Over a fifth of UK’s top retailers are failing to give consumers the information they need to make returns – and vulnerable customers are paying the price

22 November 2018


  • New analysis published ahead of Black Friday by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute shows that many of the UK’s top retailers are giving customers unclear or even misleading information about how to return unwanted online purchases.
  • The charity is warning that vulnerable shoppers, particularly those with mental health problems, are being left out of pocket as a result.


The analysis (published today) is based on a mystery-shopping investigation into the returns policies of the UK’s top 50 retailers (1), drawing on the information available on their websites.

It examined whether retailers are providing customers with the information they need to return items bought online, as set out in the Consumer Contracts Regulations (2013). These stipulate that customers can return online purchases within 28 days, as long as they have given notice within 14 days.

However, the new analysis found that more than a fifth of top-ranking retailers (11 out of 50) are giving customers unclear information on how long they have to return online purchases, or misleading advice which suggests they only have 14 days in which to do so.

Money and Mental Health is warning that this failure to offer accurate and accessible returns policies is posing particular challenges for customers with mental health problems. In a new survey by the charity of over 230 people with mental health health problems, nine out of ten respondents said they find it harder to return unwanted purchases when struggling with their mental health – and that being unable to do so has a negative impact on both their mental health and finances.

In particular, respondents identified that during a period of poor mental health, they can struggle with understanding returns policies, or going to a post office to make returns within a tight deadline. Previous work by the charity also highlighted that people with mental health problems are twice as likely to regret online purchases most or all of the time (2), and three times as likely to be in financial difficulty (3) – so accessible returns policies can be a financial lifeline.

Ahead of Black Friday, Money and Mental Health is calling on retailers to take a range of steps to make their returns policies more accurate and accessible for people with mental health problems, including:

  • Signposting clearly online that customers have a legal right to return purchased items within 28 days, and the correct procedure for doing so – to avoid causing  unnecessary pressure for people to make returns within a shorter deadline
  • Paying for postage on returns, to help customers in financial difficulty to make returns
  • Offering a range of options for returns, including local parcel collection services and couriers, to support customers who may struggle to leave home to make returns.


Money and Mental Health Director, Helen Undy, said:Most of us will occasionally make purchases that we later regret, especially during flash sales like Black Friday. But it can be even harder to resist impulsive spending if you’re struggling with mental health problems, and returning unwanted items afterwards can be a impossible  task. As a result, many people with mental health problems end up keeping purchases they don’t want or can’t afford, which can lead to significant financial difficulties.

“We’re calling on retailers to make it as easy for customers to return items as it is to buy them. That means making their returns policies more accessible, particularly for people with mental health problems who may struggle to leave the house, pay postage fees or understand complicated terms and conditions.


Read the full research here




Brian Semple, Head of External Affairs, 0207 848 1448, [email protected] for all media enquiries including interviews with spokespeople. CASE STUDIES AVAILABLE.

Notes to Editors

(1) Retail week: Top 50 retailers by sales during 2015/16 financial year

(2) Money and Mental Health analysis of online survey of 2,051 people, carried out by Populus 9-11 December 2016. Data is weighted to be nationally representative.

(3) Jenkins R et al. Debt, income and mental disorder in the general population. Psychological Medicine 2008; 38: 1485-1493.

About Money and Mental Health Policy Institute

  • The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute was set up by Martin Lewis in spring 2016, registered charity number 1166493.
  • It conducts research and develops policies for essential services firms, regulators, the health service and government to help people with mental health problems protect themselves from financial difficulties and get out of debt.
  • Martin Lewis OBE, Money Saving Expert, is an award-winning campaigning broadcaster, newspaper columnist and author. He founded in 2003 for £100 and remains its full-time Editor-in- Chief. It is now the UK’s biggest money site, with more than 14 million monthly users. Martin has his own prime-time ITV programme – The Martin Lewis Money Show – and is resident expert on This Morning, Good Morning Britain and BBC Radio 5 Live’s Consumer Panel, among others.
  • Helen Undy is a passionate mental health campaigner and became the Institute’s Director in 2018, having previously led the Institute’s impact and communications work.

About the Research

  • Money and Mental Health assessed the returns policies of Retail Week’s Top 50 UK retailers, drawing on the information available on their websites. We recorded the number of days a retailer suggested that a customer had to return an online purchase by post or other courier method (e.g. other than returning to store). Stores are classified as having a misleading or unclear returns policy if they a) suggest that a consumer only has the right to return goods within 14 days or b) say a consumer must inform them of their intention to cancel in 14 days, but do not provide any further information on how to do so or practical next steps on their main returns policy page.
  • The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 give consumers the right to cancel online purchases of non-perishable, non-personalised goods where there is not a hygiene risk of return, apart from downloadable materials, as long as they inform the retailer with 14 days of receiving the goods and return them within 14 days of cancelling the contract.
  • Money and Mental Health surveyed 230 members of their Research Community, a group of 5,000 volunteers with lived experience of mental health problems. The survey was carried out online by Money and Mental Health between 19 October and 13 November 2018.