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Inbuilt Obsolescence In Products Targeted By Productivity Commission Report

Products these days are built to break.

It’s a common gripe you hear, mostly by someone who remembers having their old fridge for a two-decade run back before Bob Hawke was ACTU leader.

It is true, though, that products are given a shorter life span on purpose — after all selling someone an updated product every few years is much better for business — and it’s something that Australian consumers have come to accept as a part of life.

But the ‘Right To Repair’ report, produced by The Productivity Commission (the Australian Government’s independent research and advisory body “on a range of economic, social and environmental issues affecting the welfare of Australians”) is taking aim at the murky laws around consumer product guarantees, and how long products are expected to last.

The report proposes guidelines that are made publicly available, that lay out how long a consumer can reasonability expect a certain type of product to last.

This will have huge ramifications.

Under a section named ‘Uncertainty about the durability of consumer products’, the report states:

“There is currently limited specificity in the ACL [Australian consumer laws] as to what reasonable durability is for various product classes — it is largely left up to the consumer and supplier or manufacturer to determine and negotiate an outcome. This uncertainty can lead to disagreement about whether a guarantee applies at all, or result in some consumers not seeking (or being offered) a remedy under the ACL.

“One area of uncertainty appears to be for high value products that the consumer has owned for some time (such as high value washing machines and other household appliances that break after several years) rather than for products that fail in a short period of time.”

The report goes on to suggest that greater clarity on reasonable product durability could be achieved by the ACCC  “developing and publishing estimates for how long products could reasonably be expected to last without fault.”

It suggests these would act as a guide, and could be developed in consultation with State and Territory ACL regulators, consumer groups and business groups – including those representing manufacturers and suppliers.

The report suggests a minimum time period a product is expected to last, and that “specific guidance could be developed for common household electrical appliances and white goods, within specific price ranges.”

This will vastly change the way that retailers and consumers think about product warranties. It will also do away with the extended warranty scam, too.

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