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Do retailers guarantee you fair treatment?

Leaking washing machine

When it comes to exercising his rights, our regular Malcolm R knows a thing or two about the Sale of Goods Act. In this guest post he asks if people get a fair deal when something they buy doesn’t last…

Most shoppers rely on a product’s guarantee, where it’s down to the manufacturer to tell you what they will do when something goes wrong. For domestic appliances, this is often just one or two years. But what happens after that if a fault, other than due to wear and tear or misuse, develops?

Suppose you’ve bought a moderately expensive washing machine from a reputable brand and it fails just as the guarantee runs out. As your contract was with the retailer who supplied you, it is they who you should approach; but the consensus seems to be that you should not expect any help. You are probably told you should have bought an extended warranty, something Which? says should generally be avoided as they offer poor value. It is best to save up your premiums and pay for any repairs yourself.

Time limits on your rights

While there’s no time limit for approaching a retailer about a faulty product using the Sale of Goods Act, you only have six years from the date you received the goods (five years in Scotland) to enforce those rights. This does not mean that everything has to last six years from the date of purchase! It is the time limit for the customer to take a claim to court.

During this period, the retailer is legally required to deal with a customer who claims that their item does not conform to contract (is faulty) and decide what would be the reasonable amount of time to expect the goods to last. The six year period is not the same as a guarantee, but it does mean that even where the guarantee or warranty supplied with the product has ended, you may still have legal rights. (It’s worth noting that after six months, it’s down to the customer to prove the fault was there from the start, which could include providing an expert report).

Product usage and durability

What do you think needs to change to ensure that the consumer and the retailer or manufacturer get a fairer deal? Firstly, should the initial guarantee be longer for many products to reflect the minimum expected life of the product before a failure is likely to occur – a life that should be published by the manufacturer – rather than just a nominal one or two years? This may still be a number of years, or a measure of usage such as cycles for a washing machine, miles for a car, or hours for your fridge compressor.

The manufacturer knows how long their products should last – after all, they are responsible for the design, the quality of components used and the skill with which the product has been made. So they could also look beyond this initial guarantee, and offer a “care package” – for a price – where, barring misuse and wear and tear – they agree to repair or replace the product for a fixed time or usage.

I believe the price and length of time should depend on the manufacturer, the quality of the product and its initial cost; so good manufacturers offering good products should offer better, longer and cheaper care packages than for poorer products.

Are you happy with the protection provided by product guarantees or more generally, with the Sale of Goods Act? Should more be done to extend our rights and get fairer treatment if your product fails in an unreasonably short time?

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Which? Convo regular Malcolm R. All opinions expressed here are Malcolm’s own, not necessarily those of Which?.

Comments
Member

A few years ago we bought a Panasonic Microwave Oven that went bang after a week.
We took it back to the retailer and asked for a refund. He initially refused on the basis that Panasonic would not take it back and he would lose out. He wanted to send it for repair which we would not accept. He then said we could exchange it for another one but as he had nothing we wanted, he eventually gave us our money back. He was a small independent retailer who lost a future customer that day as it was not a pleasant experience.

Was he right when saying Panasonic would not take responsibility for an item that only lasted a week?

I have never quite understood why retailers are responsible for faulty goods and not the manufacturer. We buy goods from retailers in good faith. Retailers sell goods from manufacturers in good faith.

Manufacturers need to hold more responsibility for what they sell especially when things go wrong.

Member

After struggling for 5 months to hear the vocals on my Panasonic TV, a visit from my son who has excellent hearing îcomplained about it. I contacted the retailer who offered a repair which I declined stating the sound problem had existed from the time of purchase. After much deliberation I finally contacted the manufacturer direct who admitted a consignment had been released with an inherent sound problem but was adamant that it was not a fault! I argued that a problem to my way of thinking represented a fault. I took my case back to the retailer who then agreed to replace the TV with a new one. Clearly the onus in this case should have been on the manufacturer to supply the warrantee and not the retailer.

Could Which? invite people to vote on this issue. Who should provide the warrantee, manufacturer or retailer?

Member

Beryl – Could you advise the model number and any other details please.

Which? when you have the details can you see if there has been a recall notice to stores for unsold, letter drop to buyers who have registered their purchase with Panasonic, or advisory to the retail trade please.

