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  Consumer Rights Info

We explain the basics of how consumer rights work practically in the appliance industry

Consumer rights can be a bit of a nightmare with mixed messages from retailers and manufacturers through to government and the media. Often the plethora of media and information can serve to confuse and cloud the real issues of what you can reasonably expect when an appliance fails.

This is a general overview of the things people all too often think that they are entitled to and an explanation of how it actually works in general terms with the appliance industry.

We would stress however that we are not a legal advice site and this is largely based on our understanding of how things work in the real world in relation to domestic appliances, each case may differ but this article should offer some general guidelines.

We would also point out that UK consumers have a huge amount of consumer protection in place and that almost all companies, certainly any reputable company, will trade within the law and respect your rights. It is sadly true to say however that there are a few, but it is very few, who do not.

It is also true that many people do not understand the legislation or what their rights actually are. Here we try to make a few areas that come up often more easily understandable.

Hopefully it offers some clarity and will help you.

  Bursting The Myths

First of all let's look at some of the common myths and try to explain what the reality is.

The Two Year Warranty

This is an urban legend.

The two year warranty is a bit of a myth, there is no reason for a manufacturer to give one other than they either supply a higher quality of product and have faith in it or they do it for commercial advantage.

There is also no two year warranty as many people think if it provided for in EU Regulation but, as pointed out by the OFT to us, there is a two year "period of limitation" across the EU member states. This is essentially the same limitation as the far more generous six year period of limitation (five years in Scotland) that we enjoy in the UK, basically UK consumers have greater protection here than in most of the EU, if not the world.

The Six Year Warranty

This is a little more complex as there is a right to seek compensation from the RETAILER for up to six years after Date Of Purchase (DOP) for not complying with the contract, as in the contract of sale and supply of the goods or up to five years in Scotland.

However, this is VERY important;

This is not to say that you have ANY recourse whatsoever should the goods become faulty during this period or indeed that they even last for that length of time. This is not a durability requirement.

This is VERY commonly misunderstood by people as being some form of free six year warranty, it is not.

What it allows you as a consumer to do per the OFT, is to bring a claim inside that period. 

This means that you can enter a claim that the product was faulty from new but, after the initial six months, you have to be able to demonstrate or prove that this is the case, In most instances this will be very difficult, if not impossible to do unless it is an actual design flaw and you can prove that. Ordinarily this would involve an expert opinion and sometimes more than one stating that the defect had been there since new or, at least that has been our experience.

  Burden Of Proof

Commonly people believe that the retailer has to prove that the goods were fit for sale. Not so, the consumer has to prove that they were not fit for sale and this is the case where people wish to pursue their long established right to reject goods, within a reasonable period or to seek compensation.

However if you return goods within six months for repair or replacement then it is for the retailer to prove that the goods were not faulty at the time of the sale.

  Consequential Loss Claims

Claims for consequential loss will not normally cover distress, inconvenience or disappointment and such claims offered to a court would, most likely, be rejected.

  Fair Wear & Tear

From the RETRA Website ;

"Goods cannot always be expected to work fault-free. They can break down through normal use. Consumers cannot, therefore, expect to hold the seller responsible for fair wear and tear. There needs to be a fault that was present on the day of sale even though it only became apparent later on, or a mis-description of the goods, or a lack of durability that suggests the goods were not of satisfactory quality to start with."

  Durability

Again from RETRA as it is explained perfectly ;

Durability can be a difficult concept, but, as indicated in the fair wear and tear example below, it is something that can be considered when evaluating whether goods conform to contract. Everything has a finite life, and this needs to be borne in mind when considering durability. Factors that could be considered might include:

The price (a £200 audiotape player might be expected to last longer than a £15 one);

inappropriate use (a very small microwave oven for a very large family)

Where an expensive product had been made with substituted inferior parts, as a crisis cost-cutting exercise, then it could well fail the durability test.

