/ Shopping

The big faulty goods fob off

Shopping cartoon

With Christmas just around the corner, you might be shopping for new tech, be it a TV or laptop. Most will come with a one- or two-year warranty, but do retailers know your rights if a fault develops after this?

Did you know that if your tech develops a fault later in life, you might still be able to get the retailer to repair or replace it, even if the warranty has expired?

Under the Sale of Goods Act, goods must be as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. If you find a fault with your product before it would be reasonably be expected to do so you can claim against the store rather than the manufacturer, even beyond the warranty. And you have six years to take a claim to court for faulty goods in England, Wales and Northern Ireland; in Scotland you have five years.

However, we found some of the biggest UK retailers fobbing off customers by giving incorrect information on their rights.

Going undercover into stores

In our latest undercover investigation, we rigged up a team of mystery shoppers with recording devices to find out what customers are being told by shop staff about their rights.

Our mystery shoppers visited or called popular online and high street retailers on 12 occasions – including the likes of Amazon, Currys, Apple and John Lewis. Our shoppers ask what they should do with a faulty laptop or TV that was bought from that store, but was just out of warranty. You can see what happened in our undercover video:


Do retailers know your rights?

In 56 out of the 72 visits staff gave a clear impression that we didn’t have any rights against the retailer or referred us to the manufacturer. Of the 12 calls made to Amazon, nine were rated very poor by our consumer lawyer, while both John Lewis and Argos had seven visits rated as very poor.

Our investigation found that Amazon, Argos, Euronics and John Lewis could be breaching consumer protection regulations because information given by their staff was misleading. This could leave people out of pocket if they pay to get items repaired themselves when the retailer could be responsible, depending on the circumstances.

Currys and Apple were ranked the highest in our investigation, but both still only received satisfactory ratings for five of the 12 visits on the information we were given. None of the retailers scored an excellent rating.

Have you tried to return a faulty product?

Our latest survey found just one in five people correctly said that the retailer could be responsible for a faulty product after the warranty’s expired. So stores must ensure that their staff are giving the correct information.

We put our findings to the retailers and will be following up our research over the coming months to help ensure you’re consistently getting the correct information from staff.

In the meantime we want to know if you’ve been in a similar situation. Have you ever tried to get a faulty product repaired or replaced by a retailer after the warranty has expired?


Over the years I have spent a lot of time politely arguing with retailers that were either unfamiliar with their responsibilities or did not want to face up to them. I have had successes and failures. It helps to be absolutely clear on your rights and to have a printed copy to hand to support what you say. I have done a bit of impromptu staff training in the local Currys branch. 🙂

I am fed-up with arguments and sometimes just fix things when they fail. My Karcher pressure washer failed when it was less than two years old. Rather than take it back to B&Q I took it apart and sorted out the problem.

Apart from retailers being unwilling to face up to their legal responsibilities, the major weakness is the need to provide an expert’s report to support a claim. That is likely to be expensive, and might bake pursuing a case not economically viable.

My solution is to push manufacturers to provide a decent warranty with their products, for example ten years for a washing machine, TV or other major purchase. A two year guarantee might be appropriate for a phone, because the technology is changing so fast. A guarantee should not cover abuse or very heavy use. For example a washing machine could be guaranteed for ten years or 2000 cycles, which ever comes first. This is analogous to a car warranty of several years or a fixed number of miles.

Some may say that it is ridiculous to expect household goods to last for ten years. It is not if they are well made. If manufacturers are responsible for the cost of repairs, it will not be long before we see a dramatic improvement in build quality. For example, my Karcher pressure washer failed because the manufacturer had chosen to use a piece of bent copper strip rather than a proper microswitch. That may have saved a pound but resulted in a machine that failed after little use and I expect will fail again.

I would be very grateful if Which? would draw attention to the length of the manufacturers’ warranty in test reports and include this in calculating scores and selecting ‘Best Buys’.

I agree this is a major problem. I frequently have to quote Section 48B of the Sale of Goods Act 1979 to errant retailers. Even then, the response continues to be “We won’t pay for any repairs after the warranty has expired” until I make the retailer read the wording of the legislation. I also point out that the warranty is an additional contractual right which does not replace my statutory rights, and that it is irrelevant that this additional contractual right has expired.

