer helpline.

Citizens Advice found shoppers were seven times more likely to have an issue with online purchases compared to those made in store (24% vs 3%).

Further analysis revealed:

  • Delivery issues were the most common (57%) problems for consumers with products arriving late (28%) or not arriving at all (27%). This was closely followed by consumers receiving defective goods (52%)
  • Those aged between 18-24 (34%) and those with children younger than ten (33%) were most likely to be left out of pocket, (compared to the average of 24%)

To help shoppers start 2024 clued up on their rights, Citizens Advice is sharing its top tips to shop confidently. This advice marks the start of its Consumer Awareness campaign (Monday 29th January - Sunday 4th February). The annual campaign is run by Citizens Advice in collaboration with the Consumer Protection Partnership (CPP), which includes Trading Standards and the Department for Business and Trade.

Jane Parsons, Consumer Expert at Citizens Advice offers advice to help consumers shop safely this year:

1. Delivery problems

  • It’s the seller’s responsibility to make sure the item is delivered to you. Check the delivery address you gave the seller and contact them to ask where your order is.
  • If the seller claims they've delivered it or don't know where it is, you can ask for a redelivery. You might be able to get a refund in some circumstances.

2. Defective goods

○If something’s gone wrong with an item you’ve bought, you might be entitled to a refund, repair or replacement. You’ll have legal rights if the item you bought is:

  • broken or damaged ('not of satisfactory quality')
  • unusable (‘not fit for purpose’)
  • not what was advertised or doesn’t match the seller’s description"

3. What if I change my mind?

○If you buy in store, you don’t have a legal right to return goods if you’ve simply changed your mind. Lots of shops have their own policies and do allow this, but time limits can vary.

○If you buy online you usually get a right to cancel, known as a cooling off period, but there are exemptions including bespoke or personalised goods, and computer software where the seal is broken.

4. Pay safe

  • Pay by card so you have another form of protection if there’s a problem. The other way would be by making a chargeback or section 75 claim to your card provider.
  • Be cautious if you’re asked to pay in an unusual way such as in iTunes vouchers, crypto currency or via bank transfer as this could be the sign of a scam.

5. Making a return

  • Get proof of your return - a receipt from a shop or proof of postage. If you pay for return postage check the service you use covers the value of the goods.
  • Using a service that includes tracking means you can prove when a trader received your return.

Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“As we go into the new year, it’s vital consumers are empowered with the right knowledge to shop safely. With budgets already stretched it’s important shoppers don't waste precious time and money on retail issues that could easily be avoided.”

“Citizens Advice is dedicated to giving consumers the knowledge they need to stay savvy when shopping on the highstreet or online. Everyone can be a consumer champion when armed with the right information.”