/ Shopping

Ask Which? – Why do I have to give my details for a refund?

Till and card reader

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?

Maisie Parrish says:
8 August 2014

I alwys seen to be asked for my full address details when returning an item. Today I returned an item that did not fit to Debenhams, it was under £10 in the sale. The assistant told me she needed all my address details to prevent fraud. I have never heard anything so ridiculous in my life. Usually you start getting junk mail shortly afterwards. Matalan always want these details, and I am pleased to know that I am not obliged to give them

Private says:
21 November 2014

Anyone else noticed that you have to give your email address to even comment on this subject?

Everyone is obsessed with getting your information. If a shop asks me for information when I am buying something (pcworld, etc), then I walk out. They want my money more than I need their product. But seeing as they prepared to lose a sale if they can’t get your details, then maybe it is power they want more.

Sandra says:
17 February 2015

Hi! I would like to know if it’s legal for a retailer to ask for the costumer personal info. to add them on the company data! The reason is that recently my company has introduce the database to our system , and I’m a sales assistant and my manager has been into a hell of a pressure and has been a threatened of losing his job and so the staff members if we don’t take emails and postcodes of the costumers ! As a costumer point of view I find that very personal as I don’t give my details away for caution ! And I feel bad that I have to push for emails and postcodes otherwise I lose my job. From sale assistant I have become and marketing assistant because nowadays it doesn’t matter if a store does target , if it didn’t took that many emails is the same as nothing !

[This comment has been tweaked to align with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Elise says:
31 March 2015

My case was infuriating! I bought 2 packs of napkins at £1 each. Their cash register made a mistake and charged me £5, so when I recrived the wrong change, they told me ‘I need your name and address for a refund’. I have done nothing wrong, I didn’t even have a change of mind! I was simply charged the wrong price. It was completely their fault and yet they harassed me for name and address to ‘cover their staff’

Anyone with similar experience?

I wonder what they would have said if you had said you would take them to court for overcharging you. 🙂

I once had a sales assistant at a well known high street shop insisting that I must use one of their carrier bags because that was company policy. I wanted to use my own bag and pointed out that the receipt was adequate evidence that I had purchased the goods. I won that argument and the sales assistant had to endure a lecture on environmental responsibility.

Elise says:
31 March 2015

Well done you for saving the environment! That was all nonsense about ‘you have to use the company’s carrier bag’! How could someone insist on that! They are just being unhelpful.

In my case, I agree that I could have taken them to court for overcharging me! I had the goods in my hand with the price tags and the receipt. I only realised that they have overcharged me when they gave me the wrong change.The sales person was quite young, she looked really apologetic and said ‘by law we need to ask for your name and address’, when I refused, the more senior person said ‘you can just scribble…’ Looked like she didn’t care about the name and address at all, but was too afraid to break the company’s policy.

I understand that the sales assistants don’t want to get into trouble, so they do what they were told, but to tell me that ‘name and adddess are required by law’ was a complete joke! They shouldn’t have said that, if I did take them to court, they would be in so much trouble!

If a sales assistant makes a mistake then surely they could call a supervisor for advice. It must have been obvious that you had a good case for not supplying your name and address in the circumstances.

Of course I would not have taken anyone to court over a couple of pounds but I might say that to help make a sales assistant aware that what they have done is wrong.

Anyway, Elise, I’m sure it won’t happen again.

Nina says:
15 May 2015

Me and my partner have bought some building materials from Jewsons to follow the architects recommendations but as it turned out there was a cheaper and better way to do our flooring. Went back to Jewsons to return the goods in their original packaging and with receipt worth of over £2000 and guess what…no refund as we were told refund it’s up to manager and if they think they can’t sell it quick enough they won’t refund it. How about putting that info by the till or at least mentioning before selling it. How very convenient for them.

I am afraid that is the general rule in retail. Shops are not obliged to give refunds for returned goods unless there is something wrong with them. Some stores make a policy of giving refunds for purchases even if you have changed your mind and they usually declare that prominently; stores that don’t do refunds usually keep quiet about it. It must give them a lot of grief as customers argue their case with their staff; if I were in their position I would give fair warning of a ‘no refunds’ policy. With large and expensive products and slow-moving lines I can understand the policy because as soon as an item is sold the stock is replenished and if the sold goods are later returned it can cause operating and accounting problems; I am surprised there isn’t a compromise position available in such circumstances however. I wonder what your architect thinks about the difficulty he or she has placed you in, even if unintentionally.