The root of this problem appears to be that the contractual rights of retailers upon their upstream suppliers do not mirror the statutory rights of consumers upon retailers. A business-to-business contract can opt the parties out of the Sale of Goods Act, leaving the retailer to foot the bill of any repairs without recompense from the errant manufacturer. For example, my local BMW franchised dealer often refuses to honour my statutory rights after a car’s three-year warranty has expired unless they can persuade BMW to reimburse them, which is a very hit-and-miss procedure.

As other conversations have discussed one of the requirements of the Sales of Goods Act is that products should be durable. Ideally this would best be covered by longer warranties than the normal one or two years, but, like cars, this will require manufacturers and retailers to be persuaded to do this by pressure from their rivals.

In the meantime we should be helped to use the Sale of Goods Act as a weapon more routinely – perhaps by a standard claim form from Which?’s legal team. To use this we would need recognised information on what durability to expect from different types of product, and what contribution to remedy we should expect from the retailer depending on the age of the product.
Some product types will last longer than others, and some brands will be better built than others, but surely from Which?’s extensive experience and that of its fellow organisations in Europe this information could be provided. Maybe consumer pressure would help bring about change.

Perhaps this could be a new campaign?

John, Bristol says:
20 December 2013

I fully agree. How long should a kettle last? Or an MP3 player? These are two items I have argued about in the past with no great success. There has to be a list of acceptable life. But should it be accepted that a cheaper item should have a shorter life than a more expensive item? And if so, how much shorter?

This is a very good point, John, and one that has been made many times in earlier discussions. It has also been suggested that Which? could give us an indication of expected life of different types of appliance when publishing reviews.

Perhaps an mp3 player could be expected to last 3 years. The technology is improving and as small portable devices, they are knocked around a lot. That could also be the lifetime of a built-in battery, though having user-replaceable batteries is a better design.

Though a kettle is often one of the most heavily used items in the home, I believe there is a case for pushing for a 5 year warranty as standard and perhaps up to 10 years on more expensive models.

If you take apart broken appliances and try to find out why they have failed, often it is a cheap part that has failed. Better quality, reliable appliances does not mean that they have to cost a lot more.

J Hargaden says:
19 December 2013

InJan 2010 I bought an Acer laptop from John L:ewis in Cardiff. In November 2012 the finger tip cursor failed so I took it back to the store together with the current issue of Which containing an article outlining customer rights and stores’responsibilities.Just as well for the attitude was that it was 3 years old ‘out of guarantee and was only “a basic level computer anyway”
I pointede out that it cost over £400 and produced the magazine and quoted chapter and verse. The assistant produced a sheaf of papers which appeared to exonerate the store from any responsibilities ,an attiotude whic prevailed until I asked to see the line manager or his superior. .I was told that the machine would work with a mouse and the assistant proved it but I didnot have a mouse and insisted that the machine was faulty. A senior member of staff was summoned and after about 10 minutes argument agreed to have the fault rectified “as a gesture of goodwill” I was surprised by the attitude of John Lewis business attitude for the shopfgloor staff were only implementing guidelines drawn up by Head Office. While such an obdurate attitude prevails there is a definite need for a constant reiteration of customer rights

John, Bristol says:
2 January 2014

Will Asus not accept the email exchanges as proof of purchase?

John, Bristol says:
2 January 2014

Sorry – wrong thread!!

Graham Slater says:
19 December 2013

never mind out of warranty, try taking a laptop back to Currys when it is only three months old!

I did exactly that and was told that I’d have to contact Dell as it was nothing to do with Currys. I pointed out that, as per the sale of goods act, my contract was with the retailer only to be told that used to be the case but the law had changed “a few months ago”. I asked for the assistants name as I wanted to quote it when I contacted head office at which point he decided that fetching his manager was probably a better option. His line manager tried exactly the same tack but caved in when it was obvious I knew what I was talking about.

I wonder how many people believe what they are told and just walk away?

Well, I’m pretty sure almost every customer was cheated by customer service. My blackberry tablet broke after 5 months, took it back to currys within warranty period and received back only the phone number to blackberry customers service as currys apparently doesn’t take responsibility for any product purchased from them. Exactly the same situation had with Samsung tablet bought from Tesco Direct. They are happy to take the money but don’t give anything back, I think that phrase “Customer is always right” faded away ages ago.

I noticed the above video refers to legislation, so I looked it up exactly what the law says. Regulation 5(4)(k) of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 means that if a retailer tells you that you have no rights after the expiry of a manufacturer’s warranty, then it is committing an offence under Regulation 9 punishable under Regulation 13 by a fine and/or up to two years’ imprisonment. Why isn’t more enforcement action taken to prosecute retailers who do this?

