Ripped off and raging mad? Our new monthly Consumer Counsel is here to help

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The Independent Culture
Judith Gubbay, expert adviser on consumer affairs and former deputy editor of 'Which' magazine, has been fighting battles on behalf of buyers of goods and services, tackling everything from double glazing and gas bills to gastronomic disasters, for nearly 20 years.

Q: How long should I expect a CD player to carry on working? Mine went wrong after six months. It went back to the shop for repair three times, then packed up altogether, two months after the one-year guarantee ran out. The shop says I can't have my money back now because it took six months to go wrong in the first place. They say I'll have to pay for repairs - and I should have taken out their extended guarantee to cover repairs once the manufacturer's guarantee ran out. The system was one of the store's own-brand products, and cost about pounds 140. What can I do?

A:The shop was right to say that you couldn't expect a straight refund for something that gave you at least six months' use, but wrong to wash its hands of the matter. If the problem was caused by an inherent defect, your CD system was not "of merchantable quality" when you bought it, so you are entitled to compensation under the Sale of Goods Act. The fact that three repairs failed to fix it suggests that the fault that made your machine pack up completely was there from the start, in which case the shop must compensate you, preferably by repairing it, free, so you've got what you paid for - a CD player that works.

If they can't or won't repair it, find out what it would cost to get it repaired elsewhere, and ask the shop if they will pay the bill. If the machine is irreparable, you have the right to financial compensation instead - to the tune of, for instance, the difference between its current second-hand value and what it would be worth if it worked, plus something to make up for all the time you haven't had the use of it. Don't fall for that old line about "if only you'd taken out our extended guarantee" either. Why should customers have to add half as much money again (pounds 75 in the case of your machine) to the purchase price of their own-brand product to avoid the risk of it going expensively wrong once it has passed its first birthday?

Stick to your guns. Write back to the branch manager, asking for a proper repair. Don't give up if you get no joy straight away. Write again; try enlisting the help of the local authority trading standards department, and don't be afraid to let the company's managing director know how you feel.

Consumer Counsel will appear on the first Tuesday of the month. If you have any consumer problems of your own, please write to Judith Gubbay, Features Dept, the Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL or send a fax on 0171-293 2451. Answers will appear on the page only.

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