Are 'unfixable' goods and worthless warranties set to be history?

We’re implored to limit the amount of rubbish we send to landfill, yet when we try to repair a product – whether that be a kitchen appliance, a car or an iPhone – we often run into insurmountable hurdles. 

Now, in a draft report released by the Productivity Commission (PC), those hurdles are being reviewed, along with restrictions that limit the worth of warranties.

The PC identified significant barriers to repair some products, which it said resulted in higher prices for consumers, fewer opportunities for third-party repairers and technicians and more goods being junked well before they should.

The report seeks to improve consumers’ right to repair “without the uncertainty and costs associated with more forceful policy interventions”. It also wants products to be repaired at a competitive price using a repairer of the consumer’s choice. 

It says consumers already have rights under the Australian Consumer Law to have their products repaired, replaced or refunded, but that these guarantees need to be strengthened. It recommends:

  • the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) provides guidance on the reasonable period of product durability for common household products, so consumers and manufacturers can better understand when consumer guarantees apply 
  • providing regulators with alternative dispute resolution processes to assist consumers to resolve their claims, and enabling designated consumer groups to lodge ‘super complaints’ about consumer guarantees, with these fast-tracked by the ACCC
  • the inclusion of text in manufacturers’ warranties that prominently states consumers are not required to use the repairers or spare parts specified by the product’s manufacturer to access their rights to a guarantee under consumer law. 

The commission is seeking further evidence on other potential reforms that would:

  • require manufacturers to provide software updates for a reasonable period 
  • amend copyright laws to enable third party repairers to copy and share repair manuals, and access repair data hidden behind digital locks 
  • prohibit manufacturer warranties from being voided if consumers do not use the repairers and spare parts specified by the manufacturer
  • develop a product durability or repairability labelling scheme to help consumers identify products that best meet their needs.

In a clear sign of enough is enough when it comes to waste, the PC advocates removing incentives that focus solely on product recycling, rather than repair and reuse. It also suggests global positioning system (GPS) trackers be used to improve monitoring of e-waste.

And to help guide consumers when deciding which products to buy, the PC proposes the ACCC “provide guidance” on the expected lifespan of consumer goods – in a similar fashion to products’ energy ratings.

The findings have been welcomed by consumer advocacy group CHOICE.

Senior campaigner Dean Price said a ‘super complaint’ system was long overdue.

“Our consumer laws are clear – we have a right to a repair, refund or replacement within a reasonable period if a product fails,” Mr Price said.

“However, some companies fight customers every step of the way when they try to enforce these rights. The Productivity Commission is right that consumers need more options to escalate complaints when a company doesn’t play fair.” 

Mr Rice said giving consumers better guidance on durability was a welcome step, but should be backed up by information at the point of sale. “People want to know how long a product will last when they’re shopping and the information should be as easy to read as water and energy efficiency labels,” he said.

“When 85 per cent of Australians say that buying products that will last a long time is very or quite important to them, then we should be equipping people with information about how long a product will last.

“People also need to be assured that the parts and tools they need to use and repair the product will be available for a reasonable time.”

Read more: Simple advice to avoid ‘poking the bear’ this tax time

Have you fallen foul of major manufacturers failing to repair a product that proved to be faulty or not allowing the product to be fixed by independent tradespeople? Are you incensed that so many products end up in landfill when they could be fixed? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments section below?

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Written by Janelle Ward



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