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Proposed 30 Day Refund Period is good for consumers – New Consumer Protection Legislation (3 of 5)

Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation makes positive suggestion about automatic 30 day refund periodI wrote here last time (Consumer Protection Legislation – gift voucher proposals not worth the effort) out about my initial thoughts on the proposed consumer rights legislation put forward by Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mr. Richard Bruton, TD in May 2015. As I said in that article, I’m not 100% convinced that the gift voucher proposals have any worthwhile merit apart from their headline grabbing capacity. These headlines are from around the time of the original announcement back then:

The proposals do, however, contain some other positive and far-reaching changes that would impact on the day-to-day purchasing activities of Irish consumers, yet it’s only the voucher changes that generate the column inches.

30 Day Refund Period

This proposal will provide for a a standard 30 day period in which consumers can return faulty goods and get a full refund or replacement – their own choice.

The current hazy legislation, an amalgam of different acts going as far back as 1893, provides for a remedy for consumers where products are not of “merchantable quality”. The remedy from the retailer can be a choice of “refund, repair, replace”, but the chosen remedy is left to the retailer to decide, rather than the consumer.

It is claimed further that if enacted, these proposals would more clearly define for all concerned what the expected standard of “satisfactory quality” purchased goods would have to meet. Apparently, the Supreme Court has described the standard of “merchantable quality” as “archaic and somewhat mysterious” – something that most consumers who have tried to return faulty goods will confirm.

The definition, however, of a standard 30 day period after purchase within which consumers would have the right to themselves choose their own remedy having purchased goods that turn out to be faulty, or not of “satisfactory quality” is likely to have the greatest benefit for consumers.

Retailer Push Back

And, as mentioned previously, it’s also, probably, going to cause the biggest push-back from retailers as well. Now, instead of it being up to the retailer to decide the remedy, the consumers will decide.

Let’s face it: the current situation is a complete joke when it comes to protecting the consumer. The existing legislation provides for retailers to run through the following (possibly somewhat cynically presented) steps to avoid having to deal with consumers and their defective purchases:

  • Plan A – They’ll firstly do anything possible to do nothing at all, including ignoring complaints, insisting that the product isn’t actually broken, insisting that consumers deal instead with the manufacturer, incorrectly insist on receipt as only proof of purchase, or even insist that their returns policy doesn’t apply in this case.
  • Plan B – When confronted with having to do something, they’ll almost always plump for the “repair” option rather than replace or refund. The repair will take weeks, frequently without a like for like replacement product in the meantime. Frequently, the first repair won’t be successful and so is followed by a longer repair period, trying desperately to bring the consumer to the point of giving up.

It has been my experience, as it has I’m sure with many others, that actually getting a retailer to commit to a refund or replacement is far harder work for a consumer than it ever should be.

Hopefully, this new proposal – if it does go ahead – will vastly improve the consumer experience for many of us.

Problems – I see a couple

Unfortunately, outside of this new 30 day limit, the options seem to remain relatively hazy. The Department press release indicates that outside the 30 day limit, consumers have the right to repair or replacement, and if repairs after “a reasonable time” are still unsuccessful, then the consumer is entitled to a price reduction (to keep the item), or a return the funds to get a full refund.

Who gets to define “a reasonable time”? Is 4 weeks a reasonable time to fix a mobile phone, for example, if Samsung can actually ship 2 ½ million phones each day in that period?

The passage of time is a problem within the currently legislation, and outside of the initial 30 day period, this new legislation doesn’t seem to improve on the current situation.

Additionally, a new “out” is now available to retailers to try to frustrate the consumer getting to their normally ultimate aim of a full refund and return of the item.

Therefore, it will be interesting to see how this “out” – the proposed new “price reduction” option will work out. How faulty does a product need to be for this option to NOT kick in? And if it’s partially faulty, how partial will the refund be?

Back to the phone analogy, if a smartphone won’t access the internet, but makes calls, would this entitle the consumer to a 20% discount or an 80% discount (shouldn’t it be 80% given that internet access on a smartphone is now vital?).

In my next blog post, I’ll look in more detail at the proposals around the provision of information to consumers, and their rights to receive certain information in certain situations.

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