/ Sustainability

New right to repair rules: what do you think?

New rules to make household appliances more sustainable have been announced by the EU, but will they end up benefitting consumers?

11/06/2021: Rules to be implemented this month

In March, the EU introduced measures to promote the repairability of products. This month, the UK government is planning to match those standards.

Here’s what you can expect from the new laws, which the government says will reduce the 1.5 million tonnes of electrical waste generated each year.

04/10/2019: New rules announced

Originally written by Melissa Massey

As part of a continued effort to reduce Europe’s carbon footprint and to make energy bills cheaper for European consumers, new ‘right to repair’ rules have been announced.

From 2021, EU firms – and any UK firms wishing to sell to the EU market – will have to make products such as refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers and televisions longer-lasting.

Under the new standards, manufacturers will have to supply spare parts for these household appliances for up to 10 years.

The manufacturers must ensure spare parts can be replaced with the use of commonly available tools, without permanent damage to the appliance.

But under the new rules, only professional repairers – not consumers – will be supported by manufacturers to carry out the repairs.

Should we all have the right to repair?

Are the repair rules good or bad?

There’s been a long-standing view that new products just don’t last as long as they used to, with built-in obsolescence a growing concern for many.

As a result, the call for white goods to last longer than a couple of years is one which will surely be welcome news to most consumers.

But what about those of us who want to save time and money by purchasing our own spare parts and mending our own goods?

The pace of change in the industry, which now includes many products which have intricately mixed and increasingly complex digital and physical components, means many owners are usually either unable to source the right parts or repair the machines themselves.

Replace vs repair

Finding a professional repairer to carry out the fix at a decent price is often difficult. This means many turn to a replacement rather than a repair.

And we all know getting a replacement after a short while is just as wasteful from an environmental standpoint as it is a waste of money.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that warranties and guarantees can sometimes be more generous than your statutory rights, and give you an extra option to resolve problems with a product.

Ultimately the move to improve the longevity of white goods could be positive, but the monopoly on who repairs is a concern – especially if it’s going to become impossible for consumers to perform what would have been simple fixes themselves.

With all that in mind, what do you make of the new rules? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Comments

Much has been said about right to repair but how do we make sure that parts are available at a sensible price, what will be achieved?

I presume if the right approach is made to requiring repairability there will be an attractive market for 3rd party suppliers.

This article from the Restart Project provides an example of a manufacturer that advertises that its products are repairable but that proved rather untruthful: https://therestartproject.org/news/diy-repair-story-manufacturers/

I see having parts available from third party suppliers as a bonus but all manufacturers should make parts available. I want to see parts freely available and not just restricted to their appointed agents.

As I and others have said in the past I want to see spare parts at sensible prices and repair manuals made available to everyone, not just professional repairers.

However, I wonder what the legal liability is for the manufacturer if anyone is injured when making a repair or making a faulty one? We can all buy spares for our cars – brake discs, pads, suspension and steering, and all the rest – whether we are qualified mechanics or not so I don’t see any reason why other spares should be denied to us.

Seeing as my big bosch machine is out of action at the moment I’ve decided to try and revive my old hoover twin tub as a stopgap measure, I can’t get far without clean clothes. And I’ve got lots of old parts for old hoover twin tubs in my attic but I haven’t got any thermostats, and of course they’re no longer made now for those old machines. But I’ve figured out how to make it work using a relay and a thermal switch, it means I won’t have a full range of temperatures, only 40 C, but that will do fine if I can get it to work. And I’ve got lots of the old heating elements for those old machines, and several motors, and some hoses and other bits. But it’s things like the old rubber seals which are a problem. There’s lots of different grommets still available but finding one that fits where I need it is a lot easier said than done and I’d have to buy lots of them. I need to find a good selection box of them somewhere for the right price. And I’m not using a launderette, NO chance! I’ve never used one in 30-odd years of living alone and I’m not starting now.

Sue Hind says:
7 January 2021

Miele Dishwasher – I bought 3yr 7mth ago a dishwasher which was over £1000 believing the hype that they are the most reliable quietest etc. Due to house build and restoration we forgot to put in place the warranty after 2 years and on Christmas Eve it stopped working F78. The technician who arrived in January was very helpful and to repair the machine we would require a new circulation pump and matching new circuit board – cost over £600 plus labour. I went back to Miele asking if they had had a recall as the plastic pump introduced 5 years ago now has an update needing a new circuit board and they said that there was nothing wrong with their equipment.
Repair or replace. We are going to take the Miele to the tip and would advise all to carefully consider whether they will invest in one as a long term investment. If we replaced the pump and circuit board there is no assurance that in 3 years time we will not be facing the same issue – as Miele have said that there is not a problem and they have not upgraded the part.
Am I annoyed – yes. We did our homework, the machine and company are highly rated.

A manufacturer can set what terms they like for their guarantee and you are not the only one who has been caught out by not registering in time. Not all manufacturers insist in prompt registration and I was able to register the extended guarantee after my Karcher pressure washer had failed.

