/ Shopping

Brief cases: can I make a claim after all this time?

Clock works

Even when you’ve had years of use from a product you might still be able to get a refund if it goes wrong. That’s exactly what Which? Legal helped Peter achieve after his shower broke three years later.

Just because you’ve had a product for some time, it’s easy to assume that it’s not worth trying to claim money back when it goes wrong.

However, three years after Which? member Peter Enright replaced his bathroom he was still able, with our help, to get a full refund (and £150 extra) when the shower unit stopped working.

Claiming on a faulty shower

PeterPeter moved into a bungalow in 2010 and refitted the bathroom, replacing the bath with a shower pumped mixer unit that he bought on the internet from Grohe Ltd for £622.35.

The shower was installed in May 2010 and worked perfectly until the end of September 2013, when it intermittently stopped giving hot water. Peter contacted Grohe customer services and was told the shower was covered by a five-year warranty and he’d get a full refund (by returning it) if the company couldn’t get it working again. Grohe sent out an independent engineer and following further failures he was offered an exchange control unit, if it became faulty again. It stopped working shortly after, but seemed alright again on 10 December.

Peter went to spend Christmas with his family and came back to find the shower only gave cold water. His plumber advised buying a new one, so Peter asked Grohe for a refund. The faulty unit was collected on 7 February but no refund arrived.

Our legal advice

Peter contacted our legal experts in late February for help. We said that as he’d been promised a refund he should write to say that he planned to issue legal proceedings to recover the refund.

Peter emailed the CEO of Grohe. A Grohe employee responded at 9am the next morning offering to pay the refund directly into his bank account. Shortly after a director from Grohe telephoned to offer £150 goodwill payment as compensation for the inconvenience that was caused.

What the law says…

Some goods and services have a guarantee or warranty from the manufacturer or service provider to sort out faults. It’s legally enforceable and defines what they’re prepared to do. You may need the warranty documents in a dispute. Peter’s warranty was extensive and gave the right to a refund. This won’t be true of all warranties.

A warranty doesn’t replace your rights under the Sale of Goods Act, which may give you more options. It says goods must be of satisfactory quality, which includes durability. Sale of Goods Act rights are against a retailer; guarantee claims tend to go to a manufacturer.

Comments
Member

On the basis that Peter’s warranty allowed for a refund, receiving a refund plus a goodwill payment for the inconvenience resulting from the failed repairs is a fair outcome. It is good that Grohe offered a five year warranty and rather unusual to include a clause offering a refund, presumably applying in cases where repair had not been achieved or was not economically possible. The only disappointment is that Peter had to obtain legal advice and to contact the CEO to sort out the problem. I expect most people would have just given up trying in these circumstances.

I appreciate that we need Which? to provide reliable and independent testing of a wide variety of products, but as a member, my main interest is the work Which? is doing to tackle the problem of consumers being treated very shabbily. Some of our regular contributors to Which? Conversation would be extremely grateful if we could explore the long standing problem that retailers routinely deny that they have any responsibility after the guarantee/warranty expires, sometimes referring customers to the manufacturer who has no legal responsibility for offering a remedy.

Earlier in the year, Which? magazine carried a report about ‘mystery shoppers’ posing as customers being given poor advice relating to their rights after expiry of their manufacturer’s warranty. This is in the January 2014 issue of the magazine and members can access this via their account on the Which? website if they have not kept the magazine. Amazon and John Lewis performed worst but every one of the retailers approached performed poorly. I would like to see this re-enacted with real people (perhaps Which? members who subscribe to Which? Legal) with real faulty goods. If these members are turned away when they have rights under the Sale of Goods Act then there is a good case for taking legal action against the retailer for failing to meet its legal obligation. That cannot be done with mystery shoppers, who are actors pretending to have problems.

The biggest problem with the Sale of Goods Act seems to be over the issue of durability and though I know of cases of manufacturers making goodwill gestures (despite any legal obligation to do so) I am not familiar with any recent cases of consumers achieving a satisfactory outcome when they approach the retailer over products that have failed prematurely after the warranty has expired.

I think the most effective way of achieving consumer protection for faulty goods is to push for longer warranties that are fair both to the consumer and the manufacturer or retailer that provides the warranty. As Which? has rightly pointed out for many years, purchased extended warranties are generally poor value for money, so we need warranties included in the purchase price. With any warranty, the provider is not expected to cover fair wear and tear or abuse.

It would be a great help if Which? could include the length of manufacturers’ warranties as a factor in giving rating for products tested and when selecting ‘Best Buys’. Longer warranties are included with some products (the shower mentioned in the introduction is an example), but the length of warranty has to become an important selling point, which has happened with cars.

Thanks to Peter Litchman for this Conversation.

Member

Like the idea of publishing the length of guarantees as a tool in making a decision to buy.

