Just because your prized possession is out of warranty doesn't mean the business you bought it from is off the hook and you have no consumer rights, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Australians are being urged to know and act on their rights under Australian Consumer Law when dealing with businesses over defective products or poorly performed services, following more than 28,000 reports and enquiries to the ACCC last year over consumer guarantees or warranties.
The reports represent about 30 per cent of the more than 98,000 total contacts to the ACCC in 2023 (excluding scams).
Motor vehicles, electronics and whitegoods, and homewares were the most reported categories of consumer products about which consumer guarantee or warranty issues were raised with the ACCC.
Almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of all contacts from consumers about automotive issues and more than two-thirds (68 per cent) of all electronics and whitegoods contacts last year related to consumer guarantees.
"When you buy a product or service from a business, you have automatic rights called 'consumer guarantees' under the Australian Consumer Law and they exist regardless of any warranty offered by the business," ACCC Deputy Chair Catriona Lowe said.
"Even if a voluntary warranty, manufacturer's warranty, or extended warranty has expired, you may still be able to use your consumer guarantee rights under the Australian Consumer Law, which don't have a specific expiry date."
Ms Lowe said consumer guarantees apply for a period of time that is considered reasonable having regard to the nature of the products or services, including the price paid. This might be longer than the period of any warranty provided by a retailer or manufacturer.
"Broadly speaking, you are guaranteed that the product you have purchased will be of acceptable quality, match its description and do what a business tells you it can do. If it doesn't, you are entitled to a free repair for a minor problem, or a replacement or refund for anything major.
"For example, the car radio not working might be a minor problem, while the brakes not working due to a manufacturing fault would be a major problem," Ms Lowe said.
The acceptable quality guarantee includes that products will be as durable as a reasonable consumer would regard as acceptable for that product. What is reasonable for the durability of a product will depend on things like the type of product, the price, and how it is likely to be used.
The ACCC has taken enforcement action against several companies in recent years for misleading consumers about their consumer guarantee rights, and more investigations are currently underway to address misleading practices and deter businesses from doing the wrong thing.
"Businesses are reminded that it is unlawful to give customers false or misleading information about their consumer guarantee rights. Where consumer guarantee rights apply, consumers are entitled to the remedies provided by the Australian Consumer Law," Ms Lowe said.
If a product develops a major problem, consumers should let the business know that they think there is a major problem with it under the consumer guarantees in the Australian Consumer Law. They can tell the business they are rejecting the product, state what remedy they would like, and explain why they think there is a major problem.
"We know that many people don't feel sufficiently knowledgeable or confident to challenge a business when they believe something they have purchased isn't of acceptable quality," Ms Lowe said.
"Information about people's consumer rights is available online. This includes information about contacting a business to fix a problem and a complaint letter tool to help consumers prepare a written complaint. If you can't resolve the issue after contacting the business there are organisations that may be able to help individuals to resolve a complaint."
"The ACCC and state and territory consumer protection agencies will also continue to take action against businesses that misrepresent consumers' rights under the law," Ms Lowe said.
The ACCC continues to call for changes to the law to make business non-compliance with consumer guarantee obligations illegal.
Common statements that may be misleading
Here are some statements to watch out for, and an explanation of what consumers' rights are.
- Your product is out of warranty, so we can only repair it for a fee.
This isn't right. Consumer guarantees are automatic and are separate from any voluntary warranty, manufacturer's warranty, or extended warranty. Consumer rights can last longer than warranty rights, and you can ask for a repair, refund or replacement after the warranty has expired.
- No refunds under any circumstances.
This isn't right. If your product has a major problem, under the consumer guarantees you have a right to choose a refund.
- To be eligible for a refund, you must return the product within 10 days. Refunds are not available under any circumstances after this time.
This isn't right. Businesses can't apply a time limit on your rights to notify them or return a faulty product.
- You will need to contact the manufacturer to have this issue resolved.
This isn't right. As a first step you should contact the business that sold you the product to explain the problem. The business can't refuse to help you by telling you to contact the manufacturer.
- If you don't buy the extended warranty, you'll have no protection once the 12-month warranty expires.
This isn't right. Consumer guarantees are separate from any warranties, and they may still apply after a warranty has expired.
- We understand your concern that if you were made aware about this fault beforehand, you would not have purchased the product. We can offer you 50 per cent of the original purchase price as a goodwill gesture.
This isn't right. If your product has a major problem, a refund should be the full amount you paid.
- The damaged item must be returned in its original packaging to receive a refund.
This isn't right. If your product is faulty, you don't have to return the product in its original packaging to seek a refund.
- We identified the screen is cracked on your product. The warranty doesn't cover damaged screens, so we can't help you today.
This isn't right. Even if your voluntary warranty, manufacturer's warranty, or extended warranty doesn't cover the specific problem, it may still be covered under the consumer guarantees.
What to do if a business doesn't meet a consumer guarantee
As a first step, consumers should contact the business directly, and it can be useful to set out the complaint in writing.
Businesses are allowed to ask for a receipt or another form of proof of purchase.
If contacting the business does not resolve the issue, as a second step, consumers can contact their local state or territory consumer protection agency about their rights and options. These agencies may be able to help negotiate a resolution with the business.
If consumers see a false or misleading statement about the consumer guarantees, they can report it to their local state or territory consumer protection agency and the ACCC. Reports from the public inform the ACCC's compliance and enforcement work.
In December 2023, the Federal Court ordered US-based Fitbit LLC to pay penalties of $11 million after it admitted making false, misleading or deceptive representations to 58 consumers about their consumer guarantee rights to a refund or a replacement after they claimed their device was faulty.
In December 2023, the ACCC accepted a court-enforceable undertaking from Australian Post and its subsidiary StarTrack after they admitted to likely engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct for failing to accept compensation requests and incorrectly advising some business customers that no compensation was payable to them for lost or damaged articles. The Australia Post Group has undertaken to provide compensation to affected customers.
In October 2023, Stellantis Australia, the importer and distributor of Jeep vehicles in Australia, undertook to address ACCC concerns about the way it handled complaints by consumers who experienced problems with their Jeep vehicles, in a court-enforceable undertaking accepted by the ACCC.
In March 2023, the Federal Court ordered Booktopia pay $6 million in penalties for making false or misleading representations on its website, and in dealings with consumers, about consumer guarantee rights.
There are nine consumer guarantees that apply to products. They include guarantees that a product sold to a consumer must be of acceptable quality, fit for any stated purpose, and match its description.
The three consumer guarantees that apply to services are that businesses must undertake them using an acceptable level of care and skill, they must be fit for any stated purpose, and they must be supplied within a reasonable time.