Very glad to have found this discussion – its been annoying me for years!
For a start, and only dealing with the scenario where the goods are ‘not fit for purpose’, making up false details is letting them make you lie! Why lie!? You have done nothing wrong! You are not the awkward customer, they are the awkward retailer. As many posts have picked up on, saying it is to prevent staff stealing is rubbish because they would make up false details and as they don’t (dare!) ask for ID then it makes it a nonsensical system. Tell them it contravenes the sale of goods act and your receipt is your contract. Try demanding to know their personal details next time you buy something! Lets stop being complacent, don’t make up false details, tell them they have no right to have your personal info – end of story.

Mary says:
13 July 2015

I am always asked upon returning an item that it is the company policy to ask for personal details. When I have asked why that is I have been told ‘that is the ways way returns procedure works’.

I bought some items from Currys some years ago and they were not suitable so upon asking for a refund in the store I was asked for my personal details. I refused to give these so the young gentleman serving me requested his manager. When the manager arrived he told the young gentleman “Just give the name and details of this store and that will suffice”. Sorted!

Only today I took an Item back to Peacocks for a refund to be asked my name,address.postcard I told them why do you need this info answer you can’t get a refund on Item without all my details,so I told them no your not having this info only to be told your the only one who has kicked up a fuss I said excuse me but I’m making a statement in the end they gave in.

Kelly says:
2 October 2017

In the store I work at, exchanges and/or return of faulty goods can be done without a receipt. But a full refund requires the customer’s name, address and signature. As a Sales Assistant, I never really questioned this; I just did it whenever a refund came about because it’s my job. After being there for over a year, I assumed the reason why we need these details is so that Head Office can confirm that no unauthorised removal of cash from the till had taken place. I don’t know if there’s any truth to that.
Most customers are happy to give these details if they want their money back, and I understand why others wouldn’t. After all, I’ve no idea what Head Office is doing with their information so why should they feel comfortable with me passing it on to them?
I only ask, not to give the staff who are serving you abuse over this. If you wish to, we can give you the number to Customer Helpline or Head Office to get answers in your own time. Don’t shoot the messenger! 🙂
I’m a part-time Sales Assistant at a basic retail store. I have no control over company policy and I physically cannot process a refund without putting the customer’s details onto the till. The buttons on the screen will not show up without the details, making it literally impossible for me to proceed. Sometimes I get grief over this from some people as I try to explain to them I literally can’t do anything even if I wanted to.
If they don’t want to give over their personal details, that is perfectly acceptable and within reason. But don’t expect a refund. You’ll have to do an exchange instead.

Ben says:
24 April 2019

Today I have to give my personal information to the Picoach shop till in Luton for my refund . This practice still happening, specially if you cannot speak the language. Sad bicause the language barrier we putting our personal information in big risk.

Today, I requested a refund for an item at the retail shop MandCo. The company’s Returns Policy (printed on the reverse of receipt) clearly states “If you’re not satisfied with your purchase or have changed your mind, simply return it to us within 30 days”.
No problem.
BUT why do they want my signature, written full name and full address.
I declined to give this information unless they could inform me why and how this information would be used. “It’s Company policy” was the reply. I repeated why. The manager then stepped in saying I had to give the information. I told her that as they could not give reason I would refuse to supply and that it contravened Data Protection as I believed my personal data was at risk.
Your comments would be appreciated.

You would have to ask the company but I presume it allows the company to make contact with customers if goods are subsequently found to have been returned damaged or incomplete. Even if still in a sealed box, this could have been dropped and the contents broken. It would be interesting to know their reason and it is disappointing that even the manager could not provide an explanation.

Unlike online traders, shops are not obliged to offer refunds for goods that are not faulty, and policies vary.

Regarding the request for refund – the article was returned as I had changed my mind and I was eligible for the refund as was mentioned in their Returns Policy.
The article was not faulty.
However, if it had been faulty and if the store staff had explained they would prefer I supplied name and address in order that they could contact me after they had made contact with the manufacturer to investigate the fault and ultimately update me on their findings, then I would have obliged.

The terms and conditions for M&Co do not mention the need for a name and address when returning unwanted goods, as far as I can see: https://www.mandco.com/customer-service/terms-and-conditions/terms-and-conditions/termspage.html

While I think it’s reasonable to ask for a customer to provide them for reasons I have given, I think you were right to challenge them, Shan. 🙂

I was told in Bodycare Lichfield that if my mother in law didn’t give her name and address she was not able to get a £2.99 refund when she picked up shampoo instead of conditioner 5 minutes ago??