You have statutory rights under the Consumer Rights Act for up to six years and Which? has
useful information that will help you make a claim, Sue: https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/advice/what-do-i-do-if-i-have-a-faulty-product The CRA takes precedence over a manufacturer’s guarantee, though the latter can offer additional benefits in some circumstances.

The company has already inspected the machine and if it has not claimed that you have misused or abused the machine I suggest you push for a free repair. If you need help you could subscribe to Which? Legal. You don’t have to be a Which? subscriber. Best of luck.

After six attempts to Miele I never managed to register what had been described as a five year guarantee on a Miele washing machine by John Lewis, but turned out to be a two year Miele guarantee plus three years D&G extended warranty. Thankfully the machine is still working.

Sue, you are unfortunate. I have had 2 Miele dishwashers that between them have so far lasted 23 years. However, their spares are expensive (I did buy a relatively inexpensive pump repair kit for the older one at year 12 and fitted it myself with instructions from Miele technical).

An expensive dishwasher should not fail under normal use (mine is in daily use) in 3 years 7 months. I’d suggest the claim you make is that your appliance has not proved “durable”, that is lasted a reasonable time given its use and price. “Durability” is a specific condition that forms part of your contract with whoever you bought the appliance from – presumably the retailer not direct from Miele?

This shows how reliable Miele dishwashers are and how yours, clearly, has lasted nowhere near long enough. https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/dishwashers/article/top-dishwasher-brands-az7Lo1Y4Odze

Maybe you could enlist the help of Which? Legal to put your case to the retailer and, if that fails, to Miele. None of us would want to see your dishwasher consigned to the skip for the sake of a repair.

Sue has been quoted £600 plus labour costs for a pump, Malcolm. They may have been inexpensive in the past but nowadays Miele spares are very expensive and often only available to their own agents.

When making a claim for poor durability the cost of goods is a factor in negotiating a claim for poor durability and Miele’s claim that their products are durable will help. I should have mentioned that unless Sue bought the dishwasher direct from Miele, the claim must be made against the retailer.

The Which? information about the lifetime of brands of dishwashers fails to take into account how much on average it has cost in repairs and there is no comment on why 40% of Miele machines were replaced before they are ten years old.

I did read all that Sue said, wavechange.

I doubt that the actual cost of the repair to Miele is £600. Many companies charge excessive prices for spares, a practice I hope will be dealt with when we get some real rights to repair. Incidentally, I have bought spares directly from Miele; maybe that policy has changed?

The article does not tell us why the machines were replaced before 10 years. From memory of these surveys they do ask why your old machine was replaced. Publishing a summary of this information would show more of the life profile with and without a repair and would greatly help in pursuing a claim, particularly of (lack of) durability. Nevertheless, the Miele replacements by 10 years, for whatever reason, are significantly less than all the other brands, which says something about their reliability. I therefore see a very strong case that shows, unless there has been abuse or misuse, Sue’s machine does not meet the durability test.

I am very concerned that we deal with those products that fail early. We have often seen people in Convos complaining their product failed just beyond warranty and were getting no redress. Both for individual’s financial reasons, and to promote more sustainability, we should be addressing this problem.

I hope Sue gets somewhere with her own problem.

According to Kenneth Watt who used to post here and is involved in both white goods repairs and parts supply, it’s difficult to get Miele parts and service information if you are not an agent. I used to be able to buy batteries for Apple laptops but Apple have stopped selling batteries to the public and supplying them to independent repair companies. I expect that the ‘Right to Repair’ initiative will force manufacturers to maintain a stock of spares for a reasonable length of time but wonder if they will be available at a sensible prices and to individuals.

As we have discussed before, it would help if all retailers would make information about our statutory rights available on their websites and perhaps as a leaflet with goods costing in excess of £100.

That is simply ridiculous. A circulation pump and PCB are nowhere near that amount of money, if you had access to the real cost of making one. We’re looking to get consumers collecting spares, before allowing the old items to be taken away. In our current survey, 91% of consumers say the cost of repairs will influence their decision whether to purchase new one. This is the reason why we have an Electronic Waste problem. Get the costs down, and there will be less waste. We are looking to get our training into local communities, and engage them in collecting genuine manufacturer parts, to help the local community repairer, become part of the solution of sustainability. Thanks for confirming what we already knew. Sue.

The information that would also help inform consumers, is what is the true durability when comparing one product from one manufacturer, with the same from another. Then…who has done the repairs and did they use the correct parts and were they proven independently competent in their work. We’re putting in Repair History on appliances, for people who register them with our Appliance Safety Register. That will also prevent them being sold if they are recalled products, and include free safety alerts as well.

R2R doesn’t force manufacturers to provide technical details unless they are Professionals. The Trade Association AMDEA say that this means qualifications. I met them and was told this, but it’s also commented online. This is why we are looking to trial our own Circular Economy Community Repairer Qualification in White Goods Repair. We need to stop the monopoly on any closed shop stuff, but equally we need to respect the protection of their IP. We position ourselves as the middle ground here. We’re getting closer to having a trial, but would love more community support.

