It's easy to throw caution to the wind at Christmas time, but remember just because you might splash out on something a friend and family member doesn't secretly want, it doesn't mean you don't have rights.

The important thing to remember at Christmas is your statutory rights and consumer rights are the same as they normally are.

Tina Leonard tells Today with Pat Kenny her top tips.

Returns

No matter what you are buying or where you are buying it this Christmas be sure and ask what the returns policy is. This is the store’s policy on returning unwanted or unsuitable purchases for a refund, replacement or credit note.

Some shops will allow exchanges and/or give credit notes; others also offer refunds. Some shops do not allow returns for unwanted items at all. This is why you must check in advance; so you will avoid disappointment later.

The shop’s returns policy is entirely up to them and is separate from your statutory rights. Some may allow returns for unwanted items within 2 weeks, others 28 days. Bear in mind that if you buy a gift now, a two-week returns policy will be up before you even give the gift at Christmas.

Keep the packaging - many shoe shops for example won't take footwear back unless it is in its original box.

And don’t forget to ask for a gift receipt if the shop supplies them.

The value of the item won’t be on the receipt but the person will be able to exchange if they don’t like it and you need never know.

So five golden rules:

  • Try it on
  • Ask if there is a returns policy
  • Ask how long you have for returns
  • Get a gift receipt
  • Keep the packaging

Gift vouchers

This is the time of year for buying and receiving gift vouchers. But they come with terms and conditions so find out what they are. (There is no specific legislation governing gift cards, that’s why the t&c are important).

The crucial thing to find out is what the expiry date on the voucher is. Some cards carry no expiry date, others may be six months or 12 months long. Find out and tell the person you are giving it to, if it isn’t already written on the voucher.

If you are buying a voucher you’d be wise to purchase it using your credit card or visa debit card. That’s because if the hotel/salon/service provider/shop goes bust you’ll be able to claim a ‘charge-back’ for the amount you paid from your bank.

And if you receive one, use it as soon as possible, both in order to avoid the scenario of the retailer closing down and also so you won’t forget to use it. Remember the shop has no obligation to accept it once the expiry date is past.

Online purchases - including groceries.

Delivery

The most important thing is to establish the last order date for Christmas delivery - if it's not flagged up on the website, phone the company to satisfy yourself you'll get your goods on time.

This is important for grocery shopping too. If you are shopping online you need to make sure they can deliver that turkey on time.

If you are promised delivery by say, 22nd, and it doesn’t arrive, essentially your contract has been broken and you can pull out.

Also, bear in mind that under distance selling rules, the delivery has to be executed within 30 days of ordering unless otherwise agreed.

And make sure you are home to accept delivery. An Post say that in some urban areas as many as one in four parcels can’t be delivered because there’s nobody at home during the day.

So if you are buying online or from a catalogue this Christmas An Post advises that you give some thought to the delivery address. If you’re not at home during the day it may be better to have the package delivered to a work address or to a friend who will be at home. If the postman can’t deliver it, you’ll have to make the trip to your nearest An Post delivery unit to collect it.

Another tip if you are sending a parcel is to put your own address details on the package. This way if the item can’t be delivered or no one comes to collect it, at least it can be sent back to you. Otherwise, An Post says that contents are either destroyed or donated to charity shops.

Delivery charges

If you are buying outside of the EU there may be customs duty (over items of €150 value) and VAT (over values of €22) and, so add that on to the price you expect to pay. You can also expect an administration charge from the delivery company on top of that.

Don’t forget these charges, as the delivery company won’t hand over the package unless you pay them.

Returns

When you shop online you have a seven-day ‘cooling off’ period where you can inform the trader you are sending back the item for a refund. You can do this for any reason but you are likely to have to pay for return postage.

This means that if you receive the item and it wasn’t at all what you thought it would be, you can send it back and buy something else (if you have time to do so!).

+Note that there are exceptions to the ‘cooling off’ period including customised items, food deliveries and time specific purchases such as hotels and flights.

Toy Safety

New toy safety legislation that entered into force in July this year means that the use of certain chemicals including carcinogens was prohibited; the allowed amounts of lead and mercury were limited and even allergenic fragrances were prohibited.

  • There are also many pieces of information that are required to be on a toy so make sure you look for them and take note:
     
  • Look for the CE Mark (Conformité Européen) on the toy, instructions or packaging. This means it conforms to product safety standards and rues. If there is none, don’t buy it.
     
  • Check to see that the toy displays the name and address of the manufacturer and importer.
     
  • Read any safety instructions that come with the toy. They should be clear and precise and in a language that you understand.
     
  • Check if the toy has any detachable small parts that could lodge in the ears, nose or throat, and cause an injury to your child. Or does the toy fire bullets or have movable parts that could detach and be dangerous?
     
  • Toys that come with food should be packaged separately.
     
  • Don’t buy food products where the toy is attached and must be eaten first before the toy is available. It is against the law to sell such food products.
     
  • Check if there is a warning about an appropriate age group for the toy and ask yourself if it is suitable for the age of your child. Are there younger children in your household who might be in danger if they play with the toy?
     
  • If you feel there is any potential danger to the safety of your child, don’t buy the toy.