What does this mean? Well basically it means that should you place a machine under unsuitable pressure, for example a family of ten are using a machine designed for a family of four, then any claim (even a warranty claim) can be rejected as the appliance is being used in an unsuitable circumstance. This is extremely common where domestic appliances are placed on a business premises, all warranties are most often not honoured.

It also means that, if you buy say a £200 washing machine then it cannot reasonably be expected to last as long as a similar product costing £1000. Given that this pretty much goes from the top to the bottom of the washing machine price range then the one at the bottom may only be expected to last a few years whilst the one at the top would be expected to perhaps reasonably exceed a decade or more of use.

  Right To Reject The Goods

We hear this one a fair bit 

It is generally understood that unless you reject the goods with a “reasonable time" which is generally considered as being measured in days, weeks or in some cases some months from purchase then there's little chance of this one holding any water at all with either the retailer or manufacturer.

You have to do this as soon as possible or not at all.

If you have an appliance, such as a washing machine, that has been in use and happily working for some time then trying to exercise this can be, at best, challenging in our experience.

  Epidemic Failures

We would like to clear one point before we talk more on this subject and that is that, a common failure or part replacement does NOT constitute an epidemic especially where the evidence to support this is anecdotal. That is to say remarks like, “we replace these all the time",  “oh, another one of these" and so on are not proof of an epidemic failure and neither are stories on the internet on social media etc.

The reason for this is largely because you have to consider the volume of appliances sold. For example, if you sell ten thousand of one model of fridge then it is far more likely to have “common" failures than one that only sold one thousand. So, you see that the amount in the field has a direct bearing on the volume of faults reported and that a more common appliance is almost bound, by the law of averages, to display more failures in volume terms.

In percentage terms however the story can be very different indeed.

Using the same example you can have the one selling one thousand with a 50% failure rate, so 500 reported faults or failures.

Should the one selling ten thousand have a 10% failure rate then it experiences one thousand reported faults, over double the number of the smaller selling machine but, in real terms, far less machines failed by volume.

But, should a fault be persistent, let's say a pump failure because of a dodgy supplier to both causes 60% of all failures the smaller brand has about 300 failures and the large brand has double that. You have to stop and think, which one is worst and the answer is, quite simply, neither. But what it does mean that, on the internet you will, most probably, have over double the reported cases of the same failure on the larger brand than on the smaller.

This does not constitute an epidemic failure, without real statistics on the failure and sales volumes it is not possible to ascertain whether there is or is not an epidemic failure.

The common calculation used by manufacturers is that over 12% of volume on a single point failure is an “epidemic failure" but, even when this is realised there is not legislation to state that the manufacturer has to actually do something about it. Normally the only reason that something would be done is if there was a risk of claims for damages and they exceed the cost of a recall and, until that point is reached, expect abject denial of any wrong-doing on the part of the manufacturer.

  Recalls & Modifications

Recalls are very expensive to undertake.

Manufacturers will avoid these like the plague as they are crippling to the service infrastructure as well as the sheer cost impact. It is VERY rare for a recall to be initiated at all and virtually unheard of without some high profile exposure of an issue on the likes of Watchdog etc.

Even when placed on the spot and, we've seen a few examples over the years, manufacturers on record will not admit to an epidemic failure due to the cost of resolving the issue.

There is a good indicator that there has been a problem with a component and, that is, if there has been a modification. Normally this will indicate that there has been some sort of issue caused by the component in question and that some form of modification has been carried out to try and resolve the issue. It is not guaranteed to be the case of course as there are other reasons to modify a part, such as the component supplier is no longer used, but it does usually point to a problem.

  Spare Parts Availability 

There are no rules or legislation in this area currently, at all.

If a spare part becomes unavailable for any reason you can find yourself with little or no recourse. Most manufacturers or retailers are reasonable about this and will offer some concession on the sale of a replacement product or, they may even offer you some compensation but there is no real requirement in law that we are aware of that would compel them to do so.