Quite right Robert. As we have said before all of us should have the right to repair and access to the necessary information and parts. Up to us whether we do it ourselves or employ a professional.

patrick taylor says:
7 January 2021

It would be wise to do an Internet check on F78 Miele and see the interesting stories that come up.

diynot.com/diy/threads/miele-g5720sc-dishwasher-fault-f78.408005/

There are the stories which helpfully mention the model number. On the face of it there are some problems and if the writers problem is similar then it adds to the ability to point to a manufacturing problem.

I have mentioned in the past thet for consumers information is power and logging faults centrally and then passing them to the manufacturer and /or retailer would provide a much better view on reliability and/ or model design faults.

All it needs is a form for completion, entry to a databse and forwarding to the correct destination. A well-established famous name charity might just be able to make this run. An annual report based on this database, and with details of results would be an immense benefit to consumers.

In the Netherlands they do have a central posting system where consumers and manufacturers [some] can interact in public. Extracring data may be possible. India for decades has had a searchable database of all cases in front of or dealt with by its system of consumer courts. Set up very early in the life of the country as it was reckoned that businesses would take advantage of the consumers unversed in law. Curiously India is reckoned to be a difficult country for business. !!

patrick taylor says:
7 January 2021

Incidentally I have a tumble dryer and a dishwasher both made by Miele and both trouble free in over a decade. So it is interesting for me to see the faults brought up by a search. And even more sure that consumers should aggregate their experiences so rogue products are quickly identified and owners are not fobbed off.

Which? hopefully has moved past being soft on businesses and will see it’s role as providing statistical force to the consumer law grievances.

It’s worth having a look at Miele on Trustpilot, Patrick. As with many companies there is a mixture of happy and unhappy customers. The main problems seem to be poor customer service and the cost of repairs. I don’t think anyone doubts that their products are well made but a proportion of well made products fail prematurely.

The best source of information about premature failure of white goods is field service engineers who go into people’s homes to carry out repairs. They know which parts fail in different makes and models and may have an understanding of the extent to which misuse and lack of maintenance are factors. The previous owners of my home were going to remove a faulty Bosch dishwasher that was around 11 years old but I asked them to leave it in case I could get it repaired. It did not take long to descale the spray arms and it will soon have lasted an extra five years.

Philip says:
14 January 2021

I have about twenty Miele appliances ranging from 5 to 12 years old and they are undoubtedly reliable, but not necessarily everlasting. Two have failed out of warranty. When a steam over failed recently, Miele offered me an engineer visit for £100+ plus the cost of any parts and extra time over the first hour or I could have a fixed fee repair for (IIRC) £299 that would cover absolutely any repair plus it would give me a year’s warranty on the machine. When a tumble dryer played up a year or so ago, they same offer was in place then, too. So I am puzzled as to why this fixed-price offer was not made in Sue’s case.

The fixed fee repair charges are explained on the Miele website, Philip: https://www.miele.co.uk/c/repair-26.htm The system for arranging a fixed fee repair is different, which could be why Sue did not receive the offer. Maybe she will say.

Miele service repairs and parts are expensive. But so can other manufacturers be. This is why I want “durability” to be developed as a claim, one of the contract conditions that retailers must meet under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. So that when you buy an expensive appliance and you are unfortunate enough to suffer an unreasonably early failure you do not face a huge repair bill. It is the manufacturer’s responsibility if a product fails early unless the product can be shown to have been misused or abused; something under their control – a part, build quality, design flaw maybe – has likely caused the problem.

Some argue this is too difficult to do. Well, we have accumulated lots of data from consumers as to how long appliances are found to last; Which? publish this. I assume other bodies do as well. So it should not be hard to demonstrate when a product from a particular manufacturer has failed much too soon. When that does happen it should not be the customer who suffers.

An alternative that would be easier would be for manufacturers to offer their own long warranties that are realistically priced. The reliable manufacturers would no doubt be able to offer longer and/or cheaper ones of they make high quality products. Consumers could then make better informed buying decisions.

The Consumer Rights Act limits claims to a maximum of six years and I hope that most people expect white goods to last considerably longer. Some of us have encouraged our friends to claim for products that have failed outside the guarantee period and of course there has been much. advice about this on these pages.

Most people are happy to claim under a guarantee or warranty but since making a claim under the CRA requires negotiation that discourages them from making a claim. I have advocated a minimum manufacturer’s guarantee on white goods, TVs and other expensive purchases, which should protect consumers from unexpected costs during the guarantee period as long as they have not misused their products.

If I had Miele product fail within six years of purchase I would make use of their ‘tested to last the equivalent of up to 20 years of use’ claim to support my CRA claim.

But without an evidenced record of any spares changes and who did it, we would be unable to ensure such data was absolutely correct. It’s something we’re working that would be part of a community platform, based on Waste Prevention, Repair and Social outcome. For now though it’s useful to have something. One must bear in mind that Which make money from it’s data from advertising the brands. There’s a slight glitch, in remaining unbiased there.

Bee Cox says:
14 January 2021

Having paid £140 for a Dualit kettle 2.5 years ago, which broke last week, I am very interested in this.

Dualit have offered a repair at a cost of £70 plus shipping, which seems completely unreasonable to me.

I’d buy a new different kettle.

