Faulty goods: know your rights if things go wrong

A handy cut-out-and-keep Q&A to help you the next time something stops working

Traders, as well as consumers, need to be aware that the sales contract is with the seller and so it is up to them to provide redress. Photograph: iStock

Traders, as well as consumers, need to be aware that the sales contract is with the seller and so it is up to them to provide redress. Photograph: iStock

 

Does this story sound familiar? You buy a fancy piece of technology and spend hundreds or maybe thousands of euro on it. Then, 13 months or so down the line, it dies but when you brings it back to the shop you are told that as the warranty has expired, there is nothing that can be done. So you go away you go. Disconsolate.

But is that really the case? Is the end of the warranty marked by some entirely arbitrary point in time the end of the story? Or can you look elsewhere for redress? We thought we’d put together a handy cut-out-and-keep Q&A to help you the next time something goes wrong.

Is a warranty the be-all and end-all?

It’s complicated. For a start you’re dealing with guarantees, warrantees, extended warranties, multiple pieces of legislation going back generations and a staggering amount of ignorance at retailer and manufacturer level. But the good news is that you probably have more protection than you think if things go wrong with something you’ve bought.

Talk to me about the ignorance first?

It’s widespread. One of the reasons so many retailers and so many manufacturers try and fob you off with talk of expired warranties is because they themselves haven’t a clue what they are talking about a lot of the time.

Really?

Really. Last month the British consumer magazine Which? published details of an investigation that found that almost 50 major retailers, including Tesco, Iceland and Aldi – all of which have operations in the State – were misinforming or failing to provide clear information to shoppers about returns rights on their websites.

The consumer watchdog assessed massive amounts of information about online returns and faulty goods rights on the websites of big retailers and found that 45 of 46 failed to offer information that was entirely accurate and clear.

That’s a lot. What kind of misinformation are we talking about?

Some retailers have the wrong information about returning faulty goods and unwanted online purchases. Others did not make a distinction between their own store returns policies and statutory rights. Others presented misleading information that wrongly encouraged customers to pursue faulty goods claims with warranty providers – who are typically the manufacturers – first.

Well that’s not good, is it?

Oh, that’s not all. Last month the European Consumer Centre Ireland felt it necessary to remind all traders to make sure their staff knew what EU consumers’ entitlements when a product is faulty were, and that these entitlements are in addition to extra protections provided by a manufacturer’s guarantee or warranty.

What else did the European Consumer Centre say?

“Problems with the functioning of a product do occur and obviously this is not necessarily the fault of the trader who sold it,” is what European Consumer Centre Ireland spokeswoman Martina Nee said. “However, what is within the trader’s control is to ensure that it is abiding by obligations under EU and national consumer legislation and that staff provide consumers with the correct information when a fault is reported to them. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.”

She went that on to say that on “a regular basis we hear reports where consumers are wrongly led to believe things like, if the manufacturer’s guarantee or warranty is out of date or doesn’t cover a particular issue, then that’s it, the consumer is not entitled to anything else or doesn’t have any other rights. In other cases, staff may have informed consumers that it’s not up to the trader who sold the good to provide remedies and to take the matter up directly with the manufacturer.”

And that is not the case?

No, traders, as well as consumers, need to be aware that the sales contract is with the seller and so it is up to them to provide redress.

Okay, so can we start at the beginning. What’s a guarantee?

Finally, a simple question. A guarantee is an agreement from the manufacturer saying that they will repair or replace an item you bought if something goes wrong for a set period of time after you bought it. It is important to reiterate that with or without a guarantee, your consumer rights are the responsibility of the seller of the goods not the manufacturer. The guarantee is there to give you additional protection and strengthens your consumer rights to a repair, replacement or refund.

Is that not what a warranty is?

Well, according to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission website a “shop may ask if you’d like to take out a warranty when you are buying a product from them. It is similar to an insurance policy and normally protects you from having to pay for repairs if the item you bought breaks or becomes faulty within the period covered by the warranty. It is important to know that a warranty is completely optional. If you are buying a product that you’re going to have for a long period of time it may be easier to get satisfaction by having a warranty. However, you should always factor in the total cost of the warranty before you buy.”

