The Consumer Lawyer

Covid-19: Deposits, returns and changes in terms and conditions

As we venture deeper into uncharted territory with the Covid-19 pandemic, readers are coming across more and more situations where they are uncertain about their consumer rights. Here’s a round-up of some important questions I have been asked this week:


Kevin from Romsey put a £500 deposit on a used car prior to the lockdown. When he paid the deposit the dealership agreed to carry out work on the car and it was arranged that Kevin would conduct a final inspection of the car following this. However, before he was able to do this, we went into lockdown. He contacted the dealership and they said they could get the vehicle delivered to him if he paid the remainder of the price, but he could not carry out a pre-inspection as the dealership was closed. Kevin cancelled the order and demanded the deposit back, but the dealership refused, claiming the deposit was non-refundable.

My advice: It’s not unusual for vehicle deposits to be non-refundable, but we are not in ‘usual’ times. To rely on the non-refundable status of the deposit, the dealership would have to show that it was able to perform all the terms agreed. It appears to me in Kevin’s case that the dealership cannot do this as Kevin was to be afforded the opportunity to conduct a final inspection of the vehicle prior to committing to the purchase. On the basis that the dealership cannot facilitate this, as it is closed, the contract is frustrated in law (i.e. the dealership cannot perform its obligations due to the Covid-19 pandemic) and in these circumstances Kevin is entitled to his deposit back.


Mary from Leicester purchased a dress in store from a local independent retailer. Their returns policy provided that the dress could be returned within 28 days of purchase for an ‘exchange’. After trying the dress on at home, Mary decided that she did not like it but she now has a problem as the retailer has shut up shop due to the lockdown and she has therefore been unable to return the dress within the 28-day period.

My advice: many of the big high street brands have confirmed that they will accept returns up to 100 days after the date of purchase, to deal with this situation. My view in Mary’s case is that the 28-day clock stopped the moment the shop closed, and will not re-commence until it reopens.

Amended terms and conditions

Simon from Portsmouth booked a one-week holiday in Cornwall, to commence on 12th May. The holiday was naturally cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic but when he came to seek a refund, he only received 80% of what he paid. The holiday company pointed to their terms and conditions which stated they could deduct 20%, however it later transpired that the terms had recently been amended.

My advice: traders are entitled to amend their terms and conditions at any time. However, amendments only apply to purchases made on or after the amendment date. So, in Simon’s case, the new amended terms do not apply to him, and instead the terms which were in place at the time he booked his holiday, would apply.

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