Agreed. It needs a few prosecutions, perhaps by Which?, to imprint these responsibilities and obligations upon the minds of retailers. If that means much better staff training, then so be it. Finding knowledgeable sales staff is difficult enough when it comes to product knowledge, but lack of training in Consumer Protection Law is often very evident. Any decent retailer would ensure that sales staff can demonstrate all this knowledge (after training), before being let loose on the unsuspecting public. The UK enjoys some of the best Consumer Protection Legislation in the world, but some sellers still abrogate their responsibilities and treat complaining customers with contempt. It is a long and slow process to get some parts of the public to stand up for their consumer rights.

Gloria Thienel says:
19 December 2013

After years of pushing for my rights.I never argue in a shop.

I always email CEO of any company , quote my rights and ask very nicely for them to deal with the matter, it always works and even get compensation.

Gloria, thanks for this – it looks to be a brilliant source of addresses.
Which? Why don’t you think about publishing a single list of all the people and organisations that members might want to contact, or links to other directories such as the above . Plenty of contributors raise questions about how and who to contact, helpful organisations, alternative (free) phone numbers.

thanks for the link to ceoemails. Could be very useful in the future.

Gloria Thienel says:
20 December 2013

You are welcome. I am always telling friends about it. Just heard from a friend in US she used it against Avis after I gave it to her

Which? has done many undercover investigations that uncover appalling deficiencies in how customers are treated by certain companies. Some investigations, such as those on car servicing, have revealed serious safety issues.

My understanding is that Which? contacts the companies to discuss their findings and get their feedback (as in this investigation) and other organisations that are in a position to help address the problems.

The issue of retailers not facing up to their responsibilities is not going to go away just because of this Which? report, any more than it has done when the issue has been raised in the past. My suggestion is that Which? devotes resources to pursuing some cases so that the worst offenders receive large fines.

Another possibility would be to assist some Which? members to take legal action against retailers that have clearly attempted to deny that their customers have legal rights beyond the manufacturer’s warranty period.

The large number of people who have posted messages of support regarding the success of the costly calls campaign demonstrates that there are plenty of people who are concerned about certain consumer issues. I wonder how many of them have thrown away household goods or had to pay the full cost of expensive repairs after being told by a shop assistant or manager that it’s tough because the warranty has expired.

I agree that Which? should continue to work hard to uncover cases where customers are cheated, misled or otherwise abused. It seems difficult, then, for it to act as other than a pressure group. It can help members with information in pursuing claims, but does it have the resources to do more for individual members? Presumably Which Legal is the place to go, for those who subscribe.

We should have an effective organisation that investigates and penalises offending traders, suppliers and service providers in response to consumer complaints, whether individual or collective, when a direct approach has failed. I thought this was Trading Standards remit, but, as said elsewhere, this seems to be a pretty feeble and disconnected organisation. As Consumer Affairs Minister should we not be asking Jo Swinson what she proposes?

Malcolm – What I had in mind was for Which? to select some cases to help members pursue, in order to generate publicity about companies that are not facing up to their legal obligations. These could be selected on the basis that there are few complications or uncertainties and that the consumers are happy for details of their case to be published. Perhaps these cases could be selected from ones already being looked at on behalf of members subscribing to the Which? Legal service. The stories need to be reported in the press to bring them to the attention of the public.

It is not good that Trading Standards and regulators have a poor and probably well deserved reputation for failing to support consumers. I believe that getting retailers to comply with their obligations under the Sale of Goods Act as a potential ‘quick win’. It would help if all purchases of consumer durables included brief information about consumers’ rights and where to find detailed information.

wavechange, Which? does help individuals through their legal service and publishes outcomes. However I agree that taking on more widespread issues in this way would be helpful – by that I mean dealing with a company that has caused a number of members problems. It does seem to just publish the company response to criticism but not take any further action. (Is that not so? I might be being unfair)

I’d like to see all consumers helped, not just Which members. So an effective Trading Standards type of body might be an answer, but in this, as in Sale of Goods Act issues, consumers need to be helped with information on how to get redress – and indeed incentivised to take action in the first place. A leaflet with each purchase is a good idea, but it will need an effective system to back it up.

What I have in mind is rather more extensive publicity, including TV coverage if possible.

