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Legal tips for the Christmas period

The Christmas period is known as a time of joy and happiness. But the mood can change if the boss asks you to work on Christmas Eve, or if the Christmas tree burns to a cinder shortly before you sit down to exchange presents. Find legal tips on Christmas here.

Legal tips for the Christmas period ©-Thomas-Jansa-Fotolia

Legal tips for the Christmas period ©-Thomas-Jansa-Fotolia

Can your neighbour prohibit certain Christmas decorations?

No. Generally speaking, your neighbour is not permitted to prohibit you from hanging up Christmas decorations outside your house. One exception, however, is where Christmas lights are so bright that it prevents your neighbour from sleeping.

Can my boss ask me to work on Christmas Eve?

Yes. As the 24th is not an official bank holiday, your employer can require you to work. Only the 25th and 26th are subject to the bank holiday rules. However, even here exceptions can be agreed in the employment contract. Employees in gastronomy, for example, may well find a clause in their contract stating that they must be prepared to work on Christmas or Boxing Day.

The professional Father Christmas came too late – must I still pay?

If the professional was due to arrive at a particular time and arrived late, you do not have to pay. If you have already paid, you have a right to your money back.

Who is liable for a Christmas tree fire?

The general position is that liability for the damage caused by a Christmas tree fire depends on whether you as the house owner exercised the appropriate level of care and whether you have insurance.

If you have household contents insurance, you should be able to recover the costs of damage to objects like furniture, curtains and carpets. If the Christmas tree was left unsupervised when the fire started, insurance companies generally refuse to accept liability and will not pay out.

Can I return presents to the shop?

In contrast to a widespread misconception, retailers are not obliged under German law to exchange purchased goods. However out of goodwill, most retailers do offer their customers the possibility to return or exchange goods. The time limit for returning goods, the condition in which they must be when returned, and whether the goods are exchanged for cash or credit note, is determined by the retailers in each case.

The position is different if the new products are damaged or defective. In this case, customers have wide-ranging rights including the right to request the goods be repaired (also called supplementary performance) and the right to demand substitute goods. These rights are available to consumers for up to 2 years after a purchase is made.

How long do I have to spend my Christmas vouchers?

The initial answer is that vouchers are generally valid for three years. The time limit begins to run at the end of the year in which the vouchers were purchased.

However, retailers are permitted to restrict the time limit for which their vouchers are valid. The only legal requirements that apply are that the time limit is not too short and that consumers are not unreasonably disadvantaged.

Whether a time limit is too short depends on the circumstances of the case and is strongly influenced by the type of voucher in question.

The county court in Wuppertal, for example, ruled that consumers were unreasonably disadvantaged by a one year time limit for a sauna voucher which permitted the holder to visit the sauna 11 times (case ref.: 35 C 39/08). On the other hand, if a voucher is valid for a specific concert or event, a shorter time frame could be considered reasonable.

What happens if the voucher has expired?

If the voucher has expired, the retailer is not obliged to accept it as payment. However, a consumer generally has three years from the date of purchase to request a refund, if not of the whole amount, then at least a partial refund. A retailer is permitted to retain up to 20% of the value.

Can I exchange the voucher for cash?

No. A retailer is not obliged to exchange a voucher for cash. If you are not interested in using the voucher, you are perfectly at liberty to give it to someone else. A name entered on the voucher has no legal effect on the right to use the voucher.

The retailer is insolvent – what do I do now?

If the retailer has gone insolvent since the voucher was purchased, the voucher is worthless. The right to use it extinguishes.

Christian Solmecke ist Partner der Kanzlei WILDE BEUGER SOLMECKE und inbesondere in den Bereichen des IT-, des Medien- und des Internetrechts tätig. Darüber hinaus ist er Autor zahlreicher juristischer Fachveröffentlichungen in diesen Bereichen.

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