Is the Consumer Rights Act 2015 too hard on retailers?

I’ve written many articles about our consumer rights under the sale of goods act, which has been replaced by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. However, the consumer rights legislation has often 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 Consumer Rights Act 2015 only the retailer is responsible, and has to compensate the customer.

Consumer Rights Act

Although the Sale of goods Act has been replaced by the Consumer Rights Act 2015 our consumer rights haven’t changed much (Sale of Goods Act (Consumer Rights Act) gives us 6 years to claim for faulty appliances).

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 doesn’t always mean you should pay for a repair). 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 usually refuse.

This leaves the retailer in a tough position. But instead of paying the manufacturer to repair it, they just tell us that it’s out of guarantee and the manufacturer won’t do anything. They know that most people will begrudgingly accept it. But under the Consumer Rights Act, the retailer is obliged to repair it or replace it if there is a valid claim. (Out of guarantee, even by a long time doesn’t always mean you should pay)

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The Consumer Rights 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 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.

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15 thoughts on “Is the Consumer Rights Act 2015 too hard on retailers?”

  1. I see your point. However, if all retailers are forced to honour their contractual obligations they will most likely raise prices on poor product, and shun manufactures who provide bad post-sales support and unreliable products. While a single consumer may make uninformed choices, a shop has a greater interest in not doing so. This would ultimately be in the consumer’s interest.

    However, it would then favour the retailer who closes a company every two years and re-opens, thus losing all the liabilities – a practice which needs to be clamped down on in my opinion (and in the opinion of my MP). Why is business so complicated?

  2. Hi Riccardo. I’ve said in one of my previous articles that it would open a big can of worms if retailers actually started honouring what the sale of goods act says. It would shake things up very badly and cost them dearly.

    For years retailers and manufacturers have got away with deferring most of these problems by convincing people they needed to take out expensive insurance on everything they bought. That meant that many of the sale of goods act issues never surfaced because when an appliance broke down unreasonably out of the first years guarantee the insurance paid for it. Everyone was happy – except that the customers en masse were subsidising the whole thing.

    These days far less people take out insurance after they’ve realised (and been advised by many consumer groups) that it’s generally poor value for money, plus they’ve been forced to reduce costs, cut down hard selling of it etc. So more people are now finding things have broken down and need expensive repairs or replacement at ridiculously young ages when they haven’t misused or overused them.

    I also make your point about retailers dropping poor quality products and unhelpful manufacturers which in theory is exactly what should happen, so that after a settling down period most retailers would only sell decent quality products and there would no longer be a problem. The theory would be that they realise it’s not worth selling the stuff which breaks down too often and doesn’t last very long because they have to compensate too much. In reality though it is unlikely to happen because retailers profit greatly from selling products which need replacing more often and they’d probably still be financially better off in the long run. Unfortunately manufacturers have far more power over retailers than most people would suspect.

  3. Good evening
    I’m reading through all aspects of this and being as I work in retail for a whitegoods company/distribution (which is not a mainstream company) I can see both sides to this tho ultimately uk law is very unfair to the retailers. If we as retailers stopped selling ‘cheaper brands’ as they did not last, consumers would be left with expensive white goods and this causes problems! Most reliable machines cost over £400 (for a washing machine), many people do not want to pay those sort of prices. So what option do they have if they can’t afford that price? Knowing how much we pay manufacturers for whitegoods, we don’t actually make much profit on cheap machines thus the reason why they are cheap. It’s the Manufacturers I believe that are abusing this uk law and sadly more and more smaller retailers who want to provide great customer service are going out of business because of it. Uk law NEEDS to include the manufacturers as I really can’t see retailers giving up certain brands so they produce better quality products.

  4. Currently being asked to pay £53.50 repair fee by Nintendo for a 24 month old console, bought from Sainsburys, and which has seen little use, but the disc drive has developed fault issues.

    I’m obviously left scratching my head why I, or even Sainsburys, should pay for this. Sainsburys, fair play to them, have requested that if Nintendo issue a report that the disc drive has obviously not been damaged at my neglect and has not seen a reasonable level of use to make it fail (i.e. this is a poor manufacturing issue) then they, Sainsburys, will look in to the repair charges.

    Nintendo UK have taken an extremely arrogant and obnoxious stance on the matter and refuse to event engage with me on a level of decency, especially one who has bought their products for 15 years.

    It’s disgusting and I’d feel bad about taking Sainsburys to small claims court, but £53.50 is a lot of money to me, and more to the point, the principle of the matter.

  5. Hello Matt, yes it seems so unfair which is why I wrote this article but manufacturers have absolutely no obligations at all even though it’s solely their fault when products are poorly made or designed. This explains why so many of them simply say it’s out of guarantee so now we charge. Unfortunately though most retailers adopt similar attitudes because they don;t want to pay for the repair either. If they can’t get the manufacturer to agree to repair it free then they usually tell us there’s nothing they can do but this is not true if there is a genuine case because the buck stops with them.

    How much did the console cost to buy?

  6. The buck has to stop somewhere and retailers are best placed to manage these issues. Which manufacturer would be responsible as most electrical products are assembled with parts from various makers I suppose…

  7. Yes John, that’s why it’s set up as it is but it’s not ideal at all and has many problems as described in my article. The fact that parts are made by many different sources isn’t an issue though as that is up to the manufacturer to sort out with ho they paid to make the parts for them. It has to be either the retailer or the manufacturer, but either would have disadvantages. There’s probably no perfect solution, but currently it isn’t really working well because although consumers have rights with retailers it causes retailers a lot of expense and hassle – so retailers strongly resist and commonly try to frustrate consumers out of their rights.

    1. ok, thanks for reply. I have just written to Sainsburys after being passed back to them from the manufacturer and await their response.

  8. Lorenzo Lucchini

    Andy, this is food for thought, but the moment you say:
    “In reality though it is unlikely to happen because retailers profit greatly from selling products which need replacing more often and they’d probably still be financially better off in the long run.”

    … that’s the moment I lose any sympathy for the retailer side. If the ultimate reason retailers can’t just stop decent products only and leave the crap, so that they don’t end up having excessive warranty burdens, is that they ACTIVELY WANT to sell me crap that breaks constantly so that they can’t sell me another… then they had it coming. They have no reason to complain.

  9. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

    Agreed Lorenzo. My article is less about feeling sympathy for them though than trying to explain why they act like they do. I do have some sympathy for small retailers though, with a little shop trying to make a living in their local area. I think once people realise how the system works they will be less surprised at how hard it is to get retailers to carry out their legal duties when things go wrong out of guarantee.

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