There are many best buys here under your repair cost: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/kettles/article/recommendations/which-best-buy-kettles.

Before you do, depending on what broke and how, you could suggest to Dualit that you would expect a £140 kettle to last longer than 2.5 years and see if you get a goodwill gesture.

Hi Bee – Unless you bought the kettle from Dualit it would be best to make use of your statutory rights against the retailer under the Consumer Rights Act which give protection for up to six years. Which? has
useful information that will help you make a claim: https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/advice/what-do-i-do-if-i-have-a-faulty-product I suggest you claim for poor durability and ask for a free repair. If the kettle cannot be repaired (which seems unlikely) you might have to accept a partial refund that takes into account the time you have owned the kettle. The retailer may try to get you to contact Dualit, in which case they will need reminded that it is their own responsibility to deal with the problem.

The price you paid suggests you may have a kettle from the Dualit Classic range, which is advertised as having a replaceable element:
“Patented Repairable Element
This Dualit Classic Kettle is truly built to last. Fitted with a revolutionary patented replaceable element, the lifetime of your kettle is greatly extended.” That’s. not much help if a repair costs more than half the price of the kettle.

I am a property manager and my preference is to use the manufacturer to do repairs . But tenants never like to wait for over a week for repairs and replacement is often inevitable. But if the appliances are fairly new I take them away to repair so I can use for another property. Coincidentally, I accumulated three Bosch appliances in December and Bosch , to my pleasant surprise, agreed to charge one call out fee of £99 to look at three altogether. Only two were repairable and the total costs were £170 callout and parts. If not because of the reduced callout would have been £370 and that’s almost like paying a penalty for being green. That’s a Brownie’s point for Bosch. Hope other manufacturers can charge likewise.

Having a local repairer, who doesn’t own a shop and all the costs, should make repairs more cost effective, and if it’s out of warranty, can fit a recycled part. This is what we’re lobbying change at UK Gov to make changes. We can offer solutions for them in a Charitable business model. Property Managers are people who can benefit from this, particularly if you were a Housing Association and you could train your tenants, using our Training Materials. We have to cut repair costs, if we’re going to reduce E Waste somehow, and this is our concept.

GB J says:
10 March 2021

So a new motor is required for a washing machine. Motor price inc vat plus labour cost by the hour x2 plus vat and then take a chance on when the next part will fail.
Or replace with a new one with 12 months guarantee.
Ridiculous law but will allow the cost of new appliances to go through the roof.

This is what the BBC say about the recent UK Government announcement on Right to Repair. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-56340077
This applies to manufacturers, making sure spares are available for 10 years – hopefully from the date the model is discontinued. There does also need to be some control placed on the price of spares.

Although there has been an ability to repair for many years – spares are available either through shops or online, and via repairers. What I hope is the interpretation of “consumer” means that you and I can buy them and do our own repairs where we are able.

The cost of labour does need to be taken into account when deciding whether an appliance is worth repairing, if you cannot do it yourself. I’d like to see manufacturers offering long comprehensive warranties – inevitably paid for by the consumer – so all appliances can be kept going for as long as sensible at a known cost. The bane of many purchasers is to find an appliance has failed just out of warranty and they have no option but to pay for a repair or replacement.

Except, of course, there is an option and that is to use the Consumer Rights Act 2015 that requires, as a legal entitlement, a product to be reasonably durable, given factors such as price, use and misuse for example. We need to exploit this far more often for the benefit of (dis)affected consumers, so they do not suffer financially from an unreasonably early failure. Enough information is published about appliance lives to be able to decide when a failure occurs unreasonably early for a durability claim to be supported, at the small claims court if necessary.

I do hope Which? begins to take some interest in this to support consumers.

I had read the same article, Malcolm, but have not managed to find out whether owners of products will be able to purchase manufacturers’ spares and obtain information for diagnosis and repair of faults. I suspect that many more people could carry out their own repairs than do at present, which makes repair more attractive than replacement.

I agree that parts must be affordable but wonder how this can be achieved. With popular white goods, for example, third party spares are usually readily available at sensible prices.

Something you picked up that I meant to add. Many appliances either generate a fault code or have a connection to enable a separate device to be used, as on cars for example. It would be essential to have the ability to determine the specific problem and, hopefully, repair necessary before deciding how to approach it and whether it was worth employing a repairer. Visible fault codes can often (?) be interpreted in the instructions or online.

Modern cars have an OBD2 port – a connector that allows a garage identify errors and reset warning lights. DIY tools with lesser capabilities are readily available.

It can be difficult to find out what error codes mean for household appliances, especially where manufacturers restrict this information to their own repairers. My understanding is that manufacturers will have to make the information available to other repairers but not necessarily to the public.

Rather than having error codes, why not just display the nature of the fault on the screen?

That might need a big-ish screen and many older appliances – the ones more likely to break down – don’t have that. I think a code is sufficient if it can be properly interpreted.
I agree; manufacturers must give fault information.

I’m thinking more of the future when most products are likely to have screens.

From our earlier discussions I remember that Hotpoint use code F06 to indicate a fault with the door lock in their washing machines. It would not be difficult explain the fault in words rather than a code.

