Fit For Purpose
We explain "fit for purpose" and how that plays in the appliance business
There is much confusion over the use of the term "fit for purpose" with both public and trade alike and in this article we will try to demystify what it really means and when you can use it from a customer perspective in the real world.
Explaining this from the point of view of a customer helps explain what traders can do and, cannot do in respect to this term but in the scope of this article we're going to try not to drift too far off point even although there are a host of other things that can affect individual circumstances.
Throughout the article we will use a washing machine as an example to demonstrate the various points being made but all can apply equally to any other product or in large part, service, that you buy. From a new car, a bulldozer to a light bulb, the same rules apply to any product that you buy.
In large part, common sense applies though and do bear in mind that we are in no way offering legal advice, we're trying to demonstrate how we see this kind of situation panning out in our industry.
How Long Fit For Purpose Applies
One of the most common uses that we see in our industry where this stock phrase that is lifted from the Sale of Good Act (SoGA) is used is where an appliance fails after a period and the owner claims that, because it has broken down, that the appliance was not fit for purpose.
Trouble is, that is not what this was intended for.
Fit for purpose is not some kind guarantee of durability or longevity or, even any warranty that the product should never go wrong. That would be an unreasonable expectation.
It is therefore very important to understand that using the fit for purpose argument is not something that you can do anytime you feel like it, there are limits.
What Citizen's Advice (CA) and others will say is that the fit for purpose statement is to determine that the goods that you have bought were fit for the purpose that you bought them for. As in, the job, task or purpose and that they are as described and, where it is a spare part, that they fit as you have been told.
They will go on to say that, after you have deemed to have accepted the goods which is generally regarded as measured in days, that you have accepted that the goods were fit for purpose.
Some goods you will get a bit longer than this but we're talking about weeks, not months or years.
Whilst there is no specific expiry date on the use of the fit for purpose argument being used you should get the point that it is not applicable after a relatively short period of time.
Simplest Fit For Purpose Explanation
Let's say that you bought a new washing machine just over a year ago and it has broken down needing repaired and the warranty has run out.
Many people assume, wrongly, that they can claim that the washing machine was "not fit for purpose" at this point.
Recently an example hypothetical conversation was given in the trade forums on this very kind of circumstance that explains the position well;
"What did you buy?"
"A clothes washer."
"Does or did it wash clothes okay until it failed?"
"Well, it's fit for purpose. The purpose was to wash clothes and it did that until something broke."
All machines break, it is an inevitability that is wholly unavoidable.
The manner in which any product will break and the timing you can debate forevermore and are unlikely to reach a definitive answer so, in all but a very small number of cases, the "fit for purpose" argument is unlikely to hold any meaning in cases like this. If indeed it would apply to any so far as appliances are concerned.
Basically, if the appliance has worked for any reasonable length of time with little or no complaint then it is highly unlikely that any argument will hold any water at all.
If it has been working for months or years, it is not applicable at all in almost all cases we have ever come across.
Where Fit For Purpose Applies
Let's say that you bought the same washing machine and explained to the salesperson that you had a large family and were washing for two adults and three children, that the machine was on twice a day every day of the week at least.
He advised you that the £300 washing machine was adequate for that purpose and should last you several years.
Same circumstance but the bearings have failed and the repairman tells you that the washing machine has worn out and was only rated for 600 hours of use, which you have exceeded through the high use.
It could then be argued that you were mis-sold the washing machine and that it was not fit for purpose.
We're not saying that it would be an easy battle to undertake or, even practical but you get the idea.
In another scenario, you ask for a washing machine that will complete a program in one hour or less. You get it home and find that it will not do this as you specified, again you can say that the washing machine was not fit for purpose as it does not meet the requirements that you detailed.
The important thing here though is to act as quickly as possible if this is the case. The faster you act, the better your case is.
Media And Fit For Purpose
Over the years we've seen a lot of bad and misleading advice around the whole fit for purpose thing and it saddens us greatly.
We've seen TV shows, heard radio stuff and seen things in print from real media sources and heaps of internet forums that are just plain wrong. Then you have politicians and more declaring that this, that and the next thing is "not fit for purpose", it somtimes feels nothing was ever fit for purpose. The point being, it is an overused expression (worn out and no longer fit for purpose maybe) that is often used incorrectly.
The problem that gives is that it leads people into thinking that they have rights that they do not, which often leads to an argument or debate with the retailer and/or manufacturer.
People sometimes seem to get the impression that all companies are out to "rip them off" and that the UK is full of "rogue traders". This simply is not true, they are the minority and most companies in business are reputable and honourable. They might not be perfect, granted, but they don't flaunt the law or their responsibilities or, very few will and still be able to continue to trade.
