Making everday products easy to repair

There is growing community concern that repairing everyday products is getting harder, with higher costs for consumers.

A draft report by the Productivity Commission on a ‘right to repair’ outlines some measures governments could take to assist consumers to get their products repaired.

“In general, consumer protections work well in Australia, but we are proposing some practical steps that could make it easier for consumers to get goods repaired and enforce the consumer guarantees,” Commissioner Paul Lindwall said.

The report found that many independent repairers find it difficult to access the spare parts, tools and information they need to repair products.

“There appear to be particular problems in markets for agricultural machinery, mobile phones and tablets, and we are seeking further information on this,” Commissioner Julie Abramson said.

One proposal canvassed in the report is to require that manufacturers provide independent repairers and consumers with access to repair information, tools and/or spare parts.

An additional proposal is to change copyright law to allow independent repairers to legally access and share repair supplies such as manuals and software diagnostics.

Although consumers already have considerable rights to have their products repaired, refunded or replaced under consumer guarantees, it can be very difficult for them to exercise these rights. “We are proposing that consumer groups be able to lodge super complaints about the guarantees, with these being fast tracked by the ACCC. We also recommend further powers be given to regulators to help consumers resolve their complaints with manufacturers or suppliers,” Commissioner Julie Abramson said.

Consumers should also have a clearer idea of the expected life of their product so they know when they can exercise their rights. The report proposes that guidance be developed by the ACCC in consultation with industry and consumer groups on the life expectancy of common household products.

It also proposes requiring manufacturer warranties to clearly state that if consumers use independent repairers, they will not lose their legal rights to the consumer guarantees, even if the manufacturer ‘voids’ the warranty due to independent repair.

“Not being able to easily repair products can lead to them being discarded as e-waste rather than being reused,” Commissioner Lindwall said.

Australia’s e-waste is small as a share of total waste, but it is growing relatively quickly and could be better managed. This could be done by amending regulated product stewardship schemes to allow discarded products to be repaired and reused, rather than just recycled. Use of GPS trackers would also allow Australia’s e-waste to be better monitored.

People can make comments or submissions on the right to repair inquiry at www.pc.gov.au . The final report is due to Government in October.

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