Buy? I thought there was no charge for a warranty?

There often isn’t. This is just another area where there language is confusing. Some products, sellers and manufacturers refer to guarantees, others use the word warranties – and then there are extended warranties.

What are they again?

Extended warranties are supposed to insure you against the cost of repairs for a period after a guarantee runs out, but – in our experience – they do not represent great value for money. In too many cases, extended warranties are sold by retailers to maximise shop profits and not for the benefit of the paying public who can be vulnerable to pushy sales tactics just after they have made a major purchase.

The reality is the premiums for many extended warranties mean that, although you might be getting peace of mind, you are paying a horrendous price for it. The warranty on something that costs €150 can be as much as €30, and if you buy a €200 vacuum cleaner you can expect to pay €50 for three years’ cover. A three-year warranty on a computer that cost €1,000 will be about €200, while a five-year warranty will set you back €300.

Not only that, but if a product is going to break down, that is most likely to happen in the first year after purchase, in which case you will be covered by guarantees. And even if a product of breaks down after a year, you should still be able to get redress from the retailer using your statutory rights.

What exactly are my statutory rights?

EU consumer legislation has provided a sort of “legal guarantee” that entitles consumers across Europe to seek this redress when a good is faulty for a period of up to two years.

Two years? That’s good, right?

It’s better if you live in the Republic of Ireland. Under Irish law, the limitation period is actually six years. If a fault arises within the first six months of purchase, it is presumed to have existed at the time of delivery and it is up to the seller to prove otherwise or provide remedies. After six months, the consumer may be requested to show that the lack of conformity (eg, a hidden defect) already existed at the time of delivery. The seller should first offer a repair or replacement (liaising with the manufacturer if necessary) and provide this free of charge. If this is not possible or fails to correct the problem, then the consumer may request a refund.

Six years? That is a very long time.

Well, it does depend on multiple factors. The amount you pay for a product and the reasonable expectations as to how long it lasts are key here. If you spend €3,000 on a sofa and it falls apart after three years through no fault of your own then you can most likely seek redress under the Sale of Goods Act. Similarly if your spend €1,000 on a smart phone that just stops working after 14 months then you can seek redress. If the digital watch you bought for a fiver in a discount store breaks after five years , 11 months and 29 days and you wander in looking for a refund you can most likely whistle for it.

Is there something useful I can quote if I am having a row in a shop?

Well, you could quote the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. We asked them for some guidance and were sent the following:

Where a trader sells a faulty good to a consumer, and where the fault is not attributable to consumer misuse, the consumer is entitled to appropriate redress under either the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Acts 1893 and 1980 or the European Communities (Certain Aspects of the Sale of Consumer Goods and Associated Guarantees) Regulations 2003 (the CSD Regulations). It is important to note that goods are not expected to last forever but should be as durable as a reasonable consumer would expect.

The Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Acts 1893 and 1980 and the CSD Regulations respectively offer similar rights to consumers and impose similar obligations on traders.

This legislation sets out that a product must be of merchantable quality, be fit for purpose, be as described and correspond to the sample (where appropriate). If the product develops a manufacturing fault, a consumer is entitled to seek a repair, replacement or refund and the seller of the goods (generally the retailer) is responsible for providing this redress.

Guarantees/warranties, whether free or paid for by the consumer do not replace the statutory rights but rather operate in parallel. Consumer rights provided for under a guarantee/warranty cannot limit or exclude a consumer’s statutory rights provided for under the CSD Regulations or the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Acts 1893 and 1980. In circumstances where a guarantee/warranty has expired or is not covered under the guarantee/warranty, a consumer can still pursue a remedy under their statutory rights. In addition if the guarantee/warranty is still in date, the consumer has the option of not utilising the guarantee/warranty and pursuing the seller of the goods through their consumer rights under the consumer protection legislation detailed above.