I very much agree that all consumers need to be helped. Our Which? subscriptions give us access to product reviews, but a commendable amount of useful information is freely available to everyone.

I had a very positive experience when I called Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline earlier this year. They relayed all the relevant information to Trading Standards, which then took no action. I have no idea if the Consumer Helpline will provide advice about rights if they have a product that has failed outside the warranty period.

It is important that consumers know the extent of their rights and, for example, don’t expect to be given a free TV if they take back one that has died after five years, or if they have abused it.

Not everyone is comfortable about consumers’ rights, but another strategy is to push for ‘goodwill’, a common way of supporting customers who have problems with cars outside the warranty period. You have given us plenty of examples of what can be achieved by being courteous, Malcolm.

I have found that the most effective strategy is to go to a shop when it is not busy, have something in writing about the faulty item, brush up on my rights and dress smartly. On several occasions I have gone back when a different shop manager was on duty and it was worth the effort. I try to avoid asking to speak to a senior member of staff, because that can be taken as an insult, but look round the store to decide who to approach.

Another fallacy I often hear quoted is that a two-year warranty is mandatory throughout the EU. Article 5(1) of Directive 1999/44/EC merely states that the limitation period may not be less than two years from the date of delivery. Given that Section 5 of the Limitation Act 1980 already allows up to six years (five in Scotland) to claim under Section 48B of the Sale of Goods Act 1979, the Article has no effect upon UK legislation.

Thanks NFH. You are doing a grand job in providing us with useful links.

From my reading, the EU directive seems to allow for problems to be resolved free of charge to the consumer unless the lack of conformity is minor. On the other hand, under the Sale of Goods Act, the retailer can make a charge for the amount of use the customer has had before the fault occurred when a product beyond its guarantee period.

Neil O says:
20 December 2013

I have had two examples in the last year. The first was with Landrover when the side of the “Leather” seats split due to it not actually being leather and made of paper thin fake leather. The dealer and Landrover initially refused to repair as it was out of the 3 year warranty. But after quoting the sale of goods act that the goods had to be as described, fit for purpose, and durable the dealer reluctantly agreed to a repair.
The second was with Apple when the battery of my Iphone 5 failed 30 days out of warranty. In this case no amount of arguing the sales of goods act on my part could get a new battery fitted at no charge. As I needed the phone I had to pay £55 for a new battery but I am now thinking of challenging Apple for a refund after reading this article.

If you paid for your iPhone on a credit card, you could do a Section 75 claim via your card issuer. I did this when I had a problem with Apple, and American Express were fantastic. My case was simple because I bought my iPhone from Apple. If you acquired your iPhone from a mobile network (funded by the monthly charge for service), then you will have to claim instead from the mobile network under Section 11N of the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982.

Robert says:
20 December 2013

I’ve had a go twice at Amazon, the last time being an Epson Inkjet Printer just over a year old. The machine wouldn’t accept originals or compatibles. I have all my correspondence in writing and it clearly shows they deny responsibility under the SOGA, and that I should contact the Manfacturer. I’ve got the transcript from the EPSON Engineer and despite providing that to Epson, they still deny it. I’ve got all the transcript from Amazon still and the upshot was that they would eventually take a look at it if I paid for a local approved Epson Repairer to look at it. Should it prove faulty that payment would be refundable, but no guarantees as to whether I would get a refund or a repair until that was done. Amazon are the worst. The senior person dealing with this, knew I’d tried before with another item a few years ago. It appears they are now keeping these records and looking up your account if you are going to cite SOGA on goods purchased directly from them. I even remember a debate with the some years ago, where I also included the Trading Standards Officer of Amazon’s Head Office Region, where I was seeking to get Amazon to take action on its Marketplace Sellers. One that I had dealt with denied he was liable and I wanted Amazon to take responsibility in removing these resellers, if they didn’t fulfill SOGA compliancy. Needless to say after a whole lot of emails, nothing ever got done. I believe that Trading Standards are also afraid to tackle them.

A few weeks ago my husband took his best black shoes back to Hotter, the composite heel was crumbling and coming away from the leather upper.

The assistant told my husband because he had not worn these very much they had deteriorated and especially if they had been kept in a cupboard without much air! Which was not applicable to my husband’s shoes.

However I have no less than 11 pairs of Hotter shoes and I have already had this happen to two more pairs. One a pair of sandals that fell apart abroad and my best ankle boots. Both clearly only worn for at best half of the year – if that. In the latter case they did give me money off a replacement pair.

