/ Home & Energy

Brief cases: your rights to getting goods fixed

Glasses on news papers

When Which? Legal member Vicky Drazhner’s reading glasses from Boots Opticians broke after just four months it refused to repair or replace them. But after considering legal action Boots accepted her rights.

It said that as she hadn’t purchased a warranty, she’d have to buy a new pair, although she’d be entitled to a discount. Vicky wasn’t happy at the idea of paying for new glasses so quickly, but she had to show the opticians the Sale of Goods Act, which set out her rights, before Boots agreed to send the glasses to the manufacturer to be assessed.

brief case image

Vicky had been without her glasses for 18 days when Boots contacted her to say the manufacturer had returned them in the same condition. It had been unable to provide an assessment report to determine whether the glasses were defective or Vicky had damaged them. She was again told that Boots wouldn’t repair or replace the glasses as it did not think there was a manufacturing fault.

She complained to the Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS), a free mediation service that tries to resolve disputes between opticians and consumers. But it couldn’t provide a resolution and the case was closed.

Our advice

Vicky contacted Which? Legal. We confirmed her rights under the Sale of Goods Act and advised that as Boots had already had the chance to inspect the glasses and failed to prove its case, she could get an impartial expert to inspect them to see if she could claim a manufacturing fault.

Rather than do that straight away, because she didn’t want to be without her glasses, Vicky wrote to Boots Opticians again saying she didn’t agree with its analysis and if she didn’t receive a satisfactory resolution she’d consider legal action. Boots offered a full refund of £229, which she accepted.

What the law says

The Sale of Goods Act says goods should be of satisfactory quality. This includes durability. In the six months after purchase, the onus is on the supplier to prove that the defect wasn’t there when you bought the item.You’re entitled to a repair or replacement – the retailer is likely to choose the most cost-effective option.

If a repair isn’t possible or would be disproportionate in price, you may claim a refund, reduced to take into account the use you’ve had. If, like Vicky, you face a situation in which a firm won’t repair or replace, you can then go to the relevant complaints service. In this case, the OCCS deals only with the financial/contractual part of the supply of glasses.

Have you ever had an issue with a faulty product? Did you manage to get it replaced or refunded?

Comments
Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Thanks for this Conversation, Patrick. It provides an example of how a real person has successfully challenged unfair treatment by a company, with the help of Which? Legal service.

Vicky’s case is relatively straightforward because the spectacles were only four months old when they broke, so the onus was on the retailer to prove that the fault was not present at the time of manufacture or that they had been abused.

In the January 2014 issue of the Which? magazine, we read that none of the six major electrical retailers investigated had much of a clue about consumers’ rights regarding faulty goods. Even John Lewis performed very poorly. That investigation used a bunch of actors rather than real people with real problems. It would be great if that could be repeated using Which? members with genuine problems and the cases pursued until justice has been done, as in the case of Vicky’s claim in this Conversation.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

It is good to hear that the Sales of Goods Act is used successfuly. Surprising it hasn’t been used more in the csase of Xperia phones – on the same basis as the glasses (the supplier must prove a defect was not there).

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I would particularly like to see evidence of successful claims relating to lack of durability, and I know you and Dieseltaylor are very interested in this issue. We have discussed washing machines at great length on other Conversations, and it would be good to read about successful claims after the warranty period has expired.

There are plenty of examples of screens cracking on Sony Xperia phones. Likewise with Amazon Kindles. One problem with mobile devices, especially phones, is that they are often handled fairly roughly, so it is necessary to distinguish between fair wear & tear and abuse. Many phone users have a self-adhesive film over the screen and others have no protection whatsoever. Manufacturers seem to condone this by not supplying proper protective cases incorporating a screen cover, though these are widely available. I believe that in these circumstances the manufacturers should be designing their phones to cope with a certain amount of abuse.

On the other hand, it should be very easy to test the hypothesis that Xperia phone screens are cracking due to heat generated in use or during charging, since the uncertainly of abuse is removed. It would be a quick win for Which? if it could be shown that heat generated in normal use could crack these phone screens.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

We’re on it Malcolm and Wavechange 🙂 Fingers crossed.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Thanks Patrick. I hope you can come to a definite conclusion – one way or other.

Profile photo of The Complaining Cow
Member

Surprised at Boots. Would have thought that such a company wouldn’t make it so difficult. No wonder people give up complaining. It is a classic fob off about warranties. I never purchase them and advise other people not to do so. The Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994 and Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 cover us well. Just needs people to know what their rights are and then keep asserting them where necessary!

Member

Why are advertising rules so different to the Sale of Goods Act?

It’s okay for shops to advertise things without mentioning what they’re really made of, and that they’ll rust within a few months of buying them. Yet the Sale of Goods Act says they’re not of satisfactory quality and you can get a refund.

