27 May 2024, 01:06
By Kevin Grix May 13, 2022

Managing consumer complaints around furniture lifespan

Can the predicted lifespan of furniture be calculated? What are the consequences when apportioning partial refunds? Furniture purchases typically come with the expectation that they are made to last, explains the CEO and chief ombudsman at the Furniture and Home Improvement Ombudsman, Kevin Grix – so what do retailers need to understand when managing complaints?

The introduction of the Right to Repair Law in the UK last year, designed to combat ‘premature obsolescence’ of electrical goods by placing a duty on manufacturers to make spare parts available to consumers, marks an important step in the move towards a more sustainable approach to everyday products. 

Technically speaking, higher-quality furniture should outlive that which is of a lower quality. However, wear and tear is unavoidable, regardless of the original quality. 

The Code of Practice to which all our members adhere contains specific references both to the provision of “clear and accurate product information” along with information regarding the likely performance of a product. Furniture purchases are typically big-ticket items, and a consumer will want to know that their furniture is made to last – we encourage retailers to supply accurate and comprehensive care guides.

Likewise, consumers should be educated to ask the right questions to ensure their purchase is suitable for them. This results in consumers receiving the right information to enable them to receive the best service possible from their furniture, for the longest possible time.

The rule of six

The six years within which consumers can potentially enforce their consumer rights can be a useful benchmark, but it’s not an indication as to maximum durability, since the law applies to a myriad of consumer products – from Biros to Bentleys. 

So, what’s the position when a lower-value item is sold which may not reasonably last for six years with normal use, or when a big-ticket item should last considerably longer? 

It’s important to look at the information available to enable customers to make a purchasing decision, and to consider what’s fair within specific circumstances. This is also subject to any guarantees offered by retailers or manufacturers. If a mattress is sold with a 10-year guarantee, it’s surely reasonable to expect that, with the appropriate care, it will last for at least a decade. 

What does the law say?

The implied terms state that furniture should be of satisfactory quality, which does include an element of durability. Therefore, furniture should be sufficiently heavy-duty enough for it to be fit for its intended purpose. 

The law also includes a reference to the price paid, which can also be taken into account. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 places an even greater emphasis on the information which is available, and so care instructions and product specifications will be important evidence in assessing the potential lifespan of a product and how it should be maintained to ensure its expected longevity.

What happens if a known fault occurs within six years of purchase?

The consumer remedies are tiered such that, in the event of a fault, once the time for a short-term right to reject has passed (30 days after delivery), they’d be entitled to a repair or replacement in the first instance. 

The second tier of remedies, a refund or price reduction, are then available if the repair is impossible or can’t be carried out in a timely manner or without significant inconvenience to the customer. Of course, a price reduction would only be appropriate if the goods still function, but could be used to recognise an aesthetic issue, for example. 

This is important, as in the first instance, at least a consumers’ entitlement is for the issue with the furniture itself to be remedied,and a physical repair may be considered as the most sustainable option.

If a fault is found later down the line, the law allows the retailer to account for the number of years’ usage the consumer has enjoyed prior to this fault – this is known as a partial refund. This means that if a fault occurs and a repair or replacement has either already been attempted or cannot be undertaken, a partial refund may be the most appropriate remedy. 

It is worth noting that the refund cannot be apportioned within the first six months, but if an issue arises after that, usage can be recognised by the retailer making a financial deduction. For example, a sofa costing £600 which develops a fault when it’s three years old, and which can’t be repaired or replaced, could see a partial refund of £300.

How are partial refunds calculated?

Some furniture can reasonably be expected to last more than six years during normal usage (for example by virtue of its price, quality or guarantee period), whereas some items can’t be expected to last even half this timeframe. 

For example, if it’s stated that an occasional-use mattress should only last three years, then a partial refund would be calculated on this basis. On the other hand, retailers need to be aware of setting unrealistic expectations when specifying a guarantee period which could also be used to calculate a partial refund. 

Ultimately, a practical view should be taken on these questions, because there’s no set number of years each item should last, and each case is judged on its own merit. However, the product, information relating to it and any guarantees will play a role when calculating the lifetime of a product.

Whilst it is important that consumers and retailers alike understand the remedies that are applicable to faulty products, choosing the right remedy to fit the circumstances is equally important. A retailer may feel it’s disproportionate to replace a faulty item after it has received four years’ usage, whereas a price reduction is of limited value if the damage is such that the goods cannot be used for their intended purpose. 

Equally, consumers may be happy to receive more than one attempt at repair if it means a more sustainable approach to the application of their rights.

When making purchases, customers who buy from businesses that are registered to a voluntary, Government-approved, not-for-profit ombudsman scheme are offered an additional layer of protection. In turn, our members reinforce a commitment to manage complaints formally and at a level that is higher than what the law prescribes. 

We support businesses and their customers in finding solutions when disputes occur without having to use the courts, which can be costly and time-consuming, which consequently promotes fair trade and inspires consumer confidence.

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