Consumer rights: Left out to dry with a washing machine that won't work

Prolonged problems with a breakdown-prone appliance and inadequate repairs / How to insure a flood-risk home
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The Independent Online

I bought a Hotpoint Aquarius washer dryer in November 2008 via the now-defunct Empire Direct. It had a 12-month guarantee. A few months later it slowly stopped drying – eventually just delivering a load of hot, soggy clothes.

An engineer came round and "fixed" it. Some time later it happened again. The engineer again fixed it, admitting that on his previous visit he had accidentally replaced the too-small filter with another one of the same size, so leaving me with the same problem of a furred-up filter. He also identified "a faulty connection" within the machine which he fixed, but he didn't record this on the paperwork and he ripped the kitchen floor when pulling out the machine. Because of the repair, the guarantee was extended by three months to mid-February.

On 31 March, the machine packed up altogether and shorted out all the electrical sockets in the house. Hotpoint said because it was no longer under guarantee I had to pay £105 for a call-out. When I jibbed at the price, they reduced it to £75. They also said I could pay £16-plus a month for 10 months, and this would cover the repair, all labour, etc, and an added 12-month guarantee. I said that was a lot to pay for a machine that had never been right, and they lowered the price to just over £13 a month. I agreed to this but I felt I was being held to ransom. I don't think there is anything fair in Hotpoint's treatment of a customer who bought their machine in good faith. Apart from anything else it has cost me a fortune in electricity, plus all the inconvenience and the ripped floor.

RH

North London

I understand your frustration but it would have been better not to have accepted the deal until you had taken advice. It sounds as if the machine was faulty from the beginning given it had a too small filter. Elizabeth Manford, an independent consumer affairs consultant, says: "Their engineer would appear to be less than 'competent'. If he failed to make the correct repair and also failed to record another fault, you should have had better treatment by Hotpoint. This is not what consumer affairs professionals would call adequate service."

A consumer adviser would probably have suggested you make a claim against the company on the grounds that the machine was faulty from the beginning and you have six years in which to claim in that circumstance. The guarantee is only part of the rights you have as a consumer and, given the age of the machine and that it's been the subject of several call-outs, the fault should have been put right by the company even though it was outside the guarantee period. Ms Manford says, "Customers are, quite rightly, expecting goods to last longer these days and when they don't they're invoking the six-year statute of limitation. It would be interesting to hear what a judge would say about this case."

However, given that you accepted the firm's offer it would be difficult to go back now and demand a different outcome. I contacted Hotpoint's PR firm and was told that you now have a fully functioning machine. Hotpoint also said: "The six-year law on the statute of limitation is the time in which a consumer has to bring a claim and does not suggest that goods should remain fault free for any specific period or hold the seller or manufacturer responsible if goods develop faults that were not present at the time of purchase; it is not the equivalent of a guarantee.

"As a gesture of goodwill, we can cancel the policy taken out by Ms H and ensure that no charges apply for the repair recently completed. However, she will lose the benefit of her extended warranty should any further repairs be required."

If the machine had a too-small filter on the engineer's first visit, it would seem reasonable to assume it must have been there when the machine left the factory, but I suspect you won't want to go to court over this. You therefore have the choice of leaving things as they are or accepting the above offer. Another avenue worth pursuing might be to contact the credit card company if you paid by card. The card company could be equally liable under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act as the original seller has gone out of business. Again, I think you'd struggle to get help there because of the "done deal".

If anything like this goes wrong in future, call Consumer Direct on 08454 040506 for advice even before you call the company concerned. It helps to be forewarned. And if the retailer who sold you the goods is still in business, they should be the ones you get redress from.

I'm buying a house and am trying to sort out my insurance. I've been having trouble getting quotes because the insurance companies say that the place is in an area in danger of flooding. The survey shows that the house has never been flooded so I'd really like to go ahead and buy it, but the mortgage lender won't lend unless I get my insurance through. Can you suggest anything I can do to persuade insurers it's not a bad risk?

PT

Worcestershire

If you keep trying you'll probably get your insurance cover, but you could pay up to 60 per cent extra. Some homes in flood-risk areas are virtually impossible to sell because of this. Have a look at the flood risk map – insurance companies use it to try to pinpoint which homes are at risk. Take a look at www.environment-agency. gov.uk or www.sepa.org.uk if you're in Scotland. You can also call Floodline on 08459 881188.

Check whether there are any plans to build flood defences in the area which could reduce the risk and possibly reduce the insurance premiums. Ask the sellers who they're insured by and ask that company for a quote. It's obviously willing to give the current owners cover so might well give you cover too. Ultimately, you'll have to decide whether any quote you get is worth paying. If you are facing a higher than expected annual premium and a higher excess on the policy, if you do have to make a claim you may change your mind and walk away. And there's the question of what happens when you come to sell. You may face a problem finding a buyer because they have the same difficulty getting insurance. www.moneyagonyaunt.co.uk

Do you need a financial makeover?

Write to Julian Knight at the Independent on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF j.knight@independent.co.uk

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