How can they be so different?

Profile photo of The Complaining Cow
Member

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 covers misleading practices

Profile photo of bib1
Member

Strange for me to appear to be taking the side of big business but …..

Is it always possible for a manufacturer, retailer or an independent expert to determine if a fault was “present at the time of manufacture”?

If I made and sold something, does the law protect me from the type of consumer who abuses the item and then claims a refund?

Not everything we buy can survive being sat on, drowned or chewed by a disgruntled Leyton Orient supporter.

Furthermore, the word ‘consumer’ is too often taken to imply ‘honest’ or ‘victim’.

Profile photo of The Complaining Cow
Member

It is my understanding that the retailer would then claim from the manufacturer.

If you made something that the customer abused and you could prove it yes the law, in particular the Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994 would cover you.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

TCC, one point that has not been explained, as far as I can see, is how retailers claim from manufacturers. Some commenters side with the retailer, on the basis that they themselves have to fund claims that are successfully made under the Sale of Goods Act. What a shame! They are the innocent party. Well, I believe they should, and probably do, have a claim against their supplier, so should not end up out of pocket. But secondly, they are not innocent if they sell you a defective product. They have chosen to stocjk that product that they sell at a profit. They have chosen to deal with that manufacturer. They are responsible for the way they have chosen to trade and make money out of their customers.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

The obvious solution is for the manufacturer to take responsibility for claims about faulty goods, rather than the retailer. Current law makes it clear that the retailer is responsible for claims and not the manufacturer. The way round this is to have push for products with longer manufacturers’ warranties. Car manufacturers are leading the way and others are following.

Since the manufacturer has to pay for warranty repairs, longer warranties should reverse the trend towards building goods that are not made to last or be repairable. Most retailers are not set up to tackle repairs, so it makes sense to deal direct with the manufacturer. It’s what many retailers ask us to do anyway, even if the retailer is responsible for handling claims.

Bib1 makes an important point about establishing whether a fault has been caused by misuse. Under current legislation it is the responsibility of the retailer to prove that the damage was caused by the owner in the first six months and one day later, the owner has the responsibility to prove that the fault was present at the time of manufacture. Durability is not adequately defined. Even if longer warranties become standard, there is still the problem of distinguishing between fair wear & tear and damage due to abuse. Perhaps in case of dispute, the product could be examined by an independent expert. I believe that the independent expert should take into account evidence of well established design faults when adjudicating on a case.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

While there is apparent merit in attaching liability to the manufacturere rather than the retailer, at least we can usually get hold of the retailer in this country, whereas finding out who manufactured something abroad, and then pinning them down through their local jurisdiction, would in many cases be nigh on impossible and not worth the candle. And does “the manufacturer” mean the company that put together most of the parts, or the company whose smart badge or label is on the front of the product? Retailers might moan about the liability placed upon them but I go along with Malcolm on this: it goes with the territory. Though it irks them no doubt, at least they can more easily deal with the manufacturer/supplier/wholesaler than the purchaser can, and in many cases they would have a way of making things awkward [through stopping payments for goods supplied but not yet paid for, or in the last resort terminating their trading relationship].

Member
David Smith says:
12 January 2015

Here’s another perspective on the relationship between retailers and manufacturers, and the different approaches taken to inherently defective goods. I bought a house recently that has a four year old electric AGA. The parts manufacturers gave a five year warranty but the retailer offered a labour warranty for one year. The core wiring of the AGA burnt out within the warranty period and the retailer obtained the replacement parts under the warranty but charged for call-out and labour for the work. Whilst the engineer who did the repair expressed surprise that such a basic element should fail so quickly (given the long life expected of an AGA) the retailer refused to accept any obligation to cover the labour cost, citing (mainly) that his contract makes the one year warranty clear. Manufacturers are not in the habit of warranting goods beyond a reasonable period to cover inherent defects, so why then do retailers consider it acceptable to avoid their corresponding obligation? Pre-contract resolution of this would have been the best approach, but I doubt that any single customer would make any headway against this widespread practice.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

David, the Sale of Goods Act has a requirement under the “Quality” clause that goods should be “Durable”. I see this as not necessarily requiring a pre-existing fault to be proven, just that in this case it would be “unreasonable” to expect an Aga to burn out so quickly. You could point this requirement out to the retailer, the manufacturer and, if that fails, consider taking it to the small claims court. If you belong to Which? Legal they will no doubt give you professional advice, but I would not let it drop.

Member
pat Pick says:
29 June 2015

I bought a pair of perspiration glasses at the end of may, but on the 28th of June the lense fell out and I can’t find it anywhere, can I have it replaced or my money back please

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

You have the right to a replacement lens. Ask the seller.