My suggestion of 2013 that interested members record all their significant purchases on a Which? held database would now be a useful tool if members needed to be contacted re duff batches. : )

Not to mention all the benefits of finding out the long term life span of equipment given Which? does not test for smaller appliances. Avoiding the embarrassment of those Best Buys which draw multiple complaints when the product expires after 7 months but the manufacturer continue paying for and advertising the Best Buy status would be a major step forward.

Member

I also think the name of the retailer might be of interest. We give credit where credit is due !! : )

Member

DT: No problem………

The retailer was J Lewis. Model No. Panasonic Viera TX-L32V10B – Serial No. ND-9320844.
Address: Panasonic (UK) Ltd. Willoughby Road, Bracknell, Berks. Web Site: http://www Panasonic.net. Tel: 0844 844 3852. Customer Care Centre: e-mail: customer.care@panasonic.co.uk.

Which? were carrying out investigations on this at the time which prompted me to press ahead with my claim and was the main reason why I decided to become a member. It was very stressful I remember but my perseverance paid off and the replacement TV is still going strong some 5+ years later.

Member

11/12/2009
“Panasonic has pledged to fix its Viera V10 HD TVs after a Which? investigation revealed a number of audio problems. The company has said that Viera V10 owners can contact Panasonic after Which? highlighted problems with sound playback from model.
Initial tests in the Which? Labs found that the 37-inch Panasonic Viera V10 scored woefully for its audio. We contacted Panasonic, who identified a fault and admitted that it was an issue with a ‘small number of V10s’. Panasonic has since offered to repair any faulty sets.
Which? has re-tested a repaired Panasonic V10, and it now scores more favourably. Owners of Viera V10 TVs that shows signs of poor audio quality should contact Panasonic’s customer care centre on 0844 844 3852.”

I had to scroll through 115 Panasonic mentions as the Which? engine does not see “fault” as a primary marker. I am not OCD I was trying to establish how easy it was to find faulty product mentions/recalls on Which? and on the net. Basically not at all easy.

From that Which? article I do not see anything about Panasonic saying they would be proactive on chasing this up or asking their dealers to do anything. That does seem a bit limp. So unless you read this small article on the run-up to Christmas it looks like the manufacturer got off rather lightly.

Member
Marianne says:
6 September 2014

I bought a Panasonic bread maker Nov 2013 from a large well known retailer, a week ago it became very noisy where it had been really quiet before, it was still within manufacturer’s guarantee and well within the store’s 2 year guarantee. I have carried out complaint procedure by email and asked for replacement not refund. Whilst happy with the service I received the bread maker arrived this morning , Saturday, and courier was supposed to take faulty machine back to store but refused saying they only deliver on Saturdays they don’t collect and they would collect probably Monday. So my complaint is with the courier, I will be out nearly all day Monday, that is if he does come then, I have no idea really. If the machine does not get returned to store I will be charged for the replacement at nearly £140. Advice required please.

Member

Marianne,
Does the courier have a depot you could take your faulty machine to?
If this is Amazon, they have many local places you can drop returns to who will give you a receipt when they accept the goods. Mine was a local garage that made a return very easy.

Member

Marianne – It is up to them to arrange the pick-up – thye have refused it once.

As a gesture of good faith Email them and say you are in on the Xth [could be a Saturday] and they can collect it then otherwise they can collect it from your doorstep any day they like on the following week before you will recycle it. If they offer to pay you to store it thats fair enough but otherwise ask yourself why should you be put out – they sold the faulty machine and have booked a profit.

They employed the courier, as their agent, he refused to take back the machine when you offered it. The arrangements between the store and the delivery company is not your problem

BTW please advise well-known retailer.

Member

Marianne: Clearly the courier is acting for the seller and is in breach of the contract you took out with the seller for refusing to take back the faulty bread maker, therefore:

Under Section F4148C Reduction of Purchase Price or Rescission of Contract of The Sale of Goods and Services Act the buyer has required the seller to repair or replace the goods. But the seller is in breach of the requirement of Section 48B (2) (a) if failing to do so within a reasonable time and Without Significant Inconvenience To The Buyer.

I would agree dieseltaylors last paragraph is particularly relevant to your case.

Member

The Sale of Goods Act is not fit for its purpose. If goods break down within the warranty period, some retailers ask us to contact the manufacturer even though the law makes clear that the responsibility lies with the retailer. Outside the warranty period, the standard response from retailers is either that they have no responsibility or that we should contact the manufacturer. If we have abused the product or it is simply worn out then the retailer does have no responsibility but they should never make this false claim without even looking at the faulty goods.

