Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Consumer rights and wrongs

I am feeling a bit excited or is it apprehensive about our imminent departure down the canal for the next few months. Excited because after next weekends festivities (we are now both retired and having a joint retirement party) there is no reason for us to remain tied up to the pontoon any longer. Apprehensive because I have experienced a few lock failings this year on our home section of canal and the tardy and almost cavalier attitude of BW to fixing problems. Our Easter cruise was made five days shorter by BW being up to their usual standard.

But I digress....

There I was minding my own business as I sometimes do, when I came across a lady having a problem with a washing machine purchased in one of the popular high street stores. The store was insisting that their guarantee period was only six months, unless you had taken out an appliance service contract. It seems that the item was eight months old and the lady did not have a store service contract. The lady wrongly thought as most people do, that all items automatically come with a twelve month warranty.

There is a certain mystery about buying goods and services based around supposed guarantee periods. First is the twelve-month guarantee period, which in law is a six-month guarantee for faulty goods. However, manufacturers and suppliers often give free gratis an additional six month period on top of the statutory period of six months especially for white goods.

Putting on my white "interfering good guy hat, though it was nothing to do with me" I asked unannounced on her behalf, "do the manufacturer of the appliance gave any additional warranty beyond the statutory six months?" As it happened they did and it was for a twelve month period from purchase. The store person then said that the lady would have to contact the manufacturer for any remedial repairs.

I pointed out that the store was the agent selling the appliances on behalf of the manufacturer and her contract to purchase was with the store. I also asked if their maintenance contract which started after the first six months, ran in parallel with the manufacturers guarantee, to which the answer was a grudging yes!

So they were levying a charge for a six month period when the manufacturer was covering the costs free gratis. It was pointed out to me, that it was part of "their store service contract terms and conditions" that the contract should start after the first six months. Some days, peeing on a store persons day can make you feel real good.  The outcome was that they agreed to mediate with the manufacturer on her behalf. The lady did not even smile or say thanks, yes, I am a grumpy old interfering bugger at times.

I wonder will I get a reward in heaven, or is Mr Grumpy going somewhere a tad more cosy?

Under the EU Consumer Guarantee Directive, UK consumers have enjoyed extra protection from what’s known as the Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002. If you return goods within six months, the retailer has to accept that they were faulty when you bought them. Any goods that develop a fault within this period, you can return to the store where the store must immediately offer to repair, replace or refund the full purchase price. (You may have a rogue piece of kit so always get a replacement or ask for your money, never let them repair it.)

So, what happens after six months. If an item stops working after say seven months, then the store is entitled to ask you to prove that the fault was there when you bought the goods – even though it has taken over six months for the fault to emerge. You need to show that neither ordinary wear and tear nor any damage caused by you is to blame. An independent engineer's opinion may be needed.

The six year rule, if your goods stop working or break at any time up to six years after you bought them (five years in Scotland), you can ask for a shared cost repair or part-refund, taking into account how much use you have already made of your goods. You can only do this as long as it is reasonable for the goods to have lasted this long in the first place. There are no set times for reasonable “life expectancy” of various Items. Much depends on use, condition, manufacturer and quality of parts. Quoting the Sale of Goods Act 1979 and demanding your rights should be enough to get items repaired or replaced at no charge to you.

What happens on a narrow boat build?

Now how would this six month/six year guarantee period apply to a narrowboat. If you contract for a narrowboat to be built, you should stipulate in the contract that each component should be provided with its own guarantee. Often engine manufacturers will give an extended guarantee period for the engine. This however may exclude certain items like an alternator (a separate part) which might be guaranteed by its manufacturer for one year. You must make sure that you have all the component paperwork and to ensure that you register the component for any extended guarantee period. Often regular service records are needed when making a guarantee claim against an engine.

The boat builder may well only give a business guarantee of say one year for the component parts. You must ensure that you have the component paperwork for any additional manufacturers extended guarantee. This does not exclude the boat builder from the six year rule and it does not stop at six years. Individual cases may need to be tested in court for periods exceeding six years for components that should have a working life that exceeds six years. Would it be a reasonable expectation for the steel shell to only last six years if you were taking reasonable precautions to limit fair wear and tear for instance.

There have been automotive cases where defects on vehicles over six years old have been repaired or replaced. The courts often making up a pro-rata rate of say 10% per year. So if the vehicle was seven years old, you would pay 70% and the manufacturer would pay 30% of the repair costs.

In many cases for a new boat, the builder is the manufacturer and supplier. This would change for a boat being sold on brokerage on behalf of an individual. But your statutory six months and six years rights against the builder manufacturer and extended warranty would not change either way.


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