We have written to the Company and are awaiting a response. However if this was in fact the case – i.e.unworn shoes deteriorating. Then why would anyone buy Hotter shoes?! They send out catalogues every couple of months with all the latest styles and colours presumably to entice us to buy yet more. If this excuse is correct then the more shoes you buy the more likely that you will end up with shoes that deteriorate without being worn!!!

I found this explanation totally out of keeping with this company’s image – obviously having bought so many pairs over the years was because I trusted them. I no longer do.

They clearly need to bite the bullet and accept that for a period they must have been using a faulty composition on some of their shoes.

My youngest son bought a pair of Dune shoes online and wore through the sole in 6-7 months. They had not been heavily used. They asked for the shoes to be sent back for examination – quite reasonably – but his case was they should not have worn out in such a short time. He made a complaint and cited the Sale of Goods Act requesting a refund and a timely response. To Dune’s credit they met his request in full.

So keeping shoes in a cupboard without much air causes them to deteriorate ! I think my reply to the assistant would have been “perhaps you keep your brain in the same sort of place”. Why on earth do these people think they can fob people off with such ridiculous excuses. Not only are the goods unfit for purpose, the people selling them are just the same. Keep spreading the bad news – the more people who react to poor service, the greater the chance of manufacturers and sellers having to sit up and take notice – and if they don’t, then they deserve to go out of business.

Simone – Thanks for letting us know about the shop assistant’s explanation of the problem with your husband’s shoes. It is one of the most amusing anecdotes I have read for a long time.

I wonder if the instructions mention that shoes need plenty of fresh air and exercise. 🙂

pc says:
29 May 2014

I am now on my 10th pair of hotters
fantastically comfy shoes – the best ever, good arch support
but the soles keep on splitting right across the ball of the foot
some within 2 weeks of wearing them
to be fair they keep on replacing them
last time I was pursuaded to go for a different sole style – and they too are splitting
never had a sole split on me in my previous 50 or so years

And I have had the Same experience with Clarks shoes – does anyone know a good make of really comfortable shoes that actually last?

sarah says:
8 November 2015

Hi, I work in hotter customer service and do hear some stories of deteriorating soles, if you post the shoes back to hotter head office explaining what has happened with the shoes, with your proof of purchase, they will replace the shoes or offer vouchers up to their value of the shoes. Even if the shoes are out of their warranty period

My Olympus SP560’s CCD died last summer. It was only 5 years old but I got no joy out of Olympus, who told me it was ‘obsolete and no spare parts were available’. I knew I could have gone back to the retailer, but what happens if they’ve ceased trading? In my case, it was Jessops, who in the mean time have become a new company trading under the old name, but very conveniently (for them) the new company is not bound by the old company’s liabilities (so I found out on the Web).

To save a lot of hassle, I simply bought a later model on eBay for much less than I had paid for the old one.

Such is our throwaway society! I still have a 40-year old 35mm steam camera that would function perfectly if I put a film in it.

I think the CCD failure was primarily due to the image stabiliser, which physically moves the CCD around in an attempt to combat camera shake. This is bound to stress the tiny wires that connect the CCD to the main circuit board. I switched off this ‘feature’ in the camera’s setup and never use it – a tripod is less convenient but gives better results.

Can someone tell me about a customer’s rights when the retailer goes out of business? I bought an iPad from Comet, not long before they went out of business.

Fortunately my recent ‘problem’ was just a setting that I must have inadvertently changed.

I generally pay by credit card because this offers protection for goods that cost over £100, but what would be the position if I had paid by debit card or cash?

You are right to pay by credit card wherever possible, as the card issuer has joint responsibility for the transaction, meaning that if a trader goes bust, the card issuer is liable and should issue a refund on a valid claim. However, if you pay by cash, cheque or debit card, you have no comeback if the seller goes bust. Your only recourse then might be to approach the manufacturer, who might not wish to risk possible negative publicity and offer a satisfactory solution, probably on a goodwill basis (to disassociate themselves from any legal liability).
What is very worrying, however, is that after companies go bust, the directors can all too easily start up the same line of business, using very similar company names if they like – and have no liabilities for their previous companies and their responsibilities. I’m not saying this happens in all cases, but a lot of this goes on and some of these directors are known to repeat the process over and over again – usually in services trading rather than retailing. I would like to see legislation to tighten this up and protect the public from those who keep on doing this and have no intention of trading fairly.

