With many gifts being opened in a couple of days and, visits back to the store with item not working is a normal occurrence. But what happens after the 1 year warranty expires? Well a little-known EU directive is making shoppers feel like they have extra ammunition to return faulty goods for up to two years. It’s not quite that simple.
There has been an increase in people using a little-known European Union directive to get retailers to refund or replace faulty goods, even after the stated guarantee periods have ended.
The EU rule allowing the return of goods up to two years after purchase is at odds with the returns policies adopted by most major shops.
However, as this is a directive is only partially adopted by the UK, its use is a grey area.
Despite this, many shops have willingly refunded items when presented with the directive and its argument, so it could potentially improve your position.
So what has happened?
Most major retailers will have a stated returns policy that complies with UK consumer law. Those interested can see the exact wording of the Sale of Goods act here, but put simply the law says that retailers must sell goods that are ‘as described, fit for purpose and of satisfactory quality’.
If a defect is detected when, or in a reasonable period of time after, the sale is made, then buyers can demand a full refund.
However, the rules get fuzzier when faults develop over time and a buyer has to return goods after possessing them for a longer period.
Under UK law, buyers in England and Wales can get a partial refund or full repair up to six years after the purchase was made (five years from discovery in Scotland). The refund should take into account how much use the customer has already had of a product. Ultimately, a county court would decide this.
However, the likelihood of getting such a refund is dramatically reduced after just six months. The reason is that for six months after the purchase, it is up to the retailer to show that a fault on an item is down to the actions or misuse of the buyer, rather than an inherent fault in the product.
After six months, the burden of proof switches to the buyer and it is they who must then show a fault is due to some inherent problem, something that can be almost impossible in all but the most straightforward cases.
For example, the plasma TV you bought five months ago stops working without explanation and you return to the shop you bought it from, expecting a refund. The store manager is reluctant but can find no explanation for the fault. There are no scratches or damage to show it has been dropped, or signs of water damage. Complying with the Sales of Goods Act, he understands without such proof he must refund you money.
But were the fault to develop at seven months, he would not need such proof. The TV may show no signs of damage or misuse, but the store manager no longer needs to show there was any. Instead, you must show to him that there was a shoddy component or design fault that caused the problem. In the absence of these things, he is under no obligation to return your money.
In reality, most retailers offer returns policies that extend this 6-month period to 12 months. But after that refunds are hard to come by.
So how does the EU rule change things?
The EU directive in question is 1999/44/EC. The full wording is contained here (open the word document or PDF and scroll to page 7) Open Press Release below for the relevant page but, the important bit is this: ‘A two-year guarantee applies for the sale of all consumer goods everywhere in the EU. In some countries, this may be more, and some manufacturers also choose to offer a longer warranty period.’
As with UK law, a seller is not bound by the guarantee ‘if the (fault) has its origin in materials supplied by the consumer’. But the EU rule does not require the buyer to show the fault is inherent in the product and not down to their actions.
The EU rule also says buyers need to report a problem within two months of discovering it if they want to be covered under the rule.
How can I use this rule?
Reports of cases where shoppers have used the EU rule to get refunds suggest that even senior staff at stores may be unaware of it, so be prepared for some blank faces if you need to use it to argue your case. But eventually, after referring the complaint to legal teams, reports suggest the stores have coughed up.
Use this check-list to see if you could try and use the EU rule:
• The goods were purchased no longer than two years ago
• The store will not provide a refund or repair because you are returning the item after their return period has ended, usually one year
• You are reporting the fault within two months of discovering it
• The goods show no signs of damage through your actions or misuse.
The best advice is to print off the EU rule and take a copy with you. If staff fail to recognise it, ask them to take your details and report your complaint to their bosses. Take a note of the names of any staff you speak to and explain that you will contact them again soon for a response.
You may manage to get your refund on the basis of the EU directive, however, shops are within their rights to use the Sale of Goods Act as the definitive guideline instead.
The Store where you bought the item is no longer a dealer for the company whose product you bought?
Doesn’t matter if the shop isn’t a dealer any more, they are the ones you purchased from and therefore have to deal with it.
While the manufacturers/importers usually back up the retailers for warranty, legally its the retailer who is responsible.
What about warranties? Do I still need one?
The EU rule, while extending the guarantees for shoppers does not necessarily mean warranties have no value. Under a warranty you may get extra protection against accidental damage that would not be covered by the UK or EU regulations.
Product guarantees The EU directive in question is 1999/44/EC
‘How long are guarantees on consumer goods valid?’
Viktor used to live in Germany, where it is common for products to have manufacturers’ guarantees of five years. In March 2005, he bought a new washing machine in his home town of Eger in Hungary, but it started to leak water in April 2006.
‘I complained to the Hungarian representative of the manufacturer, but they didn’t want to know. They said in Hungary there is only a one-year guarantee, not five years. What can I do?’
In this case, Viktor’s rights as an EU consumer are not being respected by the Hungarian representative of the manufacturer. The fact is that a two-year guarantee applies for the sale of all consumer goods everywhere in the EU (Directive 1999/44/EC). In some countries, this may be more, and some manufacturers also choose to offer a longer warranty period.
When you buy a new product, it should look and function exactly how it was advertised. But do you know what your rights are if your new coffee machine leaks, or if a green door is delivered instead of the blue one you ordered?
The vast majority of purchases and transactions in Europe take place with no reason for complaint. However, if you do have reason to complain, you should be aware that the following rights and responsibilities apply everywhere in the EU:
- If the item you bought does not look or function as it was advertised, or if it is not satisfactory, you have the right to have the item replaced or to get your money back if the replacement was not completed in a reasonable time at no extra cost.
- If you buy goods that turn out to be faulty, manufacturers must compensate you for any personal injury or damage caused to property.
- When you buy goods or services by post, telephone, fax or through the Internet from a professional trader, you have the same rights in relation to guarantees as if you had bought them in a shop.
Sale of Goods act