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Q: Can The Life Expectancy Of Furniture Be Calculated? What Consequences Does This Have When Apportioning Partial Refunds?

“The Code of Practice to which all our members adhere states that a retailer must “provide consumers with dependable products which are fit for the purpose of which they are bought”. Furniture purchases are typically ‘big ticket' items and a consumer will want to know that their furniture is made to last. We encourage retailers to supply accurate and comprehensive care guides. Likewise consumers should be educated to ask the right questions to ensure their purchase is suitable for them. This results in consumers receiving the right information to enable them to receive the best service possible from their furniture for the longest possible time”.

Judith Turner LL.B, ACIArb
Deputy Chief Ombudsman

A: Technically speaking, higher quality furniture should out-live that which is of a lower quality and this is a reasonable expectation on the part of a consumer. However, wear and tear is unavoidable regardless of the original quality. At the Furniture and Home Improvement Ombudsman, we consider that the life of the furniture can be pro-longed if the correct care instructions are followed.

Although this is a question which we are often asked by consumers and retailers alike, there is such ambiguity on the life expectancy of furniture, as this varies between product to product, that it is impossible to give a satisfactory answer. For example, consumers may expect a mattress to last longer than a sofa. Conversely, this again would vary depending on the quality of the item.

The six years within which consumers can potentially enforce their consumer rights can be a useful benchmark, but it is not an indication as to maximum durability since the law applies to a myriad of consumer products – from a Biro to a Bentley. What is the position, therefore, when a lower value item is sold which, it could be argued, would not reasonably last for six years or conversely when a very big ticket item might indicate that the item ought to last considerably more than six years? It will be important to look at the information which is available to a consumer to enable them to make their purchasing decision and what is reasonable in the specific circumstances.

This is also subject to any guarantees offered by the retailer or the manufacturer. If a mattress is sold with a ten year guarantee, therefore, it is surely reasonable to expect that with the appropriate care, it will last at least for the period of the guarantee.

What does the law say?

The implied terms state that furniture should be of satisfactory quality which does include an element of durability. Therefore furniture should be sufficiently durable in order for it to be fit for its intended purpose. The law also includes a reference to the price paid which can also, therefore, be taken into account.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 arguably places an even greater emphasis on the information which is available to a consumer and so we can see that care instructions and product specifications will be important evidence in assessing the potential lifespan of a product and how it should be maintained to ensure its expected longevity.

What happens if a known fault occurs prior to the six years?

If a fault is found, the law allows the retailer to account for the number of year’s usage the consumer has enjoyed prior to this fault, this is known as a partial refund.

How then, are partial refunds calculated?

Some furniture can quite reasonably be expected to last more than six year during normal usage (for example by virtue of its price, quality or guarantee period) whereas some items cannot reasonably be expected to last even half of this period. For example, if it is stated that a mattress should only last three years then a partial refund would be calculated on this basis, on the other hand retailers need to be aware of setting unrealistic expectations when specifying a guarantee period which could also be used to calculate a partial refund.

In conclusion, at the Furniture and Home Improvement Ombudsman we continue to take a practical stance on such questions, owing to the fact that there is no set number of years each item should last, and each case is judged on its own merit. However, the product, information relating to it and any guarantees will play a role when calculating the lifetime of a product.

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