/ Money, Shopping

Why do we have to wait so long to get a refund?

Getting your money back

When I buy goods online I have to give the shop my payment details before they’ll send out the goods. Nothing wrong with that. But if the product turns out to be not what I expected, why doesn’t the supplier return my money with the same urgency?

Back on 6 February, my wife ordered a pair of shoes online from an ad in a catalogue. Unfortunately, the quality of the shoes that arrived bore no resemblance to those portrayed, so she returned them.

How quickly did she get her money back? Straight away? In fact it was 13 March, five weeks later, and even then only after several phone calls and with the costs of delivery and return deducted.

And that wasn’t an isolated example. Also in March, I had a problem with my broadband speed and was advised by my very reputable internet service provider (ISP) that the problem was with my modem.

So I ordered a new one from the ISP, which failed to solve the problem. The ISP admitted the problem was with its own equipment and quickly it sent a prepaid plastic package for me to return the modem. But again it was several calls and four weeks later before my money was returned. To be fair this was the fault of the modem supplier, not the ISP.

It goes on. In April I changed energy supplier – again from a very reputable company. The new arrangement started on 2 May but I’d left a credit balance with the old supplier. Again it took several calls before the cash was refunded – on 10 June about five-and-a-half weeks later.

Refunds must be quicker

I’ve experienced this kind of tardy service several times before and suffered in silence. Now I feel something must change.

I can understand that when you return goods, there must be a short delay while the retailer checks you’ve returned them in good condition – but that should surely take no more than a week.

About 25 years ago, I worked with a charge card company whose policy was to repay its service establishments (hotels, garages etc) in precisely 18 days. It wouldn’t shorten that period since every day it earned £600,000 in interest. No doubt delayed repayment policies also benefit other companies.

Have you had similar problems with getting your money back? How long did you have to wait?

This is a guest post by Phil Clarke, a community member on Which? Conversation. All opinions are Phil’s own, not necessarily those of Which? We chose Phil’s idea from the ‘Your ideas’ section on the website, make sure you share your ideas too.


Yes Phil you hit the “nail on the head ” its down to good old –well a few 1000 years old word = Usury well known in the bible although in this type of case its you thats lending the money for them to make interest on . Its not really any different Morally from a small business man doing a contract job for a BB and waiting to be paid—–and waiting to be paid —and waiting to be paid . It shows you that all this talk of an “open business atmosphere ” by the government only applies to BB not the small hard working person trying to build up his business but being held back or forced into liquidation because BB dont want any competition from a future growing business . It does not take you much checking to find many irate small business men/women in this situation .


Sadly all part of rip of Britain, online businesses love getting order and taking your money up front BUT as soon as there is a problem and you return an item the business concerned then goes into a ‘long delay mode’, and you are made to wait and sweat for the money that you originally paid up front.


I am afraid that, in terms of satisfaction with the product, buying things on-line is not much better than when mail order was the predominant form of distance selling, and thousands of customers would put up with disappointing products rather than try to get their money back. But when they did request a refund it was usually processed quickly because that was one of the competitive marketing points of mail order – a quick and easy ‘no arguments’ refund [unlike with a shop purchase]. Most of the major mail order companies had a reputation at stake and would not be allowed to advertise in newspapers and magazines unless they abided by a strict code of customer service [which still applies today in print media marketing].

With on-line purchasing the picture has changed considerably. Many of the companies are little known or upstarts and do not have much of a reputation to protect, although others are household names but have decided to delay refund payments as a cashflow-based business policy. They are always behind with paying their suppliers so they are using customer receipts as working capital for as long as they can drag it out, and there is no doubt that, in the garment and footwear categories, the market place is exceedingly competitive – prices have been slashed to the bone, and the firms themselves are barely a wage-bill away from extinction.

One of the trading differences that has changed companies’ approach towards customers is the huge volume of returns they are experiencing. While ordering has never been easier, returning items has also become much more straightforward with appropriate labels and facilities included with every package – you just ring up the carrier and they call round and take it away for you [no more queuing up at the post office]. It is alleged that many consumers are abusing the system: buying several sizes and colours of the same item, buying things to wear once and return, or just getting it wrong. So the suppliers are reluctant to make returning goods any easier and might even be trying to put people off. Traders are attributing their refund delays to the volume of returns when the reality is that they are not investing sufficient resource into the returns-handling process and are continuously in a back-log, especially after the release of a new catalogue or seasonal range.

Where the goods do not match the product description, or are broken, or are not fit for purpose, or are unsaleable for any other reason, then they must refund the customer expeditiously and efficiently and really ought to be named and shamed if they don’t. Most purchases are made by credit card and the refund would normally take the form of a reversal of the payment; if that payment has been made just before the issue of the monthly statement then it will be impossible for the reversal to take place within the accounting period and it can easily slip further into the next period. There seems to be a poor connexion between the customer service staff who [once you have got hold of them] promise a refund and the actual execution of that promise.

