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  Satisfactory Quality

Before you say that an appliance wasn't good enough quality read this one through fully

The two most common expressions used when people want to claim a replacement appliance, a refund or a repair for free is the " fit for purpose " argument and the other is that it will often be argue that the appliance was not of "satisfactory quality".

It is however important to understand the context in which that can be used as people seem to often get the wrong idea of what it really means.

As ever with these articles, this does not constitute legal advice and is merely comment on how we see the legislation (Sale of Goods Act 1979) used in the appliance industry in the UK to offer readers a chance to better understand how the industry works in this respect.

Our aim being to try to save you a lot of grief chasing a result that you may never be able to achieve or, save you time by knowing who to claim.

  Satisfactory Quality Explained

As a general rule, satisfactory quality as defined in the Sale Of Goods Act (SoGA) is that the goods have to not be a pile of junk that don't do what you wanted them to.

Trading Standards define this as follows:

Of satisfactory quality - Goods are of satisfactory quality if they meet a standard which a reasonable person would regard as being satisfactory, taking account of any description applied to them, the price (if relevant) and all other relevant circumstances. satisfactory quality also includes the state and condition of the goods, their fitness for the purpose for which they were supplied, appearance and finish, their safety and durability and whether they are free from minor defects.

Public statements made by the trader, manufacturer or their representative relating to specific characteristics of the goods, particularly in advertising or on labelling must be accurate and are a factor in determining whether goods are of satisfactory quality.

You will notice that there is no real statement on the durability front other than a passing mention of it. In our opinion and others this is because it isn't really possible to define that in an all encompassing piece of legislation which the SoGA is given the vast range of goods and services that it covers.

You therefore have to interpret this in each individual circumstance which, when people are annoyed or angered by a failure on an appliance can be difficult as people tend to see things only from their own perspective. What you have to do is try to take a step back and ask yourself, what is reasonable.

To define satisfactory quality is therefore very difficult beyond the first few weeks of ownership because, in the appliance industry, it is not uncommon for appliances to break down as they are after all simply machines and all machines will break down at some point in their lives. It would be probably be considered unreasonable to expect that a machine should never break down.

That said, it is not unreasonable to expect the appliance to be installed and to work as it should for some time before there is a breakdown of some sort.

This is why that the aspect of durability is left a bit open and, to be honest vague in some ways as it is open to interpretation due to a number of factors that we will try to explain as best we can in some examples.

  Thinking On Quality

Washing machines look nice in a showroom, not so good when they break

Recently there has been several very high profile recalls and every so often there are problems with appliances highlighted in the media for any number of reasons. This calls into question the quality of the products more often than not.

In a recent such case on Indesit washing machines self destructing there was a debate had in our forums in the trade section that led to the following description although, we'll paraphrase it a bit.

It was argued that people would "reasonably" expect a washing machine to last for a number of years, probably for ten or more years as they used to be many years ago.

But, in real terms, washing machines now cost a fraction of what they did when they were built to a higher standard many years ago, largely due to market pressure to make them more affordable.

Of course you can still buy a washing machine, dishwasher, cooker etc that will last for many years but thy will cost considerably more than the low cost ones. Using the example of a washing machine, a good well built example will cost at least £800 but often much more so we take the benchmark to be about £1000.

These much more expensive and higher quality machines can be expected to last at least ten years, probably a lot more but beyond that you can't be guaranteed the life as many factors will come into play.

The question then asked and, was left open was, that being the case then how long can you expect a washing machine costing £500 or even as low as £200 to last? Is it half that life or a fifth respectively?

Whilst £200 is a lot of money to many people in respect to a washing machine (and most appliances) in this example it is about as low as you can go and, if you asked us, we'd say that for that you will not get a very good performing or quality washing machine. We would anticipate a relatively short life but, that would depend on the circumstances under which it was used, how much and how it was looked after.

If that washing machine broke down after a year or so or, bearings failed in family use it would be hard to argue that the machine was not of satisfactory quality.

Bear in mind that, if you ultimately went to court to argue your case on this front a judge will look at the top of the market to the bottom and he would determine what was a "reasonable" expectation. He may also consider any information in that regard from you or the organisation that you are claiming as well.

What a judge might think to be reasonable may well not fit with your view and, equally, the other party's view.

Our advice is not to let it get to that and find a solution without going down that road.

  Examples Of Satisfactory Quality

If you bought a new cooker and you took it home only to find that the oven did not heat up then this is a pretty clear cut case of not satisfactory quality and most likely a defect but, one you could not detect before you used it.

Your retailer should exchange or refund the product without question under your statutory rights.

Or it may be easier to accept that the cooker be repaired as it is liable to be a minor defect and quite possibly more convenient to you than uninstalling and taking the cooker back.

There are a couple of key points here though, the first is that your contract is with the retailer, the person or business that you paid your money to and not with anyone else and, under the SoGA they have a number of responsibilities that they must undertake. Don't be fobbed off that it is the manufacturer's problem because it isn't, it is the retailers and the retailer has to sort it out.

The other point is to act quickly as soon as you realise that there is a problem. Leaving it is not an option as, the longer you leave it unattended to the less rights you may have.

However, make sure that you have the appliance set up and installed properly and in line with the guides as well as using it as instructed. If there's anything wrong with the installation (where it wasn't fitted for you) or the way that you are using the appliance then it may well not be covered and you could even be charged for any visits to remedy problems that you have caused.

