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What are my consumer rights this Christmas?

Understand warranties, the Sale of Goods Act and Distance Selling Regulations

Consumer rights: manufacturers’ warranties

Most technology products come with a manufacturer’s warranty that provides a separate agreement between the manufacturer and the buyer. In the event of a manufacturing fault, the warranty will usually offer repair or replacement during a specified period from the date of purchase.

Consumer rights - warranties

You rights are dependent on the terms provided by the manufacturer, which can be as wide or restrictive as it likes. Some require the product to be returned to the seller; others may send pre-paid packaging or provide a telephone contact number to discuss your options. All will require proof of purchase, so it’s important to keep your receipts – even if they’re sent via email.

A small number of companies require the item to be returned in its original packaging, so be sure to keep this for expensive purchases such as PCs and laptops if you have the space available.

It’s worth noting that although some manufacturers provide a two-year warranty, the contract is often made with the original buyer only. If you’ve bought a product secondhand, it’s possible that you won’t be covered should anything go wrong.

Read the warranty statement included with the product, and note that you may need to follow some conditions if you ever want to invoke it. Most request that the buyer registers the warranty with the manufacturer by returning a supplied form by post, or by providing their details online or over the phone. In return, some manufacturers extend the warranty period by six- or 12 months.

There may be other benefits, too. Some warranties will extend to any person in legal possession of the product, while others let you transfer the warranty to a new owner.

If the warranty doesn’t address this point, it’s advisable to check with the manufacturer whether it’s possible to transfer the warranty to someone else. If you’re buying a used product within the warranty period, you should also check for the right to transfer.

Where a product is still under warranty, it may be easier to claim under this than deal with the original seller. This will be your only option if the seller has gone bust and you didn’t purchase the product using a credit card, but it can also be useful if you live some distance from the shop or the seller is purposely being difficult.

Always check whether a warranty requires certain actions to remain valid. For example, you might need to service the product at stipulated intervals (more often applicable to cars, of course), or report a problem within a certain amount of time. Failure to follow all the conditions may invalidate the warranty.

Consumer rights - failed product

Products that fail outside warranty

A question we’re often asked concerns what you should do if a fault develops just outside the warranty period. The manufacturer has no obligation to assist, but some will take pity on you so it’s worth making contact. Stay calm, and be polite and prepared to compromise.

There may be an unadvertised discretion available to customer-service employees to assist in certain circumstances. Some companies operate policies such as this to keep customers happy – if they refuse to help when your warranty expired only a few weeks ago, it’s unlikely you’ll buy a replacement product from the same manufacturer.

Even if your warranty has expired, you may still have a claim if you can prove that the fault occurred while the product was still under warranty or was due to a manufacturing flaw.

Types of warranty

Most warranties provide for replacement or the full cost of repair. That is, the cost of parts and the labour involved in fitting those parts. Most are likely to be on a ‘return-to-base’ (RTB) basis, which means you’re responsible for returning the product to the manufacturer (or, in some cases, to the seller). The postage cost may not be included.

You may be offered, particularly when registering the warranty online, an option to improve your level of cover. For example, you might be asked if you want to exchange a 12-month RTB policy for 90-day collect-and-return (C&R) cover, during which a faulty product will be collected, repaired and returned to you. Be warned that you may be forsaking long-term protection for a convenience you are unlikely to need or use.

‘Onsite’ warranties can also be offered. This means a technician will visit your home or business to carry out product assessments and repairs. Alternatively, it can also mean a product will be collected and it’s replacement delivered simultaneously. In some cases, the replacement product is a temporary loan while your product is being repaired.

Some warranties cover the replacement of parts only. You might be sent these parts and will have to fit them or arrange for professional fitting. ‘Labour-only’ warranties, meanwhile, cover the cost of a technician fixing the product, but you must pay for the parts. They’re often seen supplied with desktop PCs. Such a guarantee has value only if you’re unable to personally fit the replacement parts yourself, or you don’t have the technical knowledge to determine which parts are defective.

Consumer rights - extended warranties

Extended warranties

Extended warranties are a form of insurance and can be bought for one or more years’ cover. By paying the premium, you can rest assured in the knowledge that if something goes wrong you will get help in sorting it out.

Like all insurance products, the policy wordings and the cover provided will vary from company to company – you’ll need to carefully read all the policies before deciding which to take. All will have conditions with which you must comply, and exclusions that detail what is not covered. Batteries, for example, are consumables, so will typically not be covered.

Some extended warranties include accidental damage and breakdown, neither of which are likely to be found in a manufacturer’s warranty. Although you may have some cover from a home-insurance policy, bear in mind that a claim will increase your premium up when it’s time to renew.

EU warranty regulations

Apple has recently been in the news regarding the EU obligation to advise customers about their right to a minimum of a two-year warranty. The UK’s Sale of Goods Act and supporting legislation provides wider and longer-lasting protection. As such, the EU regulation has little or no benefit in the UK and doesn’t bind manufacturers supplying goods here.

We don’t have the space here to explain in-depth the EU regulation, but suffice to say the nature of the obligation is very restricted.

Indeed, Apple’s wording on its website suggests that it’s down to the buyer to prove that a fault existed at the time of purchase in order to claim a repair or replacement.

EU law provides no recourse for end users against manufacturers unless the product supplied causes physical injury and/or damage.

Next page: Small Claims Court

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