Thanks for confirming my understanding, AQ. What worries me most is when car dealers go out of business. In view of the amount of money involved, hopefully the manufacturers will offer some goodwill in the event of major problems.

Small Internet traders often don’t last long. I would like to know if Amazon will take responsibility for goods sold by Marketplace traders via the Amazon website.


There is protection when goods are purchased with a Debit Card, most card providers participate in a “Chargeback Scheme” whereby, if you dispute a transaction that’s been made on your card, you can ask your bank to ask the trader’s bank to reverse the transaction and refund the money back into your account. This gives you extra protection if your card is used fraudulently and also if you have a consumer problem with faulty goods.

Normally there is usually no minimum or maximum limit to the claim.

Thanks. I will make a note of this in case I use a debit card to avoid credit card surcharges.

Here’s a great Extended Warranty offer from Miele – I got their Which recommended freezer a couple of years ago, and Miele keep sending me a very special offer, an extended Warranty for only £179!!
Now for the good bit, the warranty exclusions (item 4.1) – ‘Miele will not bear costs for repairs where appliance breakdown is due to the following:
* Use that exceeds 10,000 operating hour for appliances and 1,000 hours for vacuum cleaners’

In case you haven’t worked it out, 10,000 hours = 416 days or under 14 months of continuous use, which for a freezer is rather likely.

I’m tempted to spend the money on the warranty just to have the discussion when something happens and I try and make a claim and see if anything is said (but not that tempted!)

There is probably a cooling-off period to allow customers to inspect the terms & conditions of the freezer warranty. 🙂

“If you find a fault with your product before it would be reasonably be expected to do so you can claim against the store rather than the manufacturer, even beyond the warranty”

Did you mean “after” or have I had too many gin and tonics.

That’s just a bit garbled, but the meaning is obvious. I spotted ‘independantly’ at 1.31 in the video, so maybe Which? staff are doing a taste test on gin.

Chawkesm says:
21 December 2013

To give praise where praise is due I would like to cite my experiences with Amazon. Recently a three year old Dyson vacuum cleaner motor burnt out. I contacted Amazon who I had purchased said machine from looking for advice re repair. Without any quibble they immediately offered me a replacement machine or the original purchase price back ( including delivery costs) . They did not want sight of the damaged machine.

Also in last few weeks I had bought the Which recommended Bissell steam cleaner through Amazon. From day one of receipt the steamer poured water onto the floor, clearly a faulty product. Again Amazon accepted without question their responsibility and within 24 hours had the faulty appliance replaced with a new one or offered money back.

I think this company is now setting the standard in customer care.

Amazon has fulfilled its obligations regarding the steam cleaner, but providing a free vacuum cleaner is a generous gesture and beyond their obligations.

You are justifiably a satisfied customer, but what about all those who have been shabbily treated when their Kindles have failed just after the warranty period?

I hope that Amazon is setting standards for customer care, but one significant problem is that they don’t seem to take much responsibility for goods sold via their Marketplace traders. These traders are getting business on the basis of Amazon’s name, but Amazon should deal with problems if the Marketplace trader fails to deal with problems.

Forcing Amazon to comply with the Sale of Goods Act for failed Kindles would be a good way for Which? to lead a SoGA campaign. Is there a barrier to them doing this? What usefully came out of that conversation?

A Which? campaign covering rights under the Sale of Goods Act could be accompanied by extensive public involvement and hopefully news coverage.

Focusing on a product such as the Kindle with a high failure rate and plenty of evidence of the retailer not fulfilling their responsibilities would be a good start.

Another approach would be to encourage us to go back to retailers if we have an item that has developed a major fault outside the warranty period (and this has not been caused by abuse). Perhaps leaflets explaining the key points could be made available, for example in libraries and GP surgeries.

Aidan says:
22 December 2013

Beware Amazon and Panasonic, the terrible twins. My £500+ Panasonic DMR EX95V DVD/video recorder failed completely whilst still a baby of 20 months. In flowery customer-service speak Mr. Amazon, in effect, said ‘Go & get stood-on. After 12 months it’s nothing to do with us’. Reminding them of consumer legislation brought; ‘Tough – we operate from Luxembourg and the Republic of Ireland so we’re outside the jurisdiction’. Luckily the credit-card company paid the £288 repair-bill, since when the machine has failed again with the same fault, and so has my son’s Panasonic dvd. How does Panasonic get all these Best Buys ?

