Right to repair rules will extend lifespan of products, government says

By Tom Espiner & Rebecca Wearn
Business reporters, BBC News

Washing machine Image source, Getty Images

Products such as washing machines, TVs and fridges should become easier to repair and cheaper to run under new rules coming into force.

Manufacturers are now legally required to make spare parts available to people buying electrical appliances.

The aim of the new rules is to extend the lifespan of products by up to 10 years and benefit the environment.

However, one company said that the new rules could make white goods more expensive.

The right to repair rules are designed to tackle "built-in obsolescence" where manufacturers deliberately build appliances to break down after a certain period to encourage consumers to buy new ones.

The new rules apply to products bought from Thursday, but manufacturers have a grace period of up to two years to make spare parts available.

Many consumers have complained that goods don't last long enough, then can't be fixed in the home.

Adam French from consumer group Which? said that electrical items end up in landfill too often "because they are either too costly or difficult to fix".

The rules "should ensure products last longer and help reduce electrical waste", he said.

Only parts for "simple and safe" repairs will be available directly to consumers, including "door hinges on your washing machine or replacement baskets and trays for your fridge-freezers", he said.

"Other parts that involve more difficult repairs will only be available to professional repairers, such as the motor or heating element in your washing machine," he said.

The government has also made changes to energy efficiency standards, which it has estimated will knock an average of £75 per year off energy bills, and cut carbon emissions.

"The tougher standards will ensure more of our electrical goods can be fixed rather than have to be thrown away when they stop working, putting more money back in the pockets of consumers," said energy minister Anne Marie Trevelyan.

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Fixing not buying will require a cultural shift

Analysis box by Colletta Smith, Consumer affairs correspondent

These new rules should bring an end to the frustration of having to throw away an item because a small part is no longer working and no longer in stock.

Often the seal around a fridge, the detergent drawer on a washing machine, or the runners on a dishwasher break. Rather than having to buy a whole new product, replacement parts must now be sold directly by the manufacturer for 10 years, whether or not they are still selling the complete item in their range.

This isn't a law about who is responsible for the repair. If it's still within warranty, then the manufacturer or the retailer should repair it, but after that, you are at least now guaranteed access to a replacement part. You'll probably have to buy it, and you may have to pay someone to fit it if it's a complicated internal part, but at least you should be able to get hold of it.

Having the right to repair is a step removed from having the confidence to actually attempt one, though. It's a much bigger cultural shift to convince people to fix it and not to fling it.

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Environmental expert Libby Peake, head of resource policy at Green Alliance, said that the new regulations "represent a small, first step towards giving people the long-lasting repairable products they want".

However, she said it was not accurate to say the new rules create a "legal right to repair".

"The government hasn't given consumers any such right, as the spare parts and repairability criteria are only directed at professional repairers, not at the people who own products," she said.

"There is also no guarantee that spare parts and repair services will be affordable, so considerable barriers remain to making this the easiest, default option," she added.

John Elliot
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John Elliot said white goods could become more expensive

'Race to the bottom'

One company said the legislation could make appliances more expensive. John Elliot, executive chairman of Ebac, said his business had always focused on the long-term reliability of a product.

"We don't look to make the cheapest washing machine. We look for one that's going to do the job and last a long time," he said.

The firm has been manufacturing dehumidifiers, water coolers and washing machines for five decades, at Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.

"Our focus is reliability - not just a low initial cost," Mr Elliot said. "The secret of a product that's easy to repair and long-lasting is in the design."

Overall, Mr Elliot said, the legislation will not make much difference to his business. But it will to competitors, who have been in a race to the bottom on prices for many white goods.

"I can't think of one example where we could not repair a product," he added. "I checked, and the oldest machine we repaired was 25 years old."

Engineer fix

Rob Johnson, operations director at repair business Pacifica, said that his firm was now hoping to recruit engineers because of the new rules.

The company already has 400 qualified engineers going into homes to fix about 6,000 appliances per week.

He said the legislation "gives customers real choice" about whether to repair or replace their product.

However, he said that business was still brisk for quick fixes to items such as dishwasher filters, washing machine seals and broken fridge or freezer doors.

Do-it-yourself repairs

People have different comfort levels when it comes to the thought of tackling home repairs on appliances, according to YouGov research for BBC News.

Men said they felt more comfortable than women in trying to fix appliances across the board.

Most of the appliances featured in the new legislation can be found in the kitchen. However, data suggests few feel comfortable taking advantage of the increased availability of spare parts.

Of the kitchen appliances covered under the new rules, Britons are most comfortable repairing their washing machines (22%) including some one-in-three men (32%) and half as many women (14%). But people are less comfortable with dishwashers (16%).