When you're trying to get some sort of resolution from a retailer or manufacturer, being aggressive with them and making demands based on rights that do not exist is not normally a good idea in our opinion.
It puts the company on alert that you are thinking on going legal or, are likely to at some point which will cost them time or money. So, many will brace themselves at that point and this can cause issues with service or finding a reasonable solution to any problem.
It's better to be nice as most companies are reasonable and do try to do the best that they can for their customers. You may not get what you think you should or, what you heard about on the TV but you are more likely to get a sensible and amicable solution.
Keep in mind though that most appliances are well under £1000 (less than £500 for your average washing machine) and that only a very small proportion of that is actual profit. Manufacturers and retailers do not have huge amounts of cash to throw about to solve problems, especially when products are years old.
Internet Sales And Fit For Purpose
Used correctly the fit for purpose requirement a good thing as it helps protect people from bad traders and, traders that give out bad advice.
Where it falls down a bit is on the internet because often people do not ask for advice before clicking the "Buy Now" button and where that happens, the responsibility of ensuring that the goods were fit for the buyers specific purpose lies with the buyer, not the retailer or manufacturer.
Likewise, if you walk into a large electrical retailer and just buy the cheapest machine that you see, the one on sale or suchlike and do not explain what you want to do with it and expect from the machine, it really is on you if it doesn't do as you want.
You also get additional protection from the Distance Selling Regulations (DSR) which, whilst a conversation in its own right, means that you have the ability to return items in seven days if you are not satisfied with them.
Great but, the cost of returning them is down to the customer and, when we're talking about a large kitchen appliance, the cost to return an item can be anything from about £30 up to well over £100.
Our advice is to seek advice on what you are buying to allow you to get a machine that you need and does what you want before you buy.
That will also allow you to weed out the retailers that do not have a clue about the products meaning that you do not buy from a bad retailer or some shopping links store that is unlikely to want to know if things go wrong.
We see this more and more as people buy online from online stores that simply pass the buck as it were to the manufacturers telling people that they, as the retailer are not responsible. This is completely untrue as your contract is with the retailer, not the manufacturer and the retailer does have responsibilities under the SoGA and other legislation. Don't be fobbed off by this.
It is the retailers responsibility to ensure that the goods that you buy are fit for the purpose that you tell them that you want it for.
But, if you did not seek advice and just bought off your own back, the fit for purpose argument is not likely to apply as you haven't told anyone what you wanted. You just clicked "Buy Now" and didn't seek advice.
Spare Parts Online
The same applies with spare parts in some measure in respect to being fit for purpose.
Should you buy a spare part without asking if it fits the model that you have then clearly, it is not fit for purpose but, if you didn't ask if it was suitable then it's really down to you.
There has been a bit of debate about this in that many spares suppliers from different industries feel that the onus is on the customer to ensure that they are ordering the correct spare part and that it is fit for purpose. The reasoning being that trade practice in any spares department is to ask for the make, model and any other relevant information before suppling the replacement part.
If the customer cannot provide that information then almost every spares department from cars, to appliances, to computers will be unable to help as all the systems are driven by make, model and serial that leads to a part number. Without that information the chances are very high that the wrong part would be supplied.
When people buy online because the part in the photo looks like the one that they have, it is argued that this is customer error and not that of the seller.
This also leads to a debate over the validity of certain elements of the DSR.
Fit For Purpose
So we can draw a few basic conclusions about goods and being fit for purpose.
Such as that it really will only apply in most instances where the goods are relatively new.
It is probably going to be difficult at best to prove after a few months and will more than likely require an expert report to do so that will cost the owner. The older the product is the harder this is likely to become.
And, the best thing to do is to seek advice on buying a suitable product from the retailer before you buy.
That last point is probably the most important one in many respects and, doing so can not only save hassle, time and money but it will probably mean you get the best product for your needs in the first place. For us, that would be a much better outcome for the readers of this article.
Most retailers and manufacturers don't want to get into a debate or argument with customers over this sort of thing. It costs time, stresses out staff and is just a huge hassle all round. So they will usually try to make some sort of reasonable offer to put things right as best that they can within the confines that they have to operate in an effort to not lose a customer.
However, there are a minority of people that feel that they can demand all kinds of compensation, repair, refunds or whatever else because there has been some sort of problem. Quite often these people can be from pedantic through to downright aggressive and this only flames fires, it doesn't put them out.
It is also fair to say though that some sellers and manufacturers can be a little less than helpful but, they are also a very small minority. Most of them want to help you as best that they can but everyone has to be calm and reasoned for things to end well.
Better still, have an understanding of what each party's responsibilities really are, which is the reason for this article.
More Useful Information Sources On Fit For Purpose
There are many sites that can help you understand the Sale of Goods Act and what your rights are and some that we recommend are these: