STREETWISE: Don't let them get away with shoddy service or merchandise

Sometimes it's the most seemingly insignificant matter that gets up people's noses when they believe they've been short changed.

Thursday, 14th December 2017, 6:00 am
Rita Leist at her Southsea home with the Hotpoint Dishwasher that has caused her so much concern Picture: Malcolm Wells

But many shoppers complain they’re being sold short when anything they buy packs up prematurely, sometimes just a day after the initial guarantee runs out.

Streetwise receives a steady stream of complaints from readers about retailers who routinely exploit ambiguity in consumer rights law to wriggle out of their responsibilities for faulty goods.

They’re told they have to pay for any defects after the initial guarantee runs out, or complain to the manufacturer.

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But the law says goods must be of satisfactory quality which includes lasting for a reasonable time.

Shops are the first point of call for faulty goods, and are liable for compensation claims from dissatisfied buyers for up to six years from the date of purchase.

Trivial though it may seem, when Ken Hillis bought two attractive ladies wristwatches for his wife for less than six quid from the Lidl Hilsea store he was confident he’d get a square deal if they didn’t stand the test of time.

What impressed him most was the three-year guarantee that came with them. But when one of them stopped working the store manager outlandishly insisted because it was more than a year old there was nothing they could do, and to contact the German manufacturer.

A hacked off Ken, 77, got in touch with Lidl’s head office customer services. But despite the three-year guarantee promise, an advisor emailed him to confirm the one-year time limit.

A spokesperson for Lidl told us they were negotiating with their customer about his complaint, but when asked the direct question whether it was their policy to tell customers they had no legal right to redress after a year from purchase we didn’t get a reply.

Two other examples illustrate how shops are sidestepping the law and making life difficult for people when even expensive goods break down outside – and sometimes within – the standard one-year guarantee period.

Eighty-six-year-old Rita Leist from Southsea wrote to Streetwise in a high state of dudgeon after her little-used replacement Hotpoint dishwasher regularly started tripping out her power circuit.

In March 2016 she paid £460 for the machine to replace a Bosch appliance which had been fault free for over 10 years.

Each time it blew the fuse she had to make her way to the garage and attempt to climb a ladder to reset the trip.

A furious Rita finally snapped when only last month the circuit went down at around at 8pm and the trip had to be reset well after darkness had set in.

She got on to JP Appliances Ltd of Southampton who sold her the machine. They came out and traced the problem to a defective heater element.

But the pensioner was gobsmacked when she was quoted £164.51 to supply and fit a replacement.

Rita took umbrage at being asked to pay a repair charge amounting to 36 per cent of the original cost of the machine when it was less than two years old.

JP Appliance’s company director Jason Dumper agreed that customers had a six year window to complain about defective goods, but denied that an appliance should last that long. He said the repair charge was in line with the current market price.

Consumer watchdog Which? surveyed domestic appliance manufacturers into how long they believe different appliances should last.

All of them confirmed their products should last for five years or more.

The Association for Manufacturers of Domestic Appliances (AMDEA) is the industry trade association. They represent over 80 per cent of the sector and their code of practice confirms claims for out of guarantee products are down to the retailer to sort and should be proportionate to the age of the product which may include a replacement.

Rita took her protest to Hotpoint who were unsympathetic.

They insisted they could only repair the appliance if she forked out a whopping £180 for a service plan, equating to an eye watering 39 per cent of what she paid for it.

She said: ‘It’s absolutely disgraceful that I have to fork out all that money to get the machine working again.

Although I can afford it I’m just not prepared to be taken for a ride. It’s integrated but as far as I’m concerned it can just stay there.’

Streetwise believes part of the problem with domestic appliances is retailers have a vested interest in selling consumers expensive ‘extended warranties’ insurance that earn them the best part of £800 million a year.

Manufacturers are acutely aware of the situation and don’t want to upset the apple cart. Clearly it’s in their interests to hike up the cost of parts and repairs even if it makes them grossly disproportionate to the original cost of the product.

Another bizarre guarantee incident reveals the dilemma shoppers face when they are sold short after expensive goods break down.

Waterlooville reader Ross Biggs’ legal right to a refund or replacement for a faulty £550 Samsung S7 phone was ignored by phone giant EE when it went wrong only two weeks into the guarantee period.

He was told by the Fareham store he had to send the phone back to Samsung despite the law plainly putting the onus on them to get it repaired or give him his money back.

Samsung said the phone was irreparable and EE promptly gave him a hard time by refusing to exchange it.

Ross said: ‘Samsung claimed the fault wasn’t covered under their two-year guarantee, and insisted I’d no chance of getting it repaired or replaced.

‘When I complained to the shop they said I should have taken out insurance which would have cost me almost a third of the price of the phone.’

Streetwise intervened and reminded them they were flouting the law of the land. EE immediately replaced the phone without further explanation.

Currently the law gives buyers a high degree of protection against faulty goods.

Readers should stand their ground and argue strongly with shops when a product breaks down within six years and should last that long.