rush to buyStefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Citizen's Advice has revealed that in 2012 we spent an astonishing £3 billion on goods and services that subsequently turned out to be a waste of money. Then when we tried to get a refund, replacement, or recompense, we ran into a brick wall. The service had over 400,000 requests for help between April and November last year for people who had found themselves stuck with rubbish.

So what can you do if you find yourself in this boat?

Faulty

Over half of the complaints were about faulty goods and sub-standard services, and cost an average of over £2,800 each. Some 9 out of 10 people were not fully successful when they had complained, attempted to get a refund or get the problem put right.

Some of the complaints were about essential items that people need to make their Christmas go with a bang, including gifts like mobile phones, TVs, toys, games and women's clothing.

Problems ranged from tablet computers that freeze and won't charge, clothes and shoes that split at the seam and DVDs that won't play.

The top ten most complained about faulty goods were:

Second hand cars bought from an independent dealer
Upholstered furniture
TVs
Mobile phone handsets
Lap-tops, notebooks and tablet PCs
Used cars bought from a franchise dealer
Beds and mattresses
Fridges and freezers
Washing machines
Women's clothing

Your rights

Under consumer law, retailers must give you either a refund, part refund, repair or replacement for faulty products. The remedy you get will depend on a number of factors, for example, how long you've had the product and how much it cost in the first place.

However, if a trader refuses to comply with the law, often the only other option is to take them to court. This is a process which many consider too risky, too expensive or simply not worthwhile.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said: "By law retailers must offer refunds, repairs or replacements for faulty products but all too often this is not happening. Household budgets are tight meaning many people don't have the money to buy a new item if its broken and the seller has refused to sort it out. This is not good for consumer confidence. In these tough economic times people need to know that when they buy something they're not going to be short changed if things go wrong."

Citizens Advice is calling for changes in consumer law including a 30 day time-limit for retailers to give refunds, an option for class action, clear information on returns policies to be displayed when goods are bought, and greater powers for Trading Standards.

However, in the interim, thousands of people will be busy trying to take back Christmas presents, so it's worth knowing your rights.

Tips for returns

Citizens advice explains:
1) Depending on the circumstances, if the goods or services are faulty you are entitled to either your money back, a repair or a replacement. Ask yourself, is it of satisfactory quality? Does it match the description? And is it fit for purpose? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then you are entitled to recompense.

2) You don't have the right to return something if you just don't want it. Each shop has different returns policies, but there is no requirement to swap or refund unwanted presents under law.

3) Act quickly. Some shops will let you return unwanted goods within a set time frame.

4) You have the same rights when you buy things in the sales as you do with full-price goods.

5) If you used a credit card to buy presents (and they cost over £100) then Section 75 rights mean you can get your compensation from your credit card provider - who will then pursue the retailer.

6) Your rights are with the seller, not the manufacturer. So start with the shop who sold you the goods, and only if they insist, go to the manufacturer.

7) The right to return presents is with the person who bought them. Many shops do allow people who have received presents to return them, but they are normally under no legal obligation to do so.

8) If you've got a problem with something you bought and want to know what you can do, call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 08454 04 05 06, or on its website.