There are good retailers, both large and small, who deal with refunds efficiently and provide exemplary customer service but we can only discover them by experience and recommendation. Publicising the bad ones would help, but many people who buy on-line or from a mail order catalogue never have any reason to return goods and so are unaware of the quality of the company’s performance in this respect.

Another related gripe over refunds is the practice of many companies not to issue immediate refunds when goods ordered are not available; they hold on to the payments in the hope and expectation that the customer will order again and be credited at that time. That is probably a legitimate consequence of having an account with a company and only paying when billed, but it is creeping into general cash-with-order trading for customers who just wish to buy things from time to time or as a one-off and do not wish to run an account.

I have noticed that buying on-line and mail order purchasing from catalogues are certainly no longer a more economical way of buying clothes or housewares even where the quality might appear to be equivalent to high-street shopping. It seems that many of the prices shown are false – targetting the gullible – since heavy discounting [against the falsely-inflated opening prices] usually occurs quite quickly by means of a plethora of e-mail messages. But even the resulting prices are not necessarily a bargain and often do not represent good value for money when the quality of the product becomes apparent.

bishbut says:
27 June 2016

Scottish Power. It needed a very sarcastic email to finally get what they owed me after about six months of ringing and getting nowhere


I had fun with Scottish Power too. I had a dual fuel online account and when I left the company they allocated the credit balance into separate gas and electricity accounts. I knew how much to expect in total and when a smaller amount was refunded I discovered that they had only given me credit for one fuel. That was not the only problem I had with the company.

More recently I left e.on, but they were prompt in making a refund. If they had not kept me well in credit I might still be with the company.


Funny you mention SP bishbut I left it about 4 years ago due to the massive amounts of DD they were taking off me not comparable to actual use and wouldnt refund . I then moved to BG had problems with them and am now with Co-op Energy for both types of supply . Then amazingly a letter came through the door a few days ago ,on opening it surprise–surprise ! a cheque for £73 – allegedly sent because of the complaints I emailed/phoned /and posted on another website . I have worked out that the interest accrued over that time due to what they overcharged me for means it cost them nothing to send it to me , but hey ! its better than nothing .


Further to my original topic. I must say that I am very impressed with Amazon’s refund policy. I purchased a couple of accessories which I thought I might need with a hard drive enclosure that I’d bought. When the enclosure arrived I saw that the enclosure was complete so I didn’t need the two extras. I contacted Amazon for a return and they repaid the cost to my bank before I’d put the objects in the post!

And today I complained to Amazon when an item for which I’d paid for express next day delivery arrived three days late. I was not only refunded the postage but also the cost of the product (but that was just a small amount). Still great service.


ya online sites charge the card immediately but have to wait for some time to get a refund. I actually deal with this all the time. even a company refund the money from their systems asap it takes time to refund. most of the online website use a merchant who proved the payment gateway. so this merchant connect the card holders bank and the online website company’s bank. the process is much smoother when you charge but it takes time to get a refund. even the company doesn’t get the money immediately to their account. it takes few days for the merchant to debit the money.


How ironic!
Yesterday I signed up for the Which? Power of Attorney special offer and paid £129. I noticed that the money was taken from my bank when I checked this morning. When I read the guidance notes later I realised that I had made a mistake, I thought I was arranging Probate for my executors so had to phone to cancel.

The cancel worked OK and I was told that my money would be refunded in 7 to 10 days!!

This is the email that I received after complaining about the delay>

Dear Mr Clarke,

Thank you for taking the time to complete our customer service feedback survey, and I am pleased to see that you have rated the service positively.

From your comments; I thought you may like an explanation as to why we advise 7-10 days for the refund to be processed.

When a payment is made to us, it can take a few days for the transaction to be completed. We then have to wait a few days to ensure that they payment reaches our account and is not withheld or with drawn by the customers bank. Once the payment is received it can then be refunded. The refund is in most cases instantaneous and will only take a day or two to be returned to the customer, but this also depends on how fast the customers bank takes to process the payment back into their account, and this time of year it may take slightly longer. We therefore feel that it is best to advise all of our customers that refunds will be processed within 7-10 days although in reality it is much faster.
Once again thank you for taking the time to complete our customer survey.

I trust that this helps you, if you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me, I will be happy to help. I am available Monday-Friday 9am-5pm:
T- 01992 822803
E- which.wills@which.co.uk

Enjoy your weekend.


Victoria Marriott, A.NALP, Q.Inst.Pa
Wills specialist
Which? Wills Team


Hi, thanks for your comments.I’m sorry you are unhappy with our refund procedure and I’m happy to pass the comments back to our Wills team. This Conversation is about a refund which took 5 weeks to appear, we would not expect this to happen with any refunds we process.


Seems a reasonable explanation.


It isn’t reasonable to me! If my money can move speedily through the banking system when I pay someone why can’t it move at the same speed when the money comes back?