What if your warranty expires during lockdown?

15 April 2020 - 15:30
Suppliers have been urged to 'take a humane and reasonable approach' to refunds and returns during lockdown.
Suppliers have been urged to 'take a humane and reasonable approach' to refunds and returns during lockdown.
Image: 123rf/ammentorp

If the warranty on your laptop, washing machine or fridge expires during the extended lockdown, will the supplier be obliged to honour it when it’s business as usual?

Technically no, but consumer goods and services ombudsman (CGSO) Magauta Mphahlele is urging suppliers to “take a humane and reasonable approach”.

The same applies to loyalty vouchers that expire during lockdown, she said.

“The companies and brands that emerge intact from this pandemic will be those that put their customers first.”

The most powerful consumer warranty is the Consumer Protection Act’s (CPA's) six-month warranty, which automatically applies to all goods and services sold.

Should an item develop a defect or become unfit for purpose in that time, the consumer has the right to choose the remedy: refund, repair or replace.

From the seventh month, the manufacturer’s voluntary warranty kicks in, giving the manufacturer the right to decide on the remedy.

“Communication is key during this period - whether it’s informing consumers how to go about lodging refunds and returns, or ensuring that your staff are sufficiently trained in any new procedures around the logging and time-stamping of electronic or telephonic queries with respect to defective goods, or goods that need to be returned when lockdown ends,” said Mphahlele.

On the controversial subject of cancellations - such as for flights, tours and weddings - Mphahlele said the unprecedented nature of the pandemic had thrown cancellations and the associated rights and responsibilities of suppliers and consumers into the spotlight.

“While we understand that none of the parties is at fault, we are acutely aware of the impact of mass cancellations on the cashflows of suppliers,” she said.

“We therefore appeal to all parties to act reasonably and, where possible, for consumers to accept vouchers or postponements.

“Where this is not possible, the consumer is entitled to a full refund.”

The ombud told TimesLIVE that if a consumer accepts a voucher in place of a full refund, it must be valid for at least three years, and there is nothing in the CPA which allows for a price increase at the time of redemption.

“We would need to look at the terms and conditions the consumer signed and then test them against the CPA’s section 48, which speaks to unfair, unreasonable or unjust contract terms,” she said.

In reality, local and international airlines are refusing to refund customers despite their flights being cancelled because of Covid-19. They are offering vouchers - and most are making those vouchers valid for just a year.

Emirates airline has released an updated “re-accommodation” policy offering ticket holders affected by Covid-19 travel bans three options, including a refund:

  1. Keep the ticket: All Emirates tickets booked before May 31 for travel up to August 31 will be automatically extended for 760 days. Customers holding such tickets can rebook when they decide to travel again. Their ticket will be accepted for any flight to the same Emirates destination or to another city within the same Emirates region with no fees for changes.
  2. Get a travel voucher: Travel vouchers are valid for one year from date of issue and can be extended for a second year. Customers can use for any Emirates product or service, including to offset charges for flights to any destination in any cabin class, or other services.
  3. Refund: Those who have decided to keep their ticket or the travel voucher can also apply for a full refund, if they are unable to travel.

“We would just like to seek our customers’ understanding that refunds will take time as we have a significant backlog to manage,” said Emirates’ chief commercial officer Adnan Kazim.

Car manufacturers have meanwhile committed to extending warranties, and service and maintenance plans that expire during lockdown, so as not to prejudice affected motorists.

Mphahlele invited both companies and consumers affected by travel-related cancellations to contact the CGSO via its online channels.

GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via e-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za or on Twitter: @wendyknowler.