Sunday, June 28, 2009

What are your options when a TV breaks after 18 months

Matsui LCD TV

Buy an LCD TV and you expect that it will last five or six years if not longer. So it was disappointing to realise that a TV I’d bought as a gift for someone back at Christmas 2007 had stopped working.

Like most electrical goods, TVs tend to come with a one year warranty from the manufacturer. But just because it breaks down outside the warranty – in this case 18 months after purchase – doesn’t mean to say you have no right of redress.

The Sale of Goods Act (and associated legislation) offers consumers some protection. The Department of Business Innovation & Skills website sums it up in their fact sheet.

Now you can’t take this as legal advice as it’s only my personal reading of various sites and information, but goods bought must “conform to contract” and be fit for purpose and of satisfactory quality. For up to six years after purchase (five in Scotland) purchasers can request their money back (“damages”) from the retailer (not the manufacturer) “within a reasonable time”. Now that’s not to say that all items are built to last six years. So a “reasonable person” would accept that shoes have a much shorter life.

But a TV is meant to be a durable item. And if it fails after 18 months, it might be reasonable to suggest that the failure was a weakness in manufacturing, a substandard component that later failed. The "fault" may not become apparent immediately but it was there at the time of sale and so the product was not of satisfactory standard.

Argos logo

So I wandered into Argos this morning, set the TV down on the counter along with the remote and its receipt, and explained that it was no longer working, was outside its one year warranty but well under the normal expected lifetime, and asked if I could have a repair or refund under the Sale of Goods Act.

All very calm. No challenge. No quibbling. Receipt checked, passed to a colleague who said that since the TV had worked ok for one year (out of its six year life expectancy), he’d offer a five sixths refund. Just like that.

Now reading the fact sheet more carefully tonight, perhaps Argos still got one over on me by giving the refund in the form of a credit note rather than as cash? Or by not offering repair or replacement, but defaulting to damages instead. Difficult to tell – but anyone reading this post from the Northern Ireland Consumer Council or Trading Standards is very welcome to comment or email me the answer!

Until a couple of days ago, I’d no idea that there was any course of redress beyond a manufacturer’s guarantee. A single case was highlighted in the Daily Mail and Radio Five recently – also involving a TV. But reading through material on the local Consumer Line website, I was surprised to find that although there are mentions of “the time set by the guarantee is not necessarily reasonable”, it is less than clear or consistently explained across their wealth of consumer advice.

EU flag

Seems that there’s an EU directive 1999/44/EC which states that “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.” The EU directive does not require the buyer to show the fault is inherent in the product and not down to their actions. However, there seem to be large variances in how the EU directive has been incorporated into individual country legislation.

My challenge to the NI Consumer Council would be to tidy up their consumer advice and incorporate the implications of the EU Directive and examples of what people should state when seeking redress into their material as soon as possible.

Anyway, thank you Argos for being straightforward.

Just for completeness: when the TV owner walked into a local independent retailer to ask if TVs could still be repaired, they were told it would be out of warranty, TV workshops had closed down, and promptly sold a new one (at least twice the spec though still missing key features of the original and "a bargain" at twice the price).

They were also told that digital switchover in Northern Ireland has been postponed until 2014 ... which is complete rubbish!

But when we returned the TV and explained that it was an unnecessary (due to ability to ask original retailer for repair) and inappropriate (less/more function than required) sale, they did offer a full refund.


whynotsmile said...

Excellent article. I think it's due to the sale of warranties and guarantees that people have forgotten that they have the right to expect goods to last a decent length of time. In fact, most warranties are a waste of money, because the stuff is covered anyway - and, if you buy with credit card, it might be covered on that as well.

On the other hand, most people seem to have forgotten that you are not entitled to a refund if you just change your mind about something - a bugbear of my dad's, as he works in a clothes shop!

Anonymous said...

Looks like you got a good deal, well done Argos!

Niall said...

Nice one.

I thought I had read somewhere when perusing the information from the Consumer Council in the past (or perhaps elsewhere) that within 6 months of the fault arising it will be assumed (under the law) to have been present when it was purchased; after 6 months it was up to the owner to establish that a fault *was* inherent. backs this up.

(I now know that you've no time to read .misc anymore - this topic is in the FAQ :D).

Alan in Belfast said...

It's been a year or two since I've had time to read the internal .misc newsgroup!

I knew about the burden of proof switching at six months, but a TV is meant to be durable, is built to last five or six years, and since it failed internally much earlier, then was due to some weakness in manufacturing and not user fault as there are no components that just wear out during normal use!

The EU directive removes the need for the consumer to prove the inherent fault in the first two years ...

Niall said...

@Alan - oh aye, I know what it says OK.

The way I had it explained to me was that say something had broken inside your TV. That could happen because of the TV being dropped on the ground / banged against a door / etc, just as well as being a faulty internal component which gave in.

Within six months, the onus is on the retailer to establish that you caused the problem (if they were so inclined); after six months the onus is on you to prove that the problem was *not* a drop/bang/etc (again, only if the retailer is so inclined to make a fuss).

The problem is telling whether the TV has failed because of an inherent fault or because of user action. And there are lots of ways that a consumer can kill a TV without it being physically obvious on the outside ...

ANYWAYs, glad you got a refund; shame it was in vouchers^Wgiftcard but at least something!

The Consumer Council said...

The Consumer Council manages and maintains the Consumerline website and is happy to put additional information about guarantees on the site. Trading Standards Service manages the Consumerline telephone helpline and email enquiries. If you want expert advice about your particular consumer problem or about UK or EU consumer law, you can contact Trading Standards Service online at or phone to speak to an advisor on 0845 600 6262 or 028 9025 3900.

You might be interested in another useful article on the Guardian Newspaper website dealing with the EU Directive on guarantees in more detail

Alan in Belfast said...

Consumer Council - Thanks for replying! Look forward to the expanded guidance on the site.

May said...

Well, you might look forward to get yourself a brand new TV.

Trading Standards Service said...

There is no doubt that the law in the area of, for want of a better term, “faulty goods”, is complicated. While it is to be hoped that most consumers are aware of their rights, it is in the area of available remedies that the law is perhaps not as clear as it could be. This has been recognised at government level, with a recent consultation on consumer remedies for faulty goods. The consultation paper, which can be found at makes for interesting reading. While it is a lengthy document, Parts 2 and 3, pp 12 – 41 provide a good, readable review of the law as it currently is.

It is not possible here to give a full explanation of the legislation relating to the sale of goods. Individual consumers who have questions about consumer law in respect of particular cases can contact Consumerline on 0845 600 6262 or 028 9025 3900 for advice. In cases of disputes between traders and consumers it is ultimately for the courts to reach a decision based on the application of the law.