Could Which? go one step further? Have model forms of appliance (and perhaps building services – see other conversation) guarantees and give a “guarantee compliance score” indicating the extent to which the proffered rights comply with these.

Member

Unfortunately, this can be complicated. Many products break down because they are misused or simply wear out (e.g. a heavily used washing machine). Portable items like phones tend to get dropped and suffer other mishaps. Common sense suggests that goods should be designed to cope with everyday use, but retailers and manufacturers should be protected against unfair claims.

Having said that, I do like the idea of collecting information about how customers are treated after sales of products and services. Which? does publish information about how satisfied owners are with different makes of cars, so perhaps there is scope to compare how companies do with after sales service.

Member

I’m fed up with retailers telling me that I have no rights after a warranty expires. The warranty is a contractual right, which is in addition to and does not replace one’s statutory rights. It’s often an uphill struggle to make a retailer fulfil its legal obligations, which often means involving one’s credit card issuer under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.

Under Regulation 5(4)(k) of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, if a retailer tells you that you have no rights after the expiry of a manufacturer’s warranty with the intention that you pay for repairs for which it is potentially liable, then the retailer is committing an offence under Regulation 9, punishable under Regulation 13 by a fine and/or up to two years’ imprisonment. Retailers need to train their staff properly so as not to misinform consumers about their rights.

Member

Thanks NFH. I have a few bookmarks to your helpful advice. It’s a few years since I have had any problem with faulty goods but I will be very well prepared to stand my ground in future.

Member

My Sainsbury’s microwave broke after 4 and a half years. All I needed to-do was phone up, they collected it the following day & a full refund was in my bank 3 days later along with a e-mailed £45* evoucher to be used online. *I think it was £45, this happened a few years ago.

They said the evoucher was there way of saying sorry that they no longer sell this Sainsbury’s microwave so was unable to send me a new one.

I’ve never had a problem with the Sale Of Goods Act. Normally the staff wont know about it, but as soon as you speak to a manger and start stating facts they are cool with it.

Member

Peter’s deal with Grohe seemed straightforward – a 5 year warranty or a refund if it wasn’t repairable. They honoured this – I just wonder whether it was necessary to threaten legal action so quickly. Presumably it took time after collecting the faulty unit on Feb 7th for it to be checked to ensure it justified a refund (no misuse or abuse) so threatening action after just a couple of weeks maybe a bit sharpish to be critical? Perhaps there is more to it?

The headline “can I make a claim after all this time” could have raised hopes that the Which? legal team were actually having success with a claim out of the warranty period, whereas Peter’s rights were clearcut inside a warranty. I would like to see all appliances sold with guarantees that allow reasonable use before there is no support when a product fails – 1 or 2 years is usually far too short. I fear we are a long way from achieving this.

So what are our options? Only, it seems, to buy a poor-value extended warranty (not normally recommended), rely on the retailer’s goodwill (it can work sometimes) or rely on legislation supposedly protecting consumers. At present we have the Sale of Goods Act; this includes a clause that a product should be “durable”. Most impartial people would consider, at one extreme, that a decent product that fails just after a 1 or 2 year guarantee cannot be regarded as durable. It will usually be a small proportion of decent products that do this, down to some component or assembly flaw maybe that develops. I would expect the retailer, in conjunction with the manufacturer, to recognise they have a responsibility and help the purchaser. But how long might “reasonable life” be for you to expect such support? One organisation suggests 6 years for a washing machine for example. It will clearly depend upon the price the appliance is marketed for and upon how it is used. A recent conversation https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/washing-machines-faulty-broken-lifespan-lifetime-warranty-guarantee/ brought out a lot of relevant information and opinions, most of which point to the consumer getting poor protection.

It is time consumers were helped with better protection, that is fair to both them and the retailer. In the absence of fair guarantees I believe we need Which? to use the Sale of Goods Act to pursue some real cases for members with genuine problems through the courts. It might start to make retailers realise that their bullying tactics are being challenged, and that the rights that customers have should not be denied. It might also give customers more confidence in tackling retailers who choose to treat them unfairly.
We also need the whole issue of guarantees, their lengths and conditions examined.
I feel a campaign coming on……

Member
Brian Steele says:
5 August 2014

As a business owner myself, I have certainly experienced people threatening legal action at a very early stage, which does not exactly help the air of approachability that a business is supposed to provide in connection with problem resolution.

Had a letter from a customer only the other day, in which he provided a Customer Service case number from Vauxhall after he had made an irate complaint to them, which (a) he had never brought to us to resolve in the first place and (b) was not actually much of a fault anyway. The moment we heard about it, we knew what to do, how to fix it and were happy to do so.

Why does the customer have to get so worked up about it and – presumably – now think he had to get angry and contact the manufacturer about a problem, which could have been resolved quickly, amicably and without stress if he had simply bothered to call us to say his car had developed a fault?