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I recently purchased two champagne glasses in dwell they refused to sell these to me unless I provided my name address, phone number & signature when I refused the manager told me I had to or they would not sell me the items is this legal ?

The manager said they needed these details for a warranty I said I didn’t want the warranty so was there another reason the details were needed he said then they would not sell me the goods if I did not supply the data

Sara – I don’t think it’s illegal to demand the purchaser’s name and address if that is the way they wish to trade, but it doesn’t seem to me to be a good commercial idea to cancel a sale if the purchaser refuses to oblige. Retailers are able to set their own conditions of sale so long as they are not illegal.

I would not have expected there to be a warranty on glassware but perhaps the champagne glasses have some special characteristics. If it is a manufacturer’s warranty you could accept it or decline it at your leisure without involving the retailer.

It all sounds like a ploy to get hold of your contact details for marketing purposes. There are hundreds of alternative sellers of champagne flutes and saucers so it is best to walk away and buy what you want elsewhere.

I see that Dwell respond to comments posted on Trustpilot. It might be worth commenting there, which might produce an explanation and perhaps warn others.

There is an increasingly tiresome trend by supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury to ask customers if they want a receipt. Some shops such as Greggs have gone further and no longer supply receipts unless you ask for them. In the examples quoted, none have offered electronic receipts. On several occasions whilst exiting a shop, I have triggered an alarm. Such alarms can be triggered accidentally, but without a receipt, where does a customer stand? It should be a legal requirement that receipts are automatically given to the customer.

I really do not want a receipt if I am only buying a few inexpensive items. Also, when setting an alarm off, the first thing store security staff look for is whether or not one behaves in a guilty manner. If in doubt, store CCTV is likely to confirm whether or not one has visited the till on one’s way out. That said, I do like to get paper receipts for expensive items or for long lists of items.

There is no legal requirement to give a receipt but I always ask for one when I pay by card; I keep track of my card spending and check my statements. Yesterday I found another useful reason; a stored card for a regular payment was declined when the vendor made the request. When I contacted the card provider they asked me for my most recent transactions. I would perhaps have forgotten the exact amount had I not had a receipt.

Until some time in the 1960’s it was most unusual to be given a receipt for an everyday purchase – partly because stamp duty was payable on the instrument meaning the shopkeeper had to affix a 2d postage stamp [two old pennies] on the document and write the purchaser’s name and the goods purchased on it. I still have a few of these for things I bought decades ago and still own. As electronic tills became useful and had other business management and audit functions, issuing an itemised paper record became commonplace. Distributed payment facilities [‘cash & wrap’] within shops accelerated the trend because the electronic tills enabled centralised monitoring and reconciliation of sales and payments reducing the opportunities for staff error or irregularities.

I remember when out shopping as a child with my mother she would hand over the cash to the shop assistant who would put it with two copies of a docket [for which there was a further carbon copy in a duplicate book] into a small container like a jar. This would either be inserted into a vacuum tube system or into an overhead carrier system [on parallel wires spanning the shop floor] that conveyed the payment to a centrally located cashier who would process the payment, sort out any change due, stamp the customer’s docket “PAID”, and return it in the canister to the counter. In the Co-op we also had to give our dividend number [461558 in our case] so that the appropriate ‘divi’ token could be issued for later redemption [in some shops these were in the form of small tin ‘coins’ of which I maintain a small supply in all values – ½d, 1d, 2d, 3d, 6d, 1/-, 2/6, 5/-, 10/-, £1 and £2, each token having a distinctive shape]. We had to wait a few minutes for the vacuum tube to pop and discharge the container into a basket or for the overhead carrier to come swinging back across the shop on its wires. That is why most shops had bentwood chairs at each counter for customers to sit on while they waited for their payments to be dealt with. In the mean time the shop assistant would be bagging up or making a little parcel containing the purchases for the customer to take or to be given to the shop boy for delivery on the shop bike or by van. Examples of these systems can be seen at industrial museums like Beamish [Co, Durham] and the Black Country Museum [West Midlands].

I stopped using cash about 18 months ago and can use apps to check past transactions, though I do not know how long they take to appear.

Dyfnwal has asked a very interesting question about what would happen if you trigger an alarm at a supermarket and you do not have a receipt. Maybe Derek is right about whether you look guilty.

If the goods had bar codes I think the audit trail on the till would show the purchases during the specific time period and this could be printed out as evidence. It is the shop’s responsibility to prove theft, not the customer’s duty to provide proof of payment.