Last updated on February 3rd, 2017
I’ve written many articles about our consumer rights under the sale of goods act. How we are fobbed off by retailers falsely claiming there’s nothing they can do once an appliance is out of guarantee. But the sale of goods act has always struck me as being quite hard on retailers. I wouldn’t be surprised if they all feel quite hard done by. This might explain why we have to fight so hard to get anywhere with them.
Goods have to be durable, free from inherent faults, and last a reasonable time. But if an £800 fridge freezer is scrap after 3 years because the main insulation has failed and it can’t be repaired at reasonable cost how is that the retailer’s fault? It’s the manufacturer who is to blame. It has nothing to do with the retailer (apart from if they are knowingly selling poor quality products). Yet under the UK Sale of Goods Act only the retailer is responsible and has to compensate if a customer is correct in thinking it hasn’t lasted a reasonable time.
Our contract is with the retailer
The retailer is the one who took our money. So a manufacturer can’t give it back if they never had it. The manufacture has no sale of goods obligations to us other than the obligation to honour their guarantee. They sold the appliance to the retailer. They then sold it (at profit) to us. Clearly this is why we have to deal with the retailer when things go wrong. Retailers wouldn’t complain about that if things go wrong straight away. Yet it’s a massive burden to have to deal with faults and replacements several years later, which the sale of goods act clearly obliges them to do under many circumstances (out of guarantee – even by a long time doesn’t always mean you should pay). This is especially tough on small retailers.
Are manufacturers to blame for our struggle to get recompense for faulty or poor quality goods?
From the consumer’s point of view it’s the retailers who try to limit our claims. If retailers were able to claim their costs back from the manufacturer (who is really responsible) every time they compensated a customer with a free repair or replacement there would be few problems. I suspect that much of the time this isn’t the case though. Otherwise why would retailers be so stubborn about free repairs or replacements the minute a manufacturer’s guarantee expires?
Retailers usually aren’t able to repair products themselves. So if a product is out of the manufacturer’s guarantee and it should be repaired free of charge because a major fault has developed (e.g a £700 washing machine 18 months old with terminal drum bearing failure) they have to rely on the manufacturer to agree to repair it free of charge. However, as the manufacturer hasn’t any obligation under the sale of goods act they often refuse. This leaves the retailer in a tough position. They then tell us that it’s out of guarantee and the manufacturer won’t do anything in the hope we will accept it. But under under the sale of goods act the retailer is obliged to fix it or replace it if there is a valid claim.
The Sale of Goods Act causes a big catch 22 situation
So if this is the case it would seem our rights, which in law rest with the retailer, may be being decided by the manufacturer, who has no obligation. They have no incentive other than if they perceive it’s in their interests to keep the customer happy (which they only do up to a point). If you think about it, why should a manufacturer repair something free of charge or give us a new one at cost to themselves when their guarantee has run out and they have no obligation to? But conversely, why should a retailer have to pay the manufacturer hundreds of pounds to fix or replace a product for their customer when the only reason it failed is because the manufacturer didn’t make it properly? The onus is completely on the wrong party!
As explained in opening paragraphs, there’s a logical reason why the government put the onus onto the retailer. But until the government somehow make manufacturer’s properly, or at least equally responsible, the status quo will remain. Almost every time consumers have a valid claim they will meet resistance, disinformation, stubbornness and stress. Retailers are well aware that most consumers will just complain but then accept rejections, or push a little more but then give up when faced with the, “I’m sorry but it’s out of its guarantee” response.