Yes, I realise that. But I want this to help people with existing appliances, those most likely to have a fault, as well as new ones.

If the information has not been provided in the manual (some manufacturers do) it could be provided on the manufacturer’s website.

I agree with the sentiment here, but one caveat is that whilst you are competent in repair, the next user of the product you repaired, doesn’t know if you knew what you were doing and used the spares that were part of the Product Conformance Certificate, when it was first placed on the market. We’ve found 88% of consumers would favour having that knowledge, prior to making a purchase. As we have Trading Standards for good reasons and they should have an independent standard to look to, for that assurance. That’s why we’re building EEESafe as a Consumer Safety Standard in White Goods Repairs, and potentially other products as well. Consumers have a right to know just as much as repairers have a right to repair.

MartchoK says:
10 March 2021

I have been advocate of Right to repair for a long time. But the devil will be in the detail. Getting the manufacturer to make the parts available, will not solve the issue without effective price controls. How good is a replacement compressor on a fridge costing £150 without the labour, when a new fridge is £200? It could be very simple – the total sum of all spare parts should not be more than say 20% (allowing for admin, stocking etc.) of the current equivalent model price for example. This way will also limit the chance of using lower quality spares, that may posses a risk, which will not be clear who’s responsibility is if something goes wrong.
The law should also extend to cars and other big purchases – I know it is not simple to do it due to the complicated nature of the cars – mainly running on computers these days. But it could be done – i.e. you go to independent garage, they replace the part, then the manufacturer applies the update of the software over the air, where needed. Simplistic example, but I am sure the cleverer boffins could work something out if there is will, which is the first thing needed!
Take for example my car – 2015 Seat Leon with LED headlights. The headlights mist if you drive through lot of water during heavy rain. Not a big issue for a “normal” headlight, but the LED are quite delicate and the reflectors inside could get damaged and loose their effectiveness. The manual says under normal conditions should last a lifetime. I raised the issue with Seat and all I got was a patronising answers from their technical department explaining the need to have holes to allow “breathing” due to thermal expansion. My reply was – have you not heard of Gore-Tex membranes – they have been used in the electronics industry for ages and most of headlight manufacturers use those now in their LED lights – probably costing only few pennies. Unfortunately if they break, they cost around £500 each, easily 10% of the cost of 5-6 year old car. And you can’t change them for standard ones directly… Customer service did not want to commit to what lifetime means – I gave them an example – my father’s Lada was over 20 years old when scrapped and the lights were still OK…
And don’t get me started on the shock absorbers – both rear ones replaced less than 2 years ago, with one (only one!) replaced recently under parts warranty despite the shocks manufacturer advice to replace both…
In other words – the devil will be in the detail – at the end all roads to hell are paved with good intentions!

Sue says:
11 March 2021

It’s not at all clear to me how much the ability to swap parts will need to be designed in to new appliances

For example, there is no point making available replacement door seals for my fridge freezer, as the original ones can’t be removed from the door, they are cemented in place. This fundamental design flaw is what needs addressing, and I’ve seen nothing to say if the new law will require this kind of shift

It is imperative that mobile devices are covered by this legislation! Apple and Samsung are doing all they can to make third party repairs impossible!

Indeed.

But now that the UK has left the EU, I doubt that any new EU legislation will govern how these companies behave in Great Britain.

We have already seen that legal rulings in the USA, to protect the use of 3rd party printer inks there, do not seem to be proving any obvious protections to EU or UK consumers.

It is imperative that ALL mobile devices are covered by this legislation, most mobile devices cost far more than the ‘appliances’ covered in the proposed legislation. Apple and Samsung in particular use particularly devious means to thwart repairs and it must be stopped.

There are no real questions here that haven’t been faced and solved by the car industry. They were forced to go through this years ago and they are just fine and you can buy an aftermarket brake disc that is as good as if not better than the OEM part. Simples. The problem with the UK legislation that it is total lipservice BS. The big polluters are the electronics, such as phones, tablets that people replace way too often and that do not get recycled let alone reused. It is not the washing machine that breaks all the time and costs the big bucks. It is the bloody iPhone that ends up in a landfill with heavy metals and a battery inside it just because Apple(Samsung is the same) was not going to repair that fraction of a penny capacitor that blew on it.

100% agree with you on tech as being heavy polluters Zoltan, from mining and processing the raw materials to manufacture, shipping and disposal at the end of a very short life (less than 4 years with Samsung). But as they have become a fashion statement and status symbol with the younger generations, you never hear them include their tech when they protest on saving the planet.

Another waste of tech are smart meters. The first generation already needs replacing, and as both hardware and software quickly becomes obsolete, it will also become unrepairable and add to the mountains of e-waste around the world.

I am not sure that the car industry has addressed the problem of waste, Zoltan. In other Conversations and on motoring forums there is considerable concern about the cost of dealing with faults. A common problem is that a warning light appears on the dashboard, indicating either a genuine problem or a malfunction in the electronics, resulting in an MOT failure. Some cars are scrapped prematurely because these faults can be prohibitively expensive to repair.