If anyone would like to see how the manufacturers look at the Sale of Goods Act, have a look at the recent Conversation about how long a washing machine should last, where Kenneth Watt reveals all.

Outside the warranty period the owner is expected to prove that goods are faulty when they were purchased to be able to make a claim under the Sale of Goods Act. That term actually applies from the time that goods are six months old and still under a year’s warranty, though I am not familiar with anyone having a problem during this period. Getting an expert’s report to show that a product was faulty at the time of manufacture would be difficult and expensive. The law does not give us protection simply because lots of people have experienced a particular type of fault with the same make and model. Recent examples of this are screen faults on Amazon Kindles and Sony Experia phones, but there are countless other examples of design faults in products, even those from the most respected brands.

My solution is for the consumer to buy products with long manufacturers’ or retailers’ warranties. That has worked very well with cars. Despite the fact that they are expensive and complex products, a three year warranty is the minimum we can expect. With long warranties, the terms and conditions should be fair to both the consumer and the manufacturer. Two year warranties are becoming increasingly common and 3, 5 and 10 year warranties are sometimes available from manufacturers or retailers.

Buying extended warranties is notoriously poor value for money, as Which? has been telling us since the 1980s. John Lewis is at the forefront of providing extended warranties on electrical goods, which is fortunate because JL performed abysmally in a recent undercover investigation about how its stores handled out-of-warranty claims (see the January 2014 issue of Which? magazine).

If manufacturers want to provide warranties that have hour/cycle limits such as we have a mileage/years warranty on cars, that’s fine. We know where we stand and it’s fair that manufacturers should protect themselves from claims from owners of appliances such as washing machines that have been very heavily used.

Congratulations on hosting a Conversation, Malcolm.

Member
Glyn Roberts says:
7 September 2014

What if you buy a printer or scanner and find that the software that is supposed to make it work is totally unfit for purpose? It seems that there is very little remedy in the sale of goods act, and that some firms are getting away with a grossly unsatisfactory service to customers. Do others find the same problem? It would be marvellous if Which could use it muscle to put this right.

Member
Colin says:
7 September 2014

Cars and their oils can’t wear out when not used and the odometer is a reliable indicator of usage. So why are service periods set at a maximum of one year rather than the service life of the oil? If it is other than synthetic, its compound will have been underground for some 300 million years and a little while lying in the sump won’t hurt it! The ever more stringent MOT covers the annual safety checks.
Why is the extent of the warranty period in years rather than miles? I do 4000 miles a year and the warranty on my Mercedes C-Class ran out after 12,000 miles! It’s a diesel and so cost over £1000 more than the petrol version and diesels are capable of multiple hundreds of thousands of miles. After 7 years, an electrically activated door lock has failed and they want nearly £700 to replace it!! But the car is immaculate, has used only 20% of the original brake pads, and still has less mileage than an average 3 years of use – 10-12 thousand miles a year. I regard that component as unfit for purpose, emphasised by the premium cost of the car. There must be a strengthening case for buying a car with extended warranty such as those from South Korea. Parts and particularly labour charges have become prohibitive.

Member
Colin says:
7 September 2014

That latter point of mine chimes with your sentiment, wavechange!

Member

As one of the content producers on our Consumer Rights website, it is really interesting to read this conversation and the subsequent comments – the Sale of Goods Act is an integral piece of legislation and often gets over 6000 page views a week on our site.

Under the Sale of Goods Act, goods must be of satisfactory quality; as described and fit for purpose. Durability is not covered – and it can be a difficult point to argue. It is interesting to see this as a focus point in this debate. The difficulty is going to be in the way that people treat their products – for example, in the case of a washing machine, is it doing heavy loads several times a week? Or is it used to do one or two washes? Factors such as how a consumer uses a product can make durability a sticking point.

Another point that I’m seeing in a couple of the comments here is whether you should be getting a replacement, refund or repair with a faulty product. If you notice a fault within a few weeks you do have the right to reject the product and ask for a refund. The window of time to do this is small, but certainly in the case of alfa’s Microwave oven which broke after a week, you should be able to argue that you can get a refund.

After this time period, you have the right to get a product replaced or repaired. You can ask the retailer to do either of these – but they can normally choose to do whatever is cheapest.