That is, so long as the warranty has expired. If the product is still under warranty and a spare part becomes not available then they would have to either offer a concession or, compensation to some degree but this would be at best based around the warranty period itself and the original cost of the machine taking into account how long it has been in service. The chances of getting a full refund would in our experience, be virtually zero,

You can find out more on the subject of spare parts and the law here

  On The Side Of The Consumer

One person from outside the appliance industry did state although, wouldn't go on record with it, that many manufacturers (even large ones) often "trade on a fine line that exists between what is legal and what they can get away with".

For that reason it is important that you understand your rights, what you are entitled to and, what you are not as many people can be just as unreasonable and intransigent as retailers and manufacturers. If you are not sure take advice from a professional body such as Citizens Advice or your local Trading Standards office or, failing those, a solicitor.

The problem with involving a solicitor of course is that the vast bulk of appliance sold are at the lower end of the price bracket and, as it is a small claim, it isn't really viable to have solicitors fees involved which could easily add up to more than the cost of most appliances 

That said, most retailers and manufacturers will do the best that they can within reason to make people as happy as possible. It has to also be said however, that many people these days that understand none or very little of this can be extremely unreasonable indeed. Put it this way, there are a lot more unreasonable consumers than there are retailers and manufacturers out there.

  Some Conclusions

In writing this article we came to realise that there is no definitive conclusions as each case and instance is different but there are common threads in many of the posts online across various forums. The most common one being that people think that they have more rights than they actually do have.

In the UK we enjoy some of the best consumer protection in the world, surpassing even that of the USA in many ways and yet, even this, seems not enough for some people. But please remember the following points:

  • Your contract is with the retailer, not the manufacturer
  • You have little right to a refund or replacement beyond the first few months of ownership
  • As time goes on getting a refund or replacement becomes harder and harder to prove
  • It is very difficult to get a free repair outside the manufacturer's warranty
  • The manufacturer's warranty is in addition to you rights, it is not a replacement for them
  • Retailers aren't stupid and they know consumer law
  • Manufacturers aren't stupid and they know consumer law
  • To claim an epidemic failure is nigh on impossible without the data to do so
  • Claiming and receiving a full refund after a period more than a few months is extremely unlikely
  • Appliances devalue over time, their value is not static and they are a depreciating asset

In many, many ways these points are probably not what the person that reads them wants to hear but, sadly, this is the truth as we see it happening in the field.

The biggest problem for people is that, if they do get into a dispute over an appliance and it is often washing machines, dishwashers, cookers and fridge freezers that cause the most issues and cost more, the cost of battling beyond the basics is normally not worth the trouble.

Appliances are so cheap that, even after a year or two the machine is probably worth half or less the new ticket price and any compensation that you get would reflect that. For 70% of all washing machines sold for example, that means that you are fighting for less than £250 as there is no way that you would be entitled to the full retail value if you have had use of the machine for some time and, like we said as with cars and other items, they are all depreciating assets and not static in value.

The law is all about being reasonable in this area and that means that not only do retailers and manufacturers have to be as reasonable as possible but, so also do owners.

Of course you can get around much of this if you choose to take on an additional warranty commonly known as an extended warranty that will often offer you full cover for many of the issues covered here but, that will carry an additional cost and the costs can be quite high. The question is for you as an owner would be, do you want to pay to negate the risk and costs or, do you want to go it alone and accept that these risks are yours to face?

People are very well protected in law here in the UK and there are several organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Office of Fair Trading, your local Trading Standards offices and others that are there to protect your rights and do a very good job of doing so. If you are unsure of your rights or, you think that you are being given an unfair deal or dealt with unfairly you should contact your local CAB office or Trading Standards who will offer you more detailed advice based on your individual case.

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Mick Hare
Hi, I bought a Smeg door seal for my washer about 2 weeks ago. On removing the old damaged one i noticed the drum had dropped/warped etc so didnt put the new one on as this could end up being damaged also. I called an engineer under the insurance i have and it could be a possibility of a new washer. My question is that i havent used to new door seal and would like to know if i can return this to you for a refund if they have to replace my wshing machine?Thanks in advance.Mick

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