Can’t return that dodgy toaster?

As households take stock of their December shopping spree, some will be battling with gifts that failed to achieve a pass mark and need to be returned.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has issued a timely reminder about consumer rights in relation to items that require repairs, a replacement or a refund.

The watchdog says complaints about faulty products and services most commonly relate to issues with faulty cars, electronics, whitegoods and clothing.

The ACCC says: “This is one of the busiest shopping periods of the year, so it’s important people remember they have rights if they’ve received a Christmas present or purchased an item during the Boxing Day sales that later fails.

“These consumer guarantee rights mean you’re entitled to a remedy, either a repair, replacement or refund. If the problem is minor, the retailer who sold the item can choose the remedy. If the problem is major, you get to choose your remedy.”

The ACCC explains that a minor failure is where a problem with a product can be fixed in a reasonable time.

A major problem is where the fault is more serious. For example, if the product doesn’t work any more and can’t be fixed, if it’s significantly different from its description, if it doesn’t do what you asked for or if it’s unsafe.

“Consumer guarantees are set in stone in the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), meaning businesses cannot alter or change them in any way,” the watchdog says.

“A key trick we always tell people is to use the words ‘Australian Consumer Law’ when returning a faulty product, so the retailer knows you’re aware of your rights.”

The ACCC warns that people should be wary about potentially misleading claims when returning faulty items. For example, a business may claim it can’t help as the product is out of warranty, that you have to take it to the manufacturer or that because it was a sale item you can’t return it.

These statements are all not true, says the ACCC, because:

    • A manufacturer’s warranty is separate to your ACL rights so even if a product is out of warranty, you still may be entitled to a remedy.
    • The retailer who sells you the product must help with a remedy if it turns out to be faulty. It cannot claim that it’s the manufacturer’s responsibility to help you.
    • Sale items are covered by consumer guarantees. If the sale item later breaks, you have the same rights. It makes no difference if you pay a discounted price.

“A lot of people like to shop online, including at overseas-based retailers,” says the ACCC. “Another common complaint we receive is that a business won’t help a consumer with a faulty item as it is based overseas and isn’t subject to the Australian Consumer Law.

“This also isn’t true. Any overseas business that sells products to people in Australia is bound by our consumer law and must help you.”

The ACCC says that consumer guarantees do not apply if you had merely changed your mind.

“If you received a gift that you don’t like, or changed your mind about something you bought at the Boxing Day sales, consumer guarantee rights don’t apply, but some retailers may let you exchange gifts for another item”.

People having difficulties obtaining a remedy for a faulty product can use the ACCC’s complaint letter tool to try to resolve the issue with the trader. If this is unsuccessful, they can contact their local consumer protection agency or report the issue to the ACCC.

Have you had to contact the ACCC after a problem with a product? Did the dispute end satisfactorily?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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