For more details, you can take a look at our legislation page on site – http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/regulation/sale-of-goods-act.

This is a really good debate to read Malcolm – and thanks for writing it. It’s really useful to see what consumers feel about key pieces of legislation, especially one so universal.

Member

Florence – I note your comments regarding durability .The German consumer site tests washing machines for 6 months non-stop and I wondered if one could use their research into machine durability in an English court when claiming under SoGA.

Member

Florence, I have just spotted in your comment the statement on the Sale of Goods Act “durability is not covered”.
Here is an extract from the Sale of Goods Act that I have seen:

“14 Implied terms about quality or fitness..

(1)Except as provided by this section and section 15 below and subject to any other enactment, there is no implied [F11term] about the quality or fitness for any particular purpose of goods supplied under a contract of sale.

[F12(2)Where the seller sells goods in the course of a business, there is an implied term that the goods supplied under the contract are of satisfactory quality.

(2A)For the purposes of this Act, goods are of satisfactory quality if they meet the standard that a reasonable person would regard as satisfactory, taking account of any description of the goods, the price (if relevant) and all the other relevant circumstances.

(2B)For the purposes of this Act, the quality of goods includes their state and condition and the following (among others) are in appropriate cases aspects of the quality of goods— .
(a)fitness for all the purposes for which goods of the kind in question are commonly supplied, .
(b)appearance and finish, .
(c)freedom from minor defects, .
(d)safety, and .
(e)durability.”

Durability is a condition of satisfactory quality.
It is up to others to determine what a “reasonable person” would decide was a reasonable time for a product to be regarded as durable. Given the huge range of products that SoGA covers this requires work by the special interest groups, but the law appears to be in place to be used.

Member

Companies have rights too, which is why fair wear and tear is excluded from warranties and our cover under the Sale of Goods Act. Cars are mechanical devices, where the warranty is normally given as X years or Y thousand miles, whichever comes first. Why not use a similar system for washing machines?

I would like to see the length of the manufacturer’s warranty shown on every new appliance, in the same way as we are told about its energy rating. If the manufacturer wants to restrict cover to a certain number of wash cycles, that’s fair enough. The customer can then choose a machine that suits their needs. If the display shows that their machine has exceeded the number of cycles specified, they will know that it is not worth asking for a repair.

Member

I think the Act works better via a pressure group like Which? as it’s reputation carries influence that may affect retailer performance. Same as going through the small claims court. But for the every-day person typically apathetic or ignorant of legislation or unable to effectively apply their rights there seems a gulf between the Act and their prematurely broken kettle.

Member

I had surgery in February this year and have been unable to drive at night since – daytime only as the double vision is too distracting and dangerous. I can also see the edge of the lens at night. I was told during my many follow up visits that this was normal and should settle down – it is now September!

After taking much time off work to visit the Optical Express (OE) clinic in Eastcheap, more than 10 visits, I asked each time if I could see the surgeon who operated on me. I was fobbed off again and again. I continued to complain until I was given an appointment at Harley Street in April, it was my belief that my appointment would have been with someone that was an surgeon.

During this visit I was told by OE person, that he works closely with Surgeon therefore he was NOT a surgeon but just an optometrist!

At this visit April this year I was told that it was best that I had the Mplus lens replaced with a single lens. Again I asked if I could see The surgeon before the explant – request declined! Eventually I was giving an appointment July of this year to see the surgeon after waiting five months. How and why should I trust an outfit such as OE if it has taken nearly half a year to get to see the surgeon that preformed my surgery. I cannot trust them and am not going ahead. I intend to see an independent specialist.

How can Optical Express be allowed to treat people in this way

There does not seem to be any sense of responsibility or accountability from OE for those of us that are having problems with these ill fitting lenses. With such serious problems I should have seen the surgeon – not an optometrist from the onset of having problems!!!

Please leave your eyes as they are!

Member
cjB8on says:
13 September 2014

I completely agree with all comments on here! The most concerning to me is the one about the NHS! I can’t believe that you were asked to see a surgeon and were “fobbed off” on more than 1 occasion! Unbelievable!!

Member
cjB8on says:
17 September 2014

I worked for the NHS for many years! I too, can’t believe that you were ‘fobbed off’ so many times! Can you ask to see a SURGEON again? I appreciate that you feel that you have done this already, but this is ridiculous!!

