This article looks at our consumer rights related to washing machines and white goods appliances that break down. Especially soon after purchase. Both the customer and retailer’s points of view are explored. Trying to get an appliance exchanged can be stressful and difficult. So before we jump in and angrily demand a replacement it’s best to try and look at the subject objectively.
I don’t want my washing machine repaired – I want it exchanged
Many customers want an exchange if a washing machine breaks down when they haven’t had it very long. Especially if it’s very soon after purchase. Unless a retailer had a 28 day exchange policy this used to be difficult. But the new Consumer Rights Act 2015 now makes this very simple. It says that if a new appliance goes faulty within 30 days we are entitled to a full refund if that’s what we want.
Is the washing machine really faulty?
However, before jumping in, try to make sure there is definitely a fault on the appliance. Make sure that the fault is not caused by faulty installation or a user fault. Failing to read the instruction manual causes a lot of avoidable problems. As an engineer I know that a substantial percentage (if not the majority) of all calls to a new appliance within the first week are likely to be user faults or installation faults.
If it’s a washing machine check this list that I have compiled separately is the washing machine actually faulty? It shows 9 examples of “faults” that are not washing machine faults at all. They are all caused by installation or user errors. Remember, you can be charged if it turns out to be one of these faults so it makes sense to check it.
They won’t exchange any appliance without sending an engineer to check it first
It’s easy to see why it’s highly unlikely anyone will exchange an appliance simply because it’s reported faulty once you’ve read the list mentioned above. It’s almost certain an engineer will need to inspect and confirm it is genuinely faulty.
Can I insist on an exchange if the washing machine IS faulty?
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 gives us the right for a full refund if an appliance is faulty within the first 30 days. If the appliance is genuinely faulty you can request your money back. You should stop using it and reject it. Some major retailers have exchange policies where they will exchange an appliance within the first 28 days without much hassle. This has nothing to do with any consumer rights though. It’s a commercial good-will policy decision.
The sooner a fault occurs the more likely a retailer will exchange it. They tend to get very reluctant after roughly a month. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 says that faults within the first 6 months are inherent. This means the fault must have been present when sold even if it didn’t show before. The retailer must prove otherwise. So if a substantial fault occurs within the first 6 months you have a better chance of getting it exchanged. After 6 months it is extremely difficult to get an appliance exchanged, even if consumer law says you are entitled to it.
Should you complain the manufacturer?
Under UK consumer law the manufacturer is not responsible. Only the retailer has any obligation regarding faulty goods. A manufacturer has an obligation to honour their guarantee. But they have no obligation to exchange faulty appliances. Neither can they give your money back because you gave it to the retailer. Some manufacturers will get involved. They will sometimes offer to exchange an appliance. If they offer something acceptable that’s fine. But if they don’t, remember the retailer is bound by the Sale of Goods act. It’s them you should be negotiating with. (Related: Why can’t I complain to the manufacturer? They made it so aren’t they ultimately responsible?)
Retailers can sometimes insist on repairing – not replacing an appliance
Automatically rejecting a washing machine over any fault is not necessarily a good idea. It’s common to instinctively want to reject something that breaks down the first time you use it, or within a short time of buying. As customers, we often appear to undergo a psychological rejection of goods, which is not based on any logic. It’s almost as if the washing machine is cursed, and doomed to constant failure so it must be got rid of.
Try not to lose sight of the fact that any product can develop a fault. It doesn’t mean there is something seriously wrong with it. It doesn’t mean that it will never stop breaking down. Bear in mind that a minor repair may be considerably more convenient for all concerned including yourself. What’s the point for example of going through all the hassle of getting a washing machine exchanged if it can be fixed in 5 minutes with hardly any effort?
Also bear in mind that a retailer can insist on a repair if they can show that replacing the appliance is disproportionately more expensive than a repair. You might be entitled to reject it if the product is faulty from the start but it makes sense to just see what the fault is first. Some faults can be pretty minor and hardly warrant a total rejection.
There is sometimes a stalemate caused by conflicting statements in the Sale of Goods Act. It gives us the right to reject a faulty product, but also gives retailers a right to repair it if it only has a minor fault.
Faults within the first 6 months are deemed to have been present when sold
As previously mentioned, a new amendment to consumer law has shifted the burden of proof of a fault from the consumer to the seller. This is only applicable within the first 6 months. This means a fault within 6 months is automatically assumed to be an "inherent fault" unless the seller can prove otherwise. It’s as good as saying if a new part can't last a mere 6 months, it must have been faulty (or of sub-standard quality) when it was fitted to the washing machine. So it was therefore sold with an inherent fault.
Why are retailers so reluctant to exchange a faulty appliance?
This could be why – Is the sale of goods act too hard on retailers?
Faults on appliances out of guarantee
Once the appliance is out of the manufacturer’s guarantee you will always be told that you have to pay for a repair – even if The Consumer Rights Act 2015 shows you are entitled to a free repair or compensation. You can be entitled to a free repair or partial refund long after the first year. It will depend on all of the circumstances, but you can still be covered by UK consumer law as this article describes Out of guarantee even by a long time doesn’t always mean you should pay
The sale of goods act
Some people think that because the Consumer Rights Act (formally Sale of Goods Act) gives us up to 6 years (5 in Scotland) to claim compensation it means we have a claim any time it breaks down within the 6 years. This is definitely not the case. Read this article here – Consumer Rights Act (formally Sale of Goods Act) gives us 6 years to claim for faulty appliances
Which? Consumer Advice special offer
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Free downloadable booklets from The Citizens Advice Bureau website
- Your rights, buying goods guide – (Free downloadable (pdf) booklet from Citizens Advice Bureau)
- Guarantees – (Free downloadable (pdf) booklet from Citizens Advice Bureau)
Distance selling regulations
You have additional rights if you buy your appliance over the internet or through a mail-order catalogue. Read this article for more information on Distance selling regulations on returning appliances