Mobile phones have received a great deal of attention and the fact that the user cannot replace the battery in any of the most popular models must change, or batteries must last the life of the phone. Phones are for many people the most used products they own. Many of us stuff our homes full of electronic products that see little use before they are discarded.

Synthetic clothing is also one of the big polluters – microfibres going down the drain after washing. We buy far too many clothes, driven by the fashion industry and exploited cheap labour. We use far to much in the way of quite unnecessary cosmetics. We package food in plastic when aluminium containers are virtually 100%recyclable. The list of our profligate waste of resources goes on, and needs a culture change to have any effect, something that the Covid lockdown showed is not only possible but, to many, acceptable.

Which? is caught in a dilemma here. On the one hand it wants to, and does, inform consumers about products, so helps promote consumerism; on the other hand it wants to promote sustainability. They are almost diametrically opposed concepts. But it wants to retain its readers. Is that, perhaps, the best model for a consumers’ association?

Does every Which? subscriber expect to get a payback on their subscription? I doubt it. Many enjoy reading the magazine and learning about consumer affairs but don’t necessarily use the product comparison information other than occasionally. I am sure many readers would support a more ethical stance against the throwaway culture and like Which? to take issue with manufacturers who think obsolescence is a unique selling point.

It is always a dilema trying to be ethical and what is the best approach to take.

I confess I have just bought a Dyson 360 Heurist robot vacuum on the recommendation of a Which? review. I have always considered such things to be little more than toys. But I have it on a 35 day trial, it comes with a 5 year guarantee and it is making a big saving in time doing housework. I doubt it will last as long as my Gran’s cloth bag Hoover, but it does a far better job of removing dander and other dust particles from carpets and exhaust.

We’ve already lost two lots of human cleaners through the Covid-19 lockdowns, but they will no longer need to travel to our house by car to vacuum the carpets. Hopefully there will be other robots to cook dinner, do the laundry and ironing in the future.

My main concern about rechargeable cleaners is that sooner or later the battery will fail and replacements may not be available or could be expensive. Before the first pandemic I decided to buy a second vacuum cleaner to save having to keep carrying my 20 year old cleaner up and down the stairs, a concession to age and a desire to have a backup. I decided to go for another mains-powered cleaner. Cordless cleaners might be more convenient, and I have used them when staying with friends, but I don’t see them as worthwhile for me, especially in view of my concerns set out above.

If I struggle to do my cleaning when I am older I will certainly look at robot cleaners, but at the moment, vacuum cleaning provides useful exercise. I would have concerns about smart cleaners controlled by a mobile phone because the cleaner might no longer work if the phone had to be replaced. I’m concerned that smart products in general could have shorter working lives than their predecessors.

My 35 year old cleaner would probably fight back of I tried to carry her up the stairs. But then she does clean the showers, wash floors, sanitise worktops, vacuum and more. I do have a cheapish robot cleaner to tidy between visits but it is not particularly smart.

I’d like to see all battery packs made so the cells can be replaced when the pack fails, either by a competent user with a soldering iron or through a local repair shop. I have never found an overwhelming need to replace my Miele corded cleaner though. I think some battery-operated appliances can be an unnecessary fad, bad for the planet.

Rebuilding battery packs is made easier by the fact that most vacuum cleaners will use the very common 18650 lithium cells. These can have a very long lifespan if the battery pack or product has ‘active cell balancing’, which can greatly reduce loss of capacity and premature failure. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battery_balancing

It would be good if Which? could tell us which battery packs are designed in this way but so far all we are given is whether replaceable battery packs are available. It is a useful start.

Yes, the need for a smart phone to control the Dyson 360 Heurist does concern me, as WiFi and Bluetooth in particular are both annoyingly unreliable. And when a device is no longer compatible with the phone, it’s a real ******! But I’m pleased to report that this model can be switched on, shut in the room to stop it escaping, and it just gets on with it, so it doesn’t need a smartphone to control it. When finished, it then goes back to where it started and shuts off.

The only time you would need a smartphone is to map a room and set up no-go areas that aren’t physically barricaded and can’t be vacuumed – like a wet room maybe. Fortunately, it doesn’t attempt to go down stairs or other drops by itself.

One particularly nice feature is that is cleans under the beds and any other furniture with a 15 cm ground clearance. I’m still debating whether it is worth the money, but for a younger person with mobility problems, I think it could help with independent living.

It’s good that it has a five year guarantee. The mains-powered Dyson have had this guarantee for years but the non-robotic cordless ones are covered for only two years.

I have not tried a decent robotic cleaner but a friend lent me a simple one to play with. If I was in the market for one I would like to see it in action in my home. I would certainly want to know what functionality is dependent on connection with a phone.

I am not keen on the way that we seem to be heading towards a world filled with smart devices but if they can help disabled and elderly people, that’s a little different.

My unsophisticated robot vacuum cleaner does a sort of job, but it needs preparation and tending. Chairs have to be stacked from under the dining table for it to reach that part of the carpet, trailing wires from, say, floor lamps, chargers, have to be moved or it will get into a tangle, it can get stuck under furniture, it doesn’t like the fringe on a chinese rug, and it can be the devil to track down if it hides itself, and of course being round it doesn’t clean corners…… then its dust capacity is limited. So, on the whole, I regard it as a novelty that really requires more attention than it is worth.