Member

We bought a Hotpoint fridge/freezer in August from Currys Model FSFL58G after asking the salesperson 4/5 times if it was Frost-free, We were told Yes. It arrived n we were disappointed to see ice n heavy condensation to the extent that drink can froze, salad rotted etc. went back to Currys to be told they will send an Engineer who came n announced NO FRIDGE in fridge/freezer is Frost free. Back to Currys who got Hotpoint Chief Engineer to talk to Saleslady n me only to be told ALL Fridges Are Frost Free. who to believe. Went again to Currys to buy another brand F/Freezer after paying the difference. Answer NO. Fridge is NOT Faulty. inspite of having taken their
Know How Insurance!!
Any guidance will be appreciated.

Member

I thought it may have been a case of Misrepresentation but no it appears your engineer was in some way wrong.

http://www.currys.co.uk/gbuk/household-appliances/refrigeration/fridge-freezers/hotpoint-fsfl58g-fridge-freezer-graphite-10010560-pdt.html
does show that frosting in fridge and freezer is covered.

My supposition given the freezing of a can is that either you had the friidge thermostat very very low or the thermostat must be faulty. I went online to seek any reports of problems but it does look like it is an expensive Curry’s own designation. I am sure the identical machine does exist for other retailers and probably Hotpoint have an internal code for the machine.

Member

Thank you for ur reply. We are at our wits end as they do not believe us. Someone told us the thermostat may be faulty n I asked Currys Manager to get that checked but he said it must have been checked.
It annoys such big firms get away with so much misconduct. I am fed up of going there daily to complain as there is no place to sit down as I have a v bad back. We had a big Zanussi f/freezer for years and we had no problems with it at all.
Sadly we went to Currys as I needed one urgently as Zanussi stopped working and their Engineer n Insurance Co. said cannot be repaired.
Suppose we have to grin n bear it for years now. Your em attchmnt also says fridge is frost free.
Thank you once again for your help.
prochi T.

Member

The fridge section of my fridge-freezer is self defrosting. It is by Miele and is about 15 years old. It does, however, have separate compressors for freezer and fridge.

Member
David Litchfield says:
19 September 2014

Amazon.co.uk specifally state on their website that they will not deal with faults after 30 days and you have to go to the manufacturers.
Can they do that?

Member

The answer must be they should not be able to palm you off if they have sold it direct to you and not through a merchant. However it becomes slightly murkier if the fulfilment is, as so often happens , is done theoretically from Amazon Luxembourg.

However I am not sure they can duck out of being liable as it must be a sister company. The practical answer in many cases is that the manufacturer’s site has all the technical detail that might help sort out the problem and then you can get technical with them. The Amazon link for AEG is not very helpful in dumping you into the Front page rather than the problems section.

However, this is the fundamental point, how much time should you spend on the problem before it should become Amazon’s problem. They sold it and they are the ones who need to rectify genuine problems.

Perhaps Which? has something to say on this?? And on recovering expenses in rectifying matters.

Member

With an ever increasing use of Amazon and other online companies, we really need to find out where we stand.

This is one of the reasons why I believe we should be shifting the legal responsibility from the retailer to the manufacturer. There are a limited number of well established manufacturers but retailers, particularly some of the smaller ones, come and go. It is also not fair to expect retailers to pay for repairs to particular makes and models with poor reliability or design faults.

Member

The retailer makes a profit out of the customer to fund his expenses – including looking after claims on faulty products. They also have the choice as to the makes (and reliablity) of the products they stock and sell you. Since the manufacturer may well be on a different continent it seems perfectly reasonable to me for the retailer to take responsibility for what they sell. However, I would expect they would have agreements with their supplier or the manufacturer to cover them for when a product proves to be faulty or unacceptable in service.

Member

Larger manufacturers are often represented in many countries. I don’t know if the same can be said for retailers.

There is no doubt that the Sale of Goods Act is not working as we would expect it to. Even John Lewis did poorly regarding consumers’ rights after the warranty had expired, as I mentioned above. There is ample evidence that retailers shirk their responsibilities and point consumers in the direction of the manufacturer.

Where John Lewis does well is to offer longer warranties on electrical goods than many of its competitors. It’s good to see that manufacturers’ warranties on central heating boilers are improving and the October issue of Which? magazine outlines what is on offer. I would prefer manufacturers to demonstrate confidence in their products by offering decent warranties, but I’m also interested in retailers’ warranties provided they are included in the price.