At the opposite end of the scale lets say that you bought a £500 washing machine and after three years the bearings failed.

First thing to realise is that this could be attributed to simple wear and tear and therefore wouldn't be considered as a claim under the ground of not being of a satisfactory quality.

The next thing to understand is that appliances are used on a daily basis by most people and, if the washing machine has been working away for a long time, in this case a few years, that it would almost certainly be considered to be of satisfactory quality.

They can all still breakdown, parts wear out, things go wrong and so on but, that's what extended warranties are there to cover.

If you had a £1000 washing machine in exactly the same circumstances then the view taken may be slightly different but, then it would quite likely be covered by manufacturer warranty in many cases anyway so a moot point.

Worse is the £200 washing machine which, if a couple of years did the same it could be argued, probably successfully, that it had exceeded its anticipated life anyway depending on the level of use it was given.

The point is, each case is slightly different, dependent on circumstance and unlikely to bear fruit if you are arguing after some time of ownership that the goods were not of satisfactory quality. While most manufacturers that produce high quality products will cover it on warranty anyway in many cases or, at least go some way to help you.

  Six Year Rule

There is of course the six year rule to consider that gives you more recourse in some cases but in our experience of the appliance industry it is extremely hard to bring a successful claim under this.

In an information leaflet for traders the OFT states that: 

The law says that a customer can approach you with a claim about an item they purchased from you for up to six years from the date of sale (five years after discovery of the problem in Scotland).

This does not mean that everything you sell has to last six years from the date of purchase! It is the time limit for the customer to make a claim about an item. During this period, you are legally required to deal with a customer who claims that their item does not conform to contract (is faulty) and you must decide what would be the reasonable amount of time to expect the goods to last. A customer cannot hold you responsible for fair wear and tear.

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, your customer may still have legal rights.

There are a few things here that people get confused about.

The first is that wear and tear are not covered in this rule and most faults on appliances outside of warranty are just that or, considered to be, just general wear and tear.

Much like cars and other mechanical devices, over time components will fail on occasion most probably and this is just normal good old fashioned wear and tear.

The second is that it is in relation to the goods not conforming to contract and, this is really important for many people to understand.

If you buy a washing machine to wash clothes and it does so for a good length of time then it is fairly evident that it did indeed conform to contract. It washes clothes.

What no contract of sale will ever (in our experience) cover in it is that the item be free from any failure of a component for whatever period of time that you care to set. As above, appliances break, are subject to wear and tear and a lot of how well they perform and last is centered around how people use them and how much they use them.

The mere fact that breakdown cover is so readily available tells you that this happens and, there is a mechanism by which you can mitigate that risk. If you choose not to pay for that then there's not a lot anyone can do.

We'd say that rather than buying cover you'd be better off buying a higher quality appliance but, that's just our opinion.

What isn't stated here but is the case is that after six months from sale you, the owner, has to prove that the goods didn't conform to contract from new. That's the reality and it is extremely hard to successfully prove that in most cases.

  The Real World

Out here in the real world seeing these things being pinged about over the past few years we know how this often turns out and we may be able to save you a whole heap of grief.

Most often you will see a claim asking for a full refund after a few years or a free repair due to a failed component from owners.

The reality is, quite probably, neither will happen.

In the case of a refund or replacement after the machine is out of warranty, unless it has been problematic from day one and this is documented then it will be assumed that the appliance was fit for purpose, accepted and of satisfactory quality. In other words, it was all fine until something failed or circumstances have changed.

Even if there is justification for the claim and, there sometimes can be, then two things come into play just as they do in other industries, what is known as depreciation which we all know and rescission.

Rescission is taking into account the use that you have had from the product.

So the chances of getting all your money back or a free gratis replacement are, at best, low unless there is a very compelling reason for the retailer or manufacturer to provide that.

To give an indication of how depreciation affects appliances just have a read at our article entitled How Much Is Your Appliance Really Worth to get some notion of just how much value can be wiped off a new product that has been in use for some time.

A massive percentage of value is wiped off the minute that you use a machine for any time and why that, if you do get to the point of getting some sort of settlement, it will probably be nowhere near what you may think.

For many low cost appliances we sadly often have to end up telling people that it really isn't worth the trouble pursuing through the courts unless it is to make a point.

As for a repair. 

Like we said almost all are just a failure through wear and tear and it would be down to you to prove otherwise, which is really hard to do.

If you get offered a free part or something our advice is to take it, it's quite likely the best offer that you will get and many manufacturers will offer some sort of concession on a repair or the cost of it for a period after the warranty expires. It isn't mandatory though and will vary from brand to brand depending on the company policy.

Of course every year hundreds if not thousands of people try to claim this sort of thing on the grounds that the appliance that they have is not of satisfactory quality not realising the realities of proving their claim. Often this is due to the media telling you that you can do this and, technically, they are quite correct in many respects but, the actual doing it and getting some settlement is often a much harder than is portrayed, especially in the media on occasion.

We see this and hear about it all the time working in appliance service and, take it from us, there are few success stories that we know of.

We sometimes wonder where people find the time to argue about what will end up being a very small recompense for what seems an awful lot of work. Therefore, before you gear up for battle we would urge you to consider if it's really worth the trouble.

  More Information 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:

Which? Consumer Rights Pages

Citizens Advice

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