With the summer months, Bank Holiday and Jubilee weekends approaching, many will be focussing on their gardens and outdoor living to mark these occasions and make the most of the better weather ahead. This is usually the time of year when complaints may be made to the Ombudsman about garden furniture which was purchased the previous summer that has degraded over the winter and is now not fit to use for another season. The retailer may argue that the furniture was not stored correctly or that it was not treated or constructed in the right way in the first place. With sustainability at the forefront of everyone’s minds, the Furniture & Home Improvement Ombudsman looks at what your legal rights are and how you can make sure these items stand the test of time…
Claims relating to the performance of garden furniture are not uncommon when items are dusted off or retrieved out of storage each spring. Businesses will often sell garden furniture as well as and alongside their indoor offerings and their sales staff have to be equally knowledgeable about both. The scenario above is fairly typical of the claims that might arise; a consumer has stored their furniture over the winter months and when they come to use it again, it has degraded in some way.
These complaints will usually be evaluated by looking at several factors:
- Photographs showing the current condition of the furniture along with confirmation as to how it was stored over the winter. If there are photographs of the furniture in use last year, that can also be a useful comparator.
- Care and maintenance instructions from the trader, demonstrating the correct way to store the furniture to compare with the consumer’s storage arrangements. For example, were covers available and/or should a treatment have been applied?
- Age of the furniture can have a bearing both on the expected condition and performance of the furniture, the remedy and the level of evidence that you may be asked to provide.
The furniture is required to be fit for purpose, as described and of satisfactory quality under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Therefore, if it’s sold as garden furniture, it will have to be suitable for use outdoors. However, if you’re given information about treatments and protective measures, you will need to have complied with these instructions, so it’s in everyone’s interest to ensure these are clear and proactively brought to your attention, and if not, that you know what questions you need to ask before you buy the product.
Other issues can arise out of how the furniture is described, for example, waterproof vs water resistant, sustainably sourced wood etc. Traders should be checking their product descriptions to ensure that you have all the information you need before it’s too late and the product has degraded through lack of care. Information, where provided prominently can be relied upon if issues arise later on.
If you’ve failed to comply with the instructions may not be entitled to a remedy. If however, you can demonstrate that you’ve complied with any storage or protective measures over the winter months, you would, in the first instance be entitled to a repair or replacement. If a repair is possible, this might be the most appropriate route, for example, sanding and re-staining wooden furniture can offer a successful resolution which deals with the functional and aesthetic impact of ‘wintering’.
If a remedial remedy is not available, you’d strictly speaking be entitled to a monetary remedy, being either a price reduction (only appropriate if the issue was purely aesthetic) or full/partial refund (depending on the length of time the items have been in use). If you’ve purchased the furniture as a “set”, any remedy should encompass all of the items, for example if your table has deteriorated, any matching chairs will need to be replaced or refunded as well.
A practical remedy, such as a reselection to alternative furniture would also be worthwhile considering, particularly if you’ve lost faith in the product and/or the liability is not clear cut.
Checklist for buying Garden Furniture
- Check the product descriptions and ensure it is fit for your needs.
- Examine the assembly and storage instructions and make sure you can and do comply with them.
- Take photographs and notify the retailer of issues as soon as they arise.
Kevin Grix, Chief Ombudsman, Furniture and Home Improvement Ombudsman said, “Consumers who shop with businesses who are registered with our scheme, should have the comfort that if things go wrong after their purchase there is an independent organisation to turn to. We look at claims in an impartial way to ensure that the remedy is fair and suitable to the circumstances of each dispute.
“Our not-for-profit, government approved Ombudsman scheme, provides consumers with additional peace of mind and supports businesses and their customers in finding solutions when disputes occur, without the need for costly and lengthy litigation.”