Large manufacturers do produce products with design faults and weaknesses, even if most of their products are of satisfactory quality. This has always been the case. At one time, only the companies and those involved in doing repairs would be aware of the problems but thanks to the Internet, the public may gain an insight.

Although your rights lie with the retailer it may be worth contacting the manufacturer, though from what I have read on websites, Sony was unhelpful to many people who had problems with flat-screen TVs a few years ago.

This goes to show that despite the excessive amounts of EU legislation, consumer protection isn’t included and just does not compare to what we have in the UK. There is a mistaken myth that the Brits are not as good at complaining as our continental cousins – well don’t believe it. In France, in particular, consumers accept shoddy goods and shoddy services – as if these standards are normal – and just do not complain. A friend of mine in France bought a cordless telephone, which failed after a few months. On returning it to the shop where he bought it, he did manage to get a replacement, but the assistant then repacked the defective unit and put it back on the display shelf for some other unsuspecting victim to buy it – probably anticipating that a French person would buy it and just throw it away when they found out that it didn’t work.

Most people will take back faulty goods, so I don’t know what the shop was expecting to achieve by reselling a faulty product as new.

I recall pointing out that the local Currys had dozens of expired print cartridges on sale a couple of them nearly a year out of date. I reported this but nothing had happened next time I visited, so I took a handful of them to the customer service desk and pointed out the expiry dates. They had been replaced on the display next time I visited. I went back to customer services. On my next visit there was a basket of date-expired print cartridges on offer at discount prices.

A case where Which? could surely be helping – collating specific product faults, publicising those that then show an inherent weakness will help individual consumers bring claims against either the retailer or the manufacturer. Just as with Kindle – except no apparent successful outcome as yet – where is SoGA there?

Like I said – this was France, where French people expect and regularly receive poor service. The shop would sell the product again, probably with no comeback – it happens all the time there. In fact the French equivalent of “Which ?” – Que Choisir has reported that service standards are improving since the influx of Brits, who will, rightly, complain (though they often think they have the same rights in France as they do in the UK – which they don’t).

Which? will pick up some of these faults during product testing and by other means, such as their car surveys.

It is not quite as easy as it may seem to collect useful information about product faults. To give an extreme example, it may not be obvious whether a faulty laptop has a hardware or software fault. Then there is the complication that the user may have caused the problem, even if they are unaware of mistreating the product. This is a huge problem with small portable devices such as mobile phones.

I’m conscious of how many extra things we suggest Which? should take on each month, Malcolm. 🙂

Perhaps it would be possible to have a facility for Which? members to log in and give brief details of problems so that unreliable items can be identified. Using this information in conjunction with the knowledge that many products on sale differ only cosmetically, it should be possible to collect useful information.

I certainly don’t want to damage the reputation of large manufacturers that usually provide us with safe and reliable goods most of the time, but we also need them to face up to their mistakes.

Let’s hope that Which? does pursue the Kindle problem and give us the satisfaction of a win for consumers. I was considering buying a Kindle as a gift, but that is out of the question until I know the durability has been improved.

Absolutely right. We get a lot of information on brand reliability, which goes a long way to help consumers focus on which brands to aim for, or to avoid. However, sometimes a reliable manufacturer will produce a duff product which sells in volume because of the brand reputation rather than known or proven reliability of the new product. The sooner buyers report back the problems experienced the quicker we could all be warned. Well spread adverse publicity would slow down or halt sales, thus forcing manufacturers to deal with the issue.

If a product is outside warranty, the consumer may be required to provide an expert’s report that indicates that the fault was present at the time of manufacture for the retailer to take action. This is difficult and expensive to do. A fault may not be present but the failure has occurred because a small component is not of adequate specification. That is very common problem with mains operated electronic goods, where cheaper components have been chosen to make the manufacturing cost lower. For example, a smaller transistor could save a matter of pence but significantly affect product reliability.

I would like to see multiple reports of a fault being acceptable evidence of a design fault as an alternative to providing an expert’s report. The cause of Kindle screen failures may not always be the same and some of the devices have probably been abused, even unintentionally, but it is very clear that there is a problem with lack of durability.

