Your consumer rights – do you understand what they are?

Written and accurate as at: 13 June 2016

Australians buy goods and services almost every day, but how many of us really understand what we’re covered for when it comes to making a purchase?   

When you purchase an item from a retailer or manufacturer, there are a range of provisions that protect you and your purchase under Australian Consumer Law, manufacturer’s warranties and extended warranty options.  

Automatic consumer guarantees apply to many purchases

As a customer you have rights under the automatic consumer guarantee for many products and services you buy.  These enable you to apply for a refund, repair or maintenance of a purchased item. The type of protection and the length of cover provided will typically depend on the price of the item and the fault or problem.
You may already be aware of some of your rights under the automatic consumer guarantee, but did you know:

  • You don’t have to return an item in its original packaging.
  • If you don’t have a receipt as proof of purchase you can use other items such as a credit card statement or confirmation or receipt if purchased online.
  • Retailers need to assist you to rectify the problem with your purchase. They can’t just refer you to the manufacturer.
  • If the item is broken or faulty, the retailer cannot charge you to fix it.
  • If the item is large then the retailer should pay for the transportation costs to get the item fixed.
  • Repairs have to be made in a reasonable time. Some items get priority for replacement or fixing including mobiles and fridges.
  • A manufacturer will need to inform you if they fix or repair your item using second hand or refurbished parts.
  • Even if a sign says “no refunds” or “exchange or credit note only for sale items” you are entitled to return something if the quality isn’t up to scratch or it doesn’t perform the way it is supposed to.   

Understand the detail of manufacturer’s product warranties

On top of the Automatic Consumer Guarantees many manufacturers will offer standard product warranties for goods purchased.

When you buy a new appliance, electrical item or car from a retailer it carries its own warranty from the manufacturer which usually covers general defects and faults that occur within a limited period of time.  The terms offered and the length of time protection provided will vary from one product to the next and from manufacturer to manufacturer. Generally speaking, the more expensive the item, the longer the warranty that may be offered.  

What most of these warranties do not cover is accidental damage to the item purchased if you drop, damage or break the item.

To compensate for this, many retailers offer the option of purchasing an extended warranty at the point of sale. Whilst you may feel pressured to buy an extended warranty it is an optional extra and in some cases an unnecessary expense, so it’s important that you do your research up front.

Extended warranties may give you options that aren’t guaranteed under consumer laws or the standard product warranties.  These can include cover for accidental damage or replacement items whilst yours is being repaired and/or access to technical support or dedicated help desks.

While extended warranties can buy peace of mind, this comes at a cost. Whether you benefit from the extended warranty will depend on the type of product you purchase, the likelihood of damage or breakage and the cost to replace or repair. You shouldn’t feel forced into taking this warranty.

If you’re considering a major purchase and not sure whether to get an extended warranty, ask the supplier to list what the warranty actually gives you above the automatic consumer protection and manufactures warranty. This way you can weigh up the benefits against the cost and make an informed decision on whether the protection offered is worth the additional cost.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission provides information on your consumer rights, you can also obtain information from the consumer affairs or protection agencies in your State.