You want to return some stuff you recently bought because you have changed your mind. You have an automatic right to return the stuff, and get your money back. True or False?

False.  Well, as with many legal questions, the real answer is: ‘it depends’.

Many consumers believe that no matter what the product or service there is always an automatic cancellation or cooling-off period; that is, you always have a period of time to change your mind and get a refund or cancel the contract for any reason, with no penalty.   That is wrong.

In most cases, if there is nothing wrong with what you bought and the seller has not broken the terms of the deal, you generally do not have the right to change your mind and just get out of the deal. 

There are exceptions.

For example, even if there is nothing wrong with the product or service, you might still be able to cancel the deal without penalty if:

1) The seller agrees

2) The contract specifies that you have a right to cancel

Many businesses offer refunds or exchanges as part of the contract.
Return, refund or exchange policies usually have conditions though, so make sure you understand those limits before you buy.  Some common conditions are:

 

  • you must return the goods within a set time period (the ‘cooling-off’ period)
  • goods must be unused/unworn, in the original packaging
  • you must present the original receipt or the store's gift receipt
  • refunds are only given in the original form of payment
  • delivery, shipping, installation charges are non-refundable
  • no refunds or exchanges on specific products, like sale items
  • refund or exchange options are time limited (if you wait too long, you may be out of luck).

3) There is an automatic cooling-off period under a statute

In Nova Scotia certain special kinds of contracts have an automatic cooling-off period, where consumers have extra protection in a statute like the Consumer Protection Act or Cemetery and Funeral Services Act

The table below gives some statutory cooling-off periods in Nova Scotia.

Contract type Cooling-off period
Joining a gym or other fitness club 5 days
Payday loan 1 day (in-store); 48 hours (online)
Pre-paid funeral services 10 days
Direct sellers (eg. door-to-door, telemarketers) 10 days

 
Finally, just because we frequently get asked this question, there is no statutory cooling-off period for buying a new or used vehicle in Nova Scotia.

Quick tips:

A cooling-off period is a specified period of time during which you can change your mind and get out of a contract for no reason, with no penalty.  Most types of contracts do not have a cooling-off period.  In most cases the contract will be binding, so take your time before you sign.

If you are hoping to get out of a contract because you have changed your mind:

  • Talk with the seller.  They might be willing to work something out with you.
  • Read the contract. Does the business offer a cooling off period?
  • Check the legislation. Is there an automatic cooling-off period under a consumer protection law like the Consumer Protection Act?  If you are not sure, contact Service Nova Scotia at 902-424-5200 or 1 800 670-4357, or online at novascotia.ca/snsmr/access/individuals/consumer-awareness.asp. Service Nova Scotia administers the Consumer Protection Act, and deals with consumer complaints.

This article only talks about cancelling a contract because you have simply changed your mind, where there is no fault on either side and no particular reason for cancelling.   There are of course many situations where you may be able to get out of a contract where there is fault, such as if the product is defective, or the seller made misrepresentations or broke the contract terms or requirements under a consumer protection law like the Consumer Protection Act.  For help and more information about consumer disputes like these, or questions about cooling-off periods:

This article only gives legal information.  It does not give legal advice.  If you have a legal problem, you should contact a lawyer.

Reviewed December 2017