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Consumer Rights - The Six Year Rule

A little known consumer right - especially among retailers!!

Which? Magazine Press Release (01-02-2001):  Although this press release refers specifically to high street electrical goods there are important principles here that apply to your rights as purchasers of motorhomes and motorhome accessories. This principle was quoted in relation to an 'out of guarantee' faulty motorhome component and resulted in a successful outcome.

"Electrical stores pass the buck on faulty goods":  Eight out of ten major high-street electrical stores were not prepared to take responsibility for faulty goods which they might sell, in an investigation for Which? published today (1 February 2001). Under the Sale of Goods Act, retailers are responsible for faulty goods, that is goods which are not 'of satisfactory quality' - for up to six years after purchase (in Scotland the period is five years after something goes wrong). But, according to Which?, staff from stores, including Currys, Dixons and Comet and Tempo, wrongly stated, or implied, that the responsibility lay with the manufacturer or the customer.

Which? sent undercover shoppers to 12 major UK chains, visiting two branches of each, with a complaint about an 18-month VCR that had broken down. In 80 per cent of the visits, staff made it clear that the problem was nothing to do with them and washed their hands of it.

Many stores mentioned the one-year guarantee - which had now expired - as the end of the line for their responsibilities. This is wrong. Rights under a guarantee are in addition to rights against the seller under the Sale of Goods Act. Others were equally adamant the problem wasn't theirs. At Powerhouse in Oldbury, West Midlands, a salesperson said: 'It's nothing to do with us…. we don't make them.' At Currys in Cribbs Causeway, Bristol, a salesperson made an interesting, but misguided, analogy to explain why the problem was nothing to do with the shop: 'All we've done is sell it to you. It's like a house. If suddenly one of your walls fell down, you don't go back to the estate agent. Your complaint is with the builder.'

Out of 24 visits, 14 stores took the opportunity to mention an extended warranty. Five of them claimed that extended warranties exist for exactly this type of problem. Which? research has shown that, in general, these are a waste of money with the warranty costing more than any repairs that may be needed.

Staff in five of the stores visited conceded that, ultimately, the store had some responsibility for the goods.
When Which? out its findings to the stores head offices, most said that said that consumers' rights are part of their in-store training programmes but that they would now take action, either through more training or by alerting staff about giving correct advice.

Helen Parker, Editor of Which? said: "When it comes to consumers' rights our investigation shows that many staff don't have a grasp of the law." "We'll be sending our findings to the Department of Trade and Industry and pressing for shops to give staff more thorough training. Stores should also stock leaflets about customers' rights on faulty goods." Check out  www.which.net 

Our comment: Remember your contract is with the seller and no-one else. Note also that your rights regarding 'satisfactory quality' includes major components like fridges and heaters and may last for up to six years, whatever the guarantee says. Furthermore it is the seller who must resolve your complaint. (The seller may of course make his own claim on the manufacturer but that is not your problem!).

Which? repeated the exercise in June 2003 with an out of guarantee DVD player and found that; 87 per cent of stores didn't admit that they might be legally obliged to repair the DVD for free; 46 per cent simply passed the buck to the manufacturer, even though the manufacturer had no legal obligation to help us out; 19 per cent politely suggested that there was absolutely nothing they could do, so we should buy a brand new DVD player from them instead.

Your rights extend to on-line purchases too but could be in for a nasty surprise if you want to return something large or heavy that was bought online. Although the law lets you return most unwanted items within seven days of delivery, you might have to pay to send the goods back if they're not faulty. Companies are obliged to tell you if you have to pay to return items, but there's no requirement for them to put this information on their website: they can wait until the point of delivery to inform you. Around a third of the sites we looked at fail to specify whether you or the company is responsible for the cost of sending an item back. Motorcaravanning.co.uk believes that faulty goods are excluded from this but we would be pleased to hear from lawyers on this point.


1 Which? visited two branches of each of these chains: Allders, Argos, Comet, Currys, Dixons, House of Fraser, Index, John Lewis (including Peter Jones), Miller Brothers, Powerhouse, Scottish Power and Tempo.

2 The Sale of Goods Act 1979, amended in 1994, says that when you buy goods from a trader they must correspond with the description, be of satisfactory quality - which includes lasting a reasonable length of time - and be fit for the purpose. If the goods aren't of 'satisfactory quality', you're entitled to claim your money back or to claim compensation, which is normally the cost of repairs. This lasts for up to six years after you bought the goods - five years in Scotland. The retailer, not the manufacturer, is legally obliged to sort out the problem if the goods don't meet these requirements. A manufacturer's one-year guarantee is in addition to these rights - many offer free repair or replacement without quibble. Extended warranties are an extension of this.

3 The Department of Trade and Industry publishes a leaflet Unsatisfactory goods: your rights as a consumer, which you can order from its hotline on 0870 150 2500. You can also get advice on its website www.consumer.gov.uk

With thanks to Which? for permission to use this material.

Rigorous research and vigorous campaigning to further its charitable aims are the hallmark of Consumers' Association (CA). The Association is completely independent of government and industry and accepts no grants, donations or free samples. Which? is published by Which Limited, the Association's trading subsidiary; in common with all other CA publications, Which? accepts no advertising, in order to protect its independence. Which? is available on subscription only by post or via the web. To take advantage of the free trial offer please call 0645 245000 or visit http://www.which.net/.


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