Dodgy Xmas Present? These Are Your Consumer Rights

More than 20,000 shoppers complained to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission about consumer guarantees in 2016, with more than a quarter reporting problems returning electronics and whitegoods to retailers.

As the Christmas period ends and Boxing Day sales wind down, the ACCC is reminding shoppers they have automatic guarantee rights that a product will work for a reasonable period of time under the Australian Consumer Law.

Acting Chair Dr Michael Schaper says the ACCC is concerned that businesses continue to misrepresent the rights of consumers when they try to return a faulty product, and want more people to know about the Australian Consumer Law.

“Use it as the three ‘magic words’ to let retailers know you know your rights,” Dr Schaper says.

If you buy a phone that comes with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty, that express warranty is in addition to your rights under consumer law, Dr Schaper points out.

“Under the Australian Consumer Law, you are guaranteed that the phone is safe, lasting, free of faults, is of acceptable quality and functions as a phone. If the phone, or any other consumer electronics or whitegoods, doesn’t meet these guarantees, you are entitled to a remedy.”

What if the warranty on your product has expired?

The facts: Whether or not a product is within the manufacturer’s express warranty, or covered by an extended warranty, has no effect on your right to a remedy under the Australian Consumer Law consumer guarantees.

You may still have rights under the consumer guarantees regime as and the length of time that these rights apply is unrelated to any manufacturer’s warranty period.

What if you’ve been told you have to take it back to the manufacturer?

The facts: If you return a faulty product to the retailer from which you bought it, they must provide you with a remedy and cannot direct you to the manufacturer.

You can also claim a remedy from the manufacturer, but you are only entitled to recover damages, which may include the cost of the product.

Should you buy an extended warranty?

Purchasing an extended warranty might mean that you are paying for rights you already have for free under the Australian Consumer Law. You should ask the seller to explain what the extended warranty gives you over and above the Australian Consumer Law.

Know your rights

If a product you purchased is faulty, your right to choose a remedy depends on whether the failure is major or minor.

If a product has a major fault or cannot be fixed, you can choose between a refund, replacement, or repair, as well as compensation for the drop in value below the price paid. A product has a major fault when it:

  • has a problem that would have stopped you from buying it if you’d known about it
  • is unsafe
  • is significantly different from the sample or description, and/or
  • it doesn’t do what the business said it would, or what you asked for, and it can’t be easily fixed.

If the fault is minor, the seller can choose to give you a free repair instead of a replacement or refund.

If you are having difficulties obtaining a remedy for a faulty product, the ACCC suggests writing a letter or email of complaint to try and resolve the issue with the trader. If this is unsuccessful, contact your local consumer protection agency or report an issue to the ACCC.

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