SoGA, it seems to me, has a requirement of “durability” that should be independent of any initial fault. It may be generally poor quality materials or components and/or design that leads to a poor lifetime before a fault develops. Can we not make more use of this requirement? That may avoid the cost, trouble and likely inconclusiveness of an expert’s report. We could help claims by setting down what reasonable life, or durability, should be for various types of product.

Extracted from the guide to SoGA;

“Under the Sale of Goods Act, when you sell something to a customer you have an agreement or contract with them. A customer has legal rights if the goods they purchased do not conform to contract (are faulty). The Act says that to conform to contract goods should ……..
• be of satisfactory quality
quality of goods includes …….
– durability

The law says that a customer can approach you with a claim about an item they purchased from you for up to six years from the date of sale (five years after discovery of the problem in Scotland).
This does not mean that everything you sell has to last six years from the date of purchase! It is the time limit for the customer to make a claim about an item. During this period, you are legally required to deal with a customer who claims that their item does not conform to contract (is faulty) and you must decide what would be the reasonable amount of time to expect the goods to last.

durability – the durability requirement is that the item should work or last for a reasonable time but it does not have to remain of satisfactory quality. For example, a pair of wellington boots should stay waterproof but does not have to keep its brand new appearance.”

John, Bristol says:
22 December 2013

My own view is that much of our consumer protection laws have been instigated by the EU. Take delayed flight compensation, bank charges, mobile phone call costs, unfair contract terms, product safety, product description, unit pricing. The two year guarantee period originated in EU law.

It would be really good to have a bit of input from the Which? team, maybe after the Christmas break.

The reason I became interested in consumer rights was because a sales assistant in Rumbelows was trying to fob me off over a problem with a reel-to-reel tape recorder still under warranty, over 40 years ago. I’m not convinced we have made a great deal of progress over the years.

Not a technical product with an explicit warranty, but I think this is a good example of dealing with goods that are either faulty, or not to your liking:

“•If the wine is faulty
If the wine is corked, oxidised or appears otherwise out of condition, as long as it is still within the recommended drink date and has been stored in suitable conditions, we will arrange to credit your Wine Society account or replace the faulty bottle(s) where appropriate. If a credit is placed on your account, we can refund it on request. We reserve the right to collect faulty bottles for inspection so please retain them in the first instance.

•If the wine is not faulty but you did not enjoy it
If, having opened a bottle you are disappointed that the wine was not as enjoyable as you had anticipated (it may not have been to your taste), assuming the wine is within the recommended drink date and has been stored in suitable conditions, we will arrange to credit your Wine Society account, or replace the disappointing bottle where appropriate. If you have any more bottles of the same wine which you no longer want, we will arrange to collect them from you (free of charge) and credit your account.

Looking after your customers (even though it is a mutual) seems high up the agenda.

There’s been a lot of talk in recent convos about Trading Standards. Can anything be done about the Advertising Standards Authority?

It’s got three big problems. It lets bluster into advertising. It doesn’t pass companies to Trading Standards. It doesn’t do anything by itself.

How right you are. Unfortunately the ASA does not do much by itself as it is not pro-active, it’s remit is more to respond to complaints made about advertisements – it does not vet adverts beforehand (it would need to be resourced to much higher levels to do that). If advertisements are misleading or in poor taste, then they will intervene, though this is usually following public complaints. Trading Standards would not normally be able to act on referrals from the ASA, because unless a product’s advertising showed it to be dangerous (unlikely), Trading Standards (Local Authorities) get involved when customers complain about the product, which can be about its effectiveness, durability, safety etc. There are certainly some instances when manufacturers ought to invest more attention to these aspects of their products than on the heavy advertising to try and shift them on to the public.

I very much agree with these comments about ASA. It disappoints me that many adverts are full of misrepresentation, when what we need is honesty.

In defence of ASA, they do manage to get advertising changed and it is easy to find what claims have been approved or rejected. The website for the local Trading Standards does publish brief information about cases, but not all do. And we know nothing about the number of people that try to pursue their rights under the Sale of Goods Act.

I’m not sure about blanket dishonesty, but being economical with the truth seems to be a way of life for many organisations (and people). You need to be somewhat cynical and have your wits about you to get by.
I was recently made an offer by a reputable organisation that I could change my subscription to a scheme ( currently costing me £57 a year) to a half-the-normal price offer of £43, but, on enquiring, after year 1 it would go to full price £86. I’m not suggesting for one minute any dishonesty, just that you need to look beyond the immediate “headline”. (I hope the reputable organisation doesn’t now change my current arrangement!).