Getting the Miele Cat and Dog cleaner out is the best solution, in between visits from the cleaning lady; I can pay her to do the “hoovering” for 4 years for the cost of the Dyson.

That would be ideal for a cleaning a lighthouse, Malcolm. I don’t think they have corners.

I experienced similar problems with my friend’s robot cleaner, which had been received as a Christmas present. Apparently it has now been abandoned in a cupboard.

Cromer Lighthouse is octagonal on the outside but I don’t know whether the inside is curved . A robot vacuum cleaner could probably cope but lighthouse keepers often have time on their hands after trimming the wick and don’t need a robotic appliance.

I don’t know that one, John. Is the postbox marked ‘No circulars’?

I don’t know. I couldn’t see it in the dark then there was a blinding flash. I don’t know whether it is there to help the fishermen catch crabs and lobsters on the offshore chalk reef or to assist mariners navigate away from it. Cromer crabs are famed for their flavour and are one of Norfolk’s top three culinary specialities.

I hope you’re getting plenty of exercise EM! Lol!

I’m with you on that. If we let robots do everything, our motor skills will drop of and we do need to keep our minds active as we get a bit older. Not having to think about much can’t be a good long term thing. Exercise is important, although that can still be done I know, but the simple thing like doing our own hoovering is a form of exercise. It all started when we didn’t want to get out of our chairs to change the TV channel. LOL. Mind you, there is a case for people who are physically challenged.

More electrical waste then? Our society has to think about these things more, and something has to change when we’re all forced to make something, to make ends meet in the finances. I’m always getting stick for saying this, but I think there are better ways, but it will need huge stakeholder engagement. Sharing for instance and bartering. I’ve put out ideas and designed a model I hope will gather momentum on this. It’s a serous issue as we’re living way beyond true sustainability and using resources of at least 2.5 planets.

The UK Right to Repair legislation purportedly being introduced this summer (2021) is a step in the right direction, but it’s still woefully behind legislation that would make much impact on the far greater problems encountered by industry and the average jo!

I can’t readily find UK statistics on waste, but looking at figures from the USA, the landfill portion of the stats, which details Generated, Recycled, Composted, Combusted with Energy Recovery and Landfill mass as 5,250,000 US tons generated and 2,110,000 US tons landfill. That’s just over 40% of the generated mass back in the ground in 2018.

In the same year, Total Miscellaneous Durable Goods (“Electronics” plus “Other Miscellaneous Durable Goods” equals “Total Miscellaneous Durable Goods.” Miscellaneous durable goods include consumer electronics such as television sets, videocassette recorders, personal computers, luggage and sporting equipment) where estimated to include 24,810,000 US tons of generated products with 20,280,000 tons ending up in landfill. That’s over 80% of the generated mass.

Now those base figures are obviously way larger than they would be if comparing with UK, but assuming that the state’s is no better or worse then the UK is at recycling and the percentages surrounding the amount of produce that’s discarded, we can see that the ‘right to repair’ of white goods, while it’s not to be sniffed at, is a drop in the ocean compared with the amount of waste produced by consumer goods of a much smaller nature.

There’s also the thought that while there will undoubtedly be some nasty elements in your washing machines that would be considered toxic, your average portable consumer goods is based around lithium battery technology, with cobalt, nickel, manganese, and other metals that can readily leak from the casing of buried batteries and contaminate soil and groundwater.

In summery, the UK governments plans to introduce rights to repair is a step in the right direction, but in truth it barely touches the key issues the right to repair movement is trying to overcome.

Let’s hope someone in parliament grows some balls and starts demanding real change, not just to washing machine and fridge manufacture, but the manufacturing industry in general on a much bigger scale.

I agree Tom. The latest government information is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/electrical-appliances-to-be-cheaper-to-run-and-last-longer-with-new-standards This does not mention anything other than white goods and TVs. Will manufacturers have to keep spares for the many other products we use in our homes?

Lithium batteries are a problem, as you say. The Which? guide ‘How to live sustainably’ (September 2019) points out that they are difficult to recycle and that many end up in landfill, causing environmental problems. As well as that we have limited world supplies of materials used to make them.

The fundamental problems are that companies want to sell new products and that many consumers are all too willing to buy them.

” Lithium batteries are a problem, as you say. ” which is one reason why we should consider the future of transport and not just get swept up in the charge to EVs.

I agree, Malcolm. It worries me that making more products is often seen as a way of reducing environmental impact. We are frequently urged to buy new white goods that are more energy efficient, but what about the impact of disposing of the old ones and making new ones?

EV batteries are likely to be recycled, since owners are likely to sell their car rather than just stop using it because the product has been replaced or the owner has lost interest. Hopefully EV batteries will not end up in landfill and that we can improve the recovery of valuable metals.

There is so much to change if we are to cut down on waste. There should be a ban on sending stuff to landfill, other than specific items. They should all be recycled or the materials recovered. Paid for by making a disposal charge on the owner ( fly tipping police needed, no doubt). That will deter some/many from ditching usable goods.

