Spike in complaints about defective goods

Spike in complaints about defective goods

Consumer complaints about defective goods have jumped since the so-called "lemon law" came into force.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) received 701 such complaints from September 2013 to last August, the second year since the law came into force on Sept 1, 2012.

This is up 26.5 per cent from the 554 complaints received in the first year.

And the numbers look set to remain high, with 266 complaints already received from Septemberto the end of January this year.

Grouses from car buyers came up top, making up 30 per cent of the 1,521 "lemon law" complaints received so far.

A large proportion also came from buyers of furniture and mobile phones, as well as electronic and electrical goods.

The number of claims in these categories have also skyrocketed over at the Small Claims Tribunals (SCT), which received 218 vehicle purchase-related claims last year - up from 135 in 2013, 104 in 2012 and 64 in 2011.

A total of 249 claims were made in the electronic goods category, up from 82 in 2013.

Claims for cellphones rose from 249 in 2013 to 265 last year; those for furniture fell slightly to 280 last year, but were still higher than the 189 complaints in 2011 - the year before the lemon law was enacted.

The SCT is usually the last resort for consumers saddled with defective goods, with many first heading to Case.

Despite these rises, complaints make up less than 0.5 per cent of the total number of goods sold in these categories, said Case executive director Seah Seng Choon.

The lemon law is an amendment to the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act and the Hire Purchase Act, which gives consumers more protection against inherently defective products, colloquially known as "lemons".

It requires retailers to repair or replace a product found to be defective within six months of purchase - or give a refund.

"When there was no lemon law, it was more troublesome to get redress. More consumers know their rights now and are taking advantage of it," said Mr Seah.

He expects complaints to fall over time as retailers offer better- quality products and settle disputes on the shop floor.

This is the purpose of the law - to lift service levels and quality of goods sold here, he added.

Case successfully resolved 70 per cent of the lemon law cases for complainants who authorised it to handle their claims. The unresolved cases were ongoing, dropped or redirected to the SCT.

The 1,521 complaints logged by Case were valid. It throws out those deemed unfair to the retailer. In one case, a customer tried to get a refund for a mobile phone that had become waterlogged due to his profuse perspiration.

While Case does not track how many cases are thrown out, Mr Seah said they are in the minority.

But Ms Helen Khoo, executive director of WingTai Asia which manages the Topshop and Dorothy Perkins brands, sees "one or two" frivolous demands a month. They had none before the "lemon law" came into effect.

One customer tried to return a bag with a broken handle on it. A check by staff found that the model was sold two years ago.

limjess@sph.com.sg

CONSUMERS MORE SAVVY NOW

"When there was no lemon law, it was more troublesome to get redress. More consumers know their rights now and are taking advantage of it."

- Case executive director Seah Seng Choon

How the 'lemon law' has worked.

Furniture

Ms M.K. Koh, 41, received a full refund for a chair she bought for $319 last year.

It was delivered with a crack on its armrest, but repeated attempts to get a refund failed.

"They kept saying they needed the boss to make the decision, and then didn't call back," she said. The firm agreed to refund only after the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) intervened.

Car

A used car started emitting a noise from its bonnet barely a month after sale, despite the salesman's assurance that it was in good condition.

Checks with a mechanic revealed that it had a gearbox problem that needed $4,000 to fix. After Case intervened, the car dealer agreed to foot $3,500.

The customer paid the remaining $500.

Mobile phone

Despite being given six months' warranty for a $50 phone charger, Ms Denise Wong (not her real name) could not exchange it when it broke after using it a few times. The seller, claiming it was the first unit reported to be faulty, refused to exchange or repair the item. Offers by Ms Wong to pay more to exchange the item for another one were turned down. With Case's help, the company agreed to a refund.


This article was first published on Feb 18, 2015.
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