Faulty products – know your rights
Many of us have seen the recent media reports about product recalls by car companies, including major brands experiencing problems with air bags and faulty brake pads.
Many of us have bought a product that didn’t measure up to its description, or just didn’t work. At the top of the consumer complaints list in NSW last year were problems relating to household electrical goods and whitegoods.
The Consumer Claims Act covers consumer claims that arise out of the purchase of defective goods or as a result of poor service. The NSW Office of Fair Trading can provide all the information you need about your rights as a consumer.
There is an extensive list of rules that traders must comply with. Here are a few relating to some common consumer complaints:
- Goods for sale must be of “merchantable quality”. Put simply, they must be fit to do the thing they were bought to do – and meet safety standards.
- Traders aren’t allowed to mislead the public about the performance characteristics of goods – a large retailer of electrical appliance and whitegoods recently got into trouble when it exaggerated the energy efficiency of a refrigerator line.
- Misleading conduct might also include retailers offering gifts or prizes as an incentive to get customers in the door, with no intention of actually supplying them – or advertising a cheap price but not following through at the time of purchase.
- Traders should comply with the warranty conditions on a product.
What can you do?
First, try to nut it out with the trader who sold you the product. Many companies will be willing to refund or replace a product in order to protect their reputation.
Failing that, you can lodge a complaint with the Office of Fair Trading, which is free. It’s a useful step because, even though it may not resolve your particular complaint, passing on information about faulty goods can help protect others, and keep retailers and manufacturers on their toes.
If you want an independent person to consider your matter, you have two options: you can go through the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal (CTTT) or the Local Court. For most consumer claims where the amount involved is less than $30,000, the CTTT is more cost-effective. Lawyers are usually not involved and it’s inexpensive; $34 for disputes involving no more than $10,000.
The CTTT’s conciliation process requires you to sit down with the other party to try to reach an agreement. Failing that, there is an informal hearing, at the end of which a Tribunal member makes an order. For example, the manufacturer might have to replace the product.
To protect yourself, it’s a good idea to always keep receipts and warranties.