Navigating the complex landscape of warranties and consumer law can be a daunting task, especially when it involves vital assistive devices such as electric wheelchairs. We have recently come across a case where a pricey electric wheelchair came with only a one-year warranty for the chair itself and a six-month warranty for its battery and wheels. This raises important questions about the rights and protections consumers have under Australian consumer law.
In this blog, we aim to shed light on the nuances of warranties, the concept of ‘fit for purpose’, and the rights consumers have under the relevant laws in Western Australia. We believe in fostering understanding and knowledge, not pointing fingers. Our aim is to promote education and awareness for everyone – providers, retailers, and consumers alike.
Warranties vs. Consumer Law
It’s important to distinguish between a warranty and consumer protections under law. A warranty is a voluntary promise offered by the person or business who sold the product or service to you. Once you buy the product or service, the promise becomes a right that can be enforced under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) 1.
However, these statutory rights exist regardless of any warranty that the supplier chooses to offer. For instance, a product or service comes with automatic guarantees that it will work and do what you asked for 2. It’s essential for both consumers and providers to understand these nuances to ensure fair trade practices.
Fit for Purpose
Under the ACL, products must be ‘fit for purpose’—that is, they should do what they are ordinarily expected to do and any specific thing the consumer asked for. In the context of assistive devices, this implies that an expensive electric wheelchair should function effectively for a reasonable period of time considering its price, function, and the manner in which it is often used.
The ACL also affords protection to consumers by guaranteeing that the products will be of acceptable quality, meaning they will be safe, durable, free from defects, acceptable in appearance, and do all the things someone would normally expect them to do 3.
Acknowledging the Industry
We acknowledge that not all suppliers are aware of their obligations under consumer law. As such, some consumers might end up with products that come with insufficient warranties. It’s important to remember that while some cases may be a result of a lack of knowledge rather than ill-intention, it’s imperative that suppliers and manufacturers understand their responsibilities.
As an integral pillar of support, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is there to empower Australians with disabilities, along with their families and caregivers. However, it’s important to underscore the fact that the NDIS is not a monetary reservoir designed to absorb the costs associated with replacing assistive devices due to inadequate warranties. Rather, it is the duty of the manufacturers and retailers of these products to ensure they are delivering goods that comply with the rigorous standards enshrined in consumer law.
Everyone involved – consumers, providers, and retailers – needs a thorough understanding of warranties and consumer law in order to operate fairly and effectively. This can only be achieved through education and awareness. Therefore, we strongly recommend further reading and understanding of the Australian Consumer Law 4 and the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 5 for comprehensive knowledge on the matter.
Understanding your rights and protections under consumer law is essential, especially when purchasing expensive assistive devices like electric wheelchairs. While warranties offered by suppliers play an important role, they are not the only protection consumers have. Suppliers and manufacturers must ensure their products are ‘fit for purpose’ and meet the acceptable quality standards as per Australian law.
Please note, this article does not constitute legal advice. For individual situations, please consult with a legal professional.
- Australian Consumer Law – Warranties [https://www.accc.gov.au/consumers/consumer-rights-guarantees/warranties] ↩
- Australian Consumer Law – Consumer Guarantees [https://www.accc.gov.au/consumers/consumer-rights-guarantees/consumer-guarantees] ↩
- Australian Consumer Law – Products & services [https://www.accc.gov.au/consumers/consumer-rights-guarantees] ↩
- Australian Consumer Law – The ACL [https://consumerlaw.gov.au/the-australian-consumer-law] ↩
- Competition and Consumer Act 2010 [https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2021C00043] ↩