Sylvia asks: I often find that when I return an item to a shop for a refund I’m asked to fill in a form for the shop to keep. It asks for my printed name, my signature, my full address and sometimes my phone number.
They say it’s to prove that the cashier did not take the money from the till. Clearly this is nonsense as a cashier wishing to steal from a till could make up details and fill in a form. Usually there is a manager with them anyway, so they have a witness.
I oblige with only an illegible squiggle and tell them they can’t have any more information as it breaks the Data Protection Act – it usually shuts them up!
But I find this request for so much information worrying and totally unnecessary. If shops have a problem with staff stealing from their tills they need to sort out their staff – not put customers’ information at risk. Or do they sell the details? Why do they take this information?
Joanne Lezemore, senior solicitor for Which? Legal Service, responds:
I appreciate your concern and confirm that companies are not obliged to offer refunds by law and if they do so, it is due either as a gesture of goodwill, or because it has a returns policy.
Where a returns policy is in place, the retailer can set it on whatever grounds it feels fit. However, unless the policy specifically states that you will be obliged to give such information, then it cannot force you to. In fact, I have never seen a returns policy that clearly states upon return that personal details will be taken – normally it will simply state a refund will be given upon production of a receipt. Therefore, you can refuse to offer that information.
You’re right to mention the Data Protection Act (DPA). Under this act, you have a right to know what information companies hold about you and to ask an organisation not to hold or use information about you that causes ‘substantial unwarranted damage or distress’. See our guide on the DPA for more information, including sample letters to use when contacting companies.
Companies use this information for different purposes. It may be that the information is taken for security, or for marketing but it cannot sell that information without your specific consent.
I hope this helps you; please be aware that the guidance I have given is limited by the information I have and should not be treated as a substitute for taking full legal advice.
Are you often asked to give personal details when you get a refund? Would you prefer not to? Have you ever refused to give these details?