Somehow we should also deter people from just changing to a newer model, with little advantages, because it is new – like mobile phones. That requires education and a change of attitude. Which? could help by being more critical in what it promotes.

We should encourage establishing repairers, spare parts availability, easy repair diagnosis and manuals to help keep products going.

I wonder whether I am on my own in only replacing stuff when it is beyond repair? I’m even repairing my hosepipe spray guns that suffered in the winter.

The problem underlying all this is keeping the economy going by stimulating consumer demand. That would be least affected by recovering materials instead of dumping them in holes in the ground. Let’s make that illegal

I doubt that charging for disposal would work for the reason you have given. We have more than enough fly tipping. I suggest that cost of disposal should be added to the initial cost, as is done with tyres. Some tyre dealers show this as an environmental charge and others hide it in the price.

There is little incentive for manufacturers to provide service information because (in most cases) they would prefer owners to replace them. Hopefully we will see legislation that will change this.

Which? now offers guidance about how to deal with common problems that occur with washing machines, fridges, vacuum cleaners, etc. That’s good but perhaps each product review could invite us to consider using products for longer or repairing them if they are broken. I’ve read that electrical goods taken to recycling centres are often in good working order or require only a simple repair.

I don’t agree that stimulating consumer demand is necessary a good idea, certainly not if this leads to increasing use of our limited resources or creates more pollution. Consider the incredible amount of rubbish that is bought at Christmas. Many of the gifts are not even wanted. There are less damaging ways of supporting the economy. Buying paintings or other artwork, books, a personal number plate or tickets for local activities come to mind.

Disposable income and loans fuel this. No cure for that. Perhaps we should encourage people to invest some of that spare dosh in government bonds or shares to finance certain state-run or initiated industries, like renewable energy generation, fossil-less vehicles, launch Made in UK goods, that would deliver a reasonable return and help people finance their retirement. If only we could find people with the knowledge, experience, drive and integrity to run them.

These are certainly possibilities. What about trying to promote repair of products, both commercially and by their owners? That would tie in with right to repair.

I don’t know how many people build and upgrade computers but perhaps there are opportunities to expand this into other practical activities including repairs. Derek recently mentioned repurposing old smartphones to monitor the activities of hedgehogs. That sounds more fun than fixing a washing machine.

I watch YouTube videos out of interest and to help me carry out repairs. Many are produced by enthusiasts in the US and Canada. Perhaps we need more UK enthusiasts making a mark.

We’re engaged with UK Gov on this with our Electrical Repair Safety Standard, and a community model to capture data but reward people. We’re submitting evidence to the current Product Safety Review and also Defra’s Waste Prevention consultations. We’re running a survey, but not sure if I should advertise it here. Don’t want to break any rules. 🙂

A man after my own heart.

My washing machine failed twice at 2 years old and now at 2.9 years. It is a Bosch serie 4. It cost £400 and I have had no luck getting John Lewis to engage with me on any refund or help apart from when it was covered by the minimal 2 year cover. The machine should not die at 2.9 years. My mums aged Indesit is 13 years old and still chugging away. What are we to do with such crap appliances? I thought a mid range premium brand would last for 9, 10 years?

Here is advice from Which? https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/advice/what-do-i-do-if-i-have-a-faulty-product-aTTEK2g0YuEy

You can make a claim against John Lewis under the Consumer Rights Act and you should not be expected to accept multiple repairs. If you need help you could subscribe to Which? Legal for advice.

Dare to Repair – A new series on BBC Radio 4: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p09gtzwp

New European right to repair rules have now been announced: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2021/06/new-right-to-repair-laws-introduced-what-do-they-actually-mean-for-you/

It’s a start but covers only a limited range of products and may not help those who want to purchase spares to repair products they own. I do hope that Which? will apply pressure to help those of us who would prefer to repair rather than replace products, either to save money or because it makes environmental sense.

It would be good to have an update on ‘electronics right to repair’, where phone manufacturers seem to be fighting to ensure that consumers are denied spares and information to carry out repairs.

I can’t see any point in these new rules if us consumers won’t be able to obtain spares and/or service manuals. I suppose they’re just trying to keep people safe from careless” repairers” who couldn’t care less about safety, and I’ve seen plenty of appallingly dangerous repairs done on all manner of appliances. And I wonder how much longer we’ll be allowed to do our own electrical wiring in our homes, as it’s not allowed in many other countries, especially where there’s a high risk of wild fires, like in Australia for example. They don’t allow amateurs to do wiring because of the huge fire risk there. And as for making stuff repairable “using readily available tools”, how can that be made remotely possible when circuit boards and the components fitted on them are NOT replaceable with basic traditional tools? As anyone who has ever been involved in electronic servicing, even as a hobby and/or diy repairer, will know. And what about all those washing machine motors with the pulleys shrunk on far too tight making it well nigh impossible to replace a worn out bearing which is a fraction of the cost of a new motor? Why can’t they just machine the grooves for the belt into the motor shaft just like hoover used to do with theirs? Their motors used to be fully repairable and nearly all the parts were available at sensible cost.