Exercise your EU consumer rights
A Guardian story on May 23 delves into the complex and sometimes hostile world of warranties on consumer goods. At issue in the Guardian article was an 18 month old television that had been purchased at Tesco. Under the EU rule, Pete Ward forced Tesco to replace a television that failed after 18 months, but it wasn't easy. It appears that even among retailers who are aware of the rule, their hope is that when people bring something back after a year, they can be easily dismissed if they say that the manufacturer's warranty is over. Many consumers simply assume the retailer is telling the whole truth. Article 5 of the European Union Product Warranty Directive of 1999 says,
"The seller shall be held liable under Article 3 where the lack of conformity becomes apparent within two years as from delivery of the goods. If, under national legislation, the rights laid down in Article 3(2) are subject to a limitation period, that period shall not expire within a period of two years from the time of delivery."
Complicating matters further is the UK's Sale of Goods Act, which theoretically gives consumers up to six years of protection against faulty merchandise, though consumers who have tried to have this enforced have found it very rough going.
Discussion forum LegalBanter had two intense discussion threads going the other day (here and here) on the subject. One poster contends that the Guardian was flat wrong and cites the Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform report titled EU Consumer Rights Directive - Distance and off-premises selling. In that document, dated 10 November 2008, is the following:
"It is proposed that the provisions on the sale of goods will be amended to allow the trader to choose between repair or replacement and where these are not suitable for certain reasons or are not provided by the trader, the consumer may then demand price reduction or, as long as the non-conformity is not minor, rescission of the contract (which is equivalent to rejecting the contract).
This is a change from the original provisions of Directive 44/1999EC which allowed the consumer to choose between repair and replacement in the first instance. The effect will be to give the trader the balance of power in the choice of remedies."
But does the Consumer Rights Directive supersede the European Union Product Warranty Directive of 1999? Has it gone into effect? Does it only to apply to distance (Internet) and doorstep selling? What does this mean for extended service contracts?
According to the Department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, the Consumer Rights Directive is currently under negotiation.
The only thing that appears certain is that all EU member states will, at some point in the future, have the same set of remedies available to all consumers who buy a faulty product, those repairs being: First, repair or replacement, followed by reduction in price or reimbursement. If this is the case, then it would apply to sales on High Street, over the Internet, or from doorstep sellers.
So the two year scenario reported in the Guardian is basically correct in that you can take items back up to two years after purchase and get a replacement whether or not the guarantee has expired. Retailers are somewhat caught in the middle because while they are required to honour the EU rule, manufacturers give only one year's guarantee, so during the second year of the two-year period, retailers have to eat the cost of the replacement or reimbursement themselves.
As for the average consumer, perhaps the only safe thing to say is: when you go to return a purchase, particularly if more than a year has elapsed since purchase, be ready for a fight. Arming yourself with the EU Product Warranty Directive of 1999 might help, along with a bloody big knife.