What Is the Right to Repair?
The Right to Repair doesn't exist in Australia, but there are consumer guarantees that entitle consumers to repair faulty goods.
A consumer’s right to have their faulty product fixed at a competitive price is the right to repair. The right to repair does not currently exist in Australia, though it does in both the United States and Europe. The government is conducting an inquiry into this with the released report expected in October 2021.
Individuals are still able to have their products fixed despite the fact the right to repair does not exist in Australia. However, there is a lack of laws that enforce suppliers and manufacturers to provide the tools, parts, services, and information necessary to repair products. This has several negative consequences for both consumer protection and the environment. In this article, we’ll explain what the right to repair is and what it could mean if it were implemented in Australia.
The need for the Right to Repair
Enforcement inadequacies of current legislation
Though the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) provides legal protection through consumer guarantees, the law lacks necessary enforcement powers. The ACCC is unable to take legal action against suppliers or manufacturers refusing to repair products. This means consumers have to commence their own legal proceedings. This is impractical considering it’s cheaper for consumers to buy a replacement product than it is to pay legal fees. A Right to Repair could remedy this through necessary enforcement powers to ensure adequate consumer protection.
Anti-Competitive Behaviour and Consumer Protection
There are also concerns over consumer protection and anti-competitive behaviour. This is especially the case for big companies who prevent third parties from accessing the information or parts necessary to repair complex products. The Apple Genius Bar which enables owners of Apple products to have their iPhones fixed in-store is an example. Such practices could put consumers at risk of paying high costs. A Right to Repair would help to address this anti-competitive behaviour and increase repair options for consumers.
Finally, a shortage of repair options is damaging to the environment. For instance, the EastWaste management authority is concerned about the high quantity of repairable goods that are thrown away. Their submission says that computers, iPhones, and TV are making up the fastest waste stream. By establishing an enforceable Right to Repair it will be easier for consumers to save products that would otherwise be chucked into landfills.
Repair under the ACL
While we wait for the report’s release, the below guide explains the repair options available to owners of faulty products under the ACL.
When can I have my product repaired?
Repair as a remedy under the ACL
The ACL requires suppliers and manufacturers of goods and services to comply with various laws known as consumer guarantees. These include the guarantees that products must:
- Be of acceptable quality
- Be fit for purpose
- Match their description
A consumer can repair their product if there is a breach of a guarantee.
For more information, you can read our guide on ‘What are the consumer guarantees?’
Repair as a guarantee under the ACL
Section 58 of the ACL provides the guarantee to repair and spare parts. This guarantee requires the supplier to take reasonable steps to ensure that facilities for repair are reasonably available.
However, the supplier can escape this guarantee if they provide the consumer with written notice at or before the time the consumer makes the purchase, stating that such facilities or parts for repair are not available.
When can’t I get a product repaired?
A product cannot be repaired under the ACL if the failure with the product is major. A major failure is one which:
- Would stop the person from buying it if they had known of the problem
- Makes the product significantly different from the sample or description
- Makes the product unfit for its purpose
- Cannot be fixed within a reasonable time
- Is unsafe
- Can be multiple minor problems that would have stopped the person from buying it
Where the product fits any of the above descriptions, the consumer is unable to seek repair from the original manufacturer or supplier. This makes sense because the product is likely beyond repair anyway. Instead, the consumer is able to seek a replacement product or a refund.
For more information, you can read our guide on ‘When are businesses obliged to give customers refunds’
Also note: If a consumer bought the product from a private seller (such as a garage sale) or at auction, repair is not available.
Can I seek repair even if the warranty has expired?
Yes, consumers are able to seek repair after the warranty has expired.
For more information, you can read our guide on ‘Express warranties explained’
What if my product was a gift or I threw out the packaging?
Consumers who received a gift will have the same rights as those who bought the goods directly.
Sellers cannot refuse to repair a product if the product does not have it’s original packaging.
Overall, though the ACL guarantees repair of goods, it is quite limited in its scope. The lack of enforcement powers and concerns over anti-competitive behaviour makes the right to repair necessary for consumer protection. The public is likely to welcome the right and increased repair options, due to their growing environmental concerns.
Erina is a legal technology intern at Lawpath. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Laws with a legal futures and technology major at University of Technology Sydney. Her interests are in legal tech, commercial law, and Asian legal systems.