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‘Expiry’ date labels needed to guide Australians shopping for white goods and electronics, report finds

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<span>Photograph: MBI/Alamy</span>
Photograph: MBI/Alamy

Productivity Commission’s ‘right to repair’ report recommends a pilot scheme be adopted to advise consumers of durability of devices

White goods and electronics should be clearly labelled with repair information and “expiry” dates, according to a new report from the Productivity Commission.

The commission’s report on the right to repair found the labelling system should be piloted in Australia.

The commission has spent the past year reviewing the so-called “right to repair” in Australia and received more than 300 submissions and comments. Many consumers complained that companies were making it harder and more expensive to get devices repaired by anyone other than the manufacturer, and devices were lasting shorter amounts of time than consumers expected.

The most common issues with phones, for example, are smashed screens or the need to replace the battery. Increasingly, the commission heard companies like Apple and Samsung were making it harder for consumers to repair product themselves – or get repairs done by anyone but the maker.

Related: Right to repair: it should be easier for Australians to get phones and devices fixed, review says

The final report, released on Wednesday, found price was the major factor in people deciding between repairing or replacing a broken product. The inconvenience of getting a product repaired, and people wanting the most up-to-date device, were key reasons why people weren’t getting repairs done.

The commission found there was “mixed” evidence on whether products were having their lifespans shortened in order to encourage people to buy newer devices, stating while it could not be ruled out completely, it was probably not widespread. People were much more likely to choose to replace their own devices with newer products and, in some cases, products were becoming more durable.

The Australian government should trial a product labelling scheme within five years for products such as white goods or consumer electronics where people can see information on repairability and the durability of a product, the commission recommended. If the pilot is effective, it could be expanded to a formal scheme.

The commission also recommended warranty regulations be amended to state that right to remedies under consumer law do not require consumers to have previously used authorised repair services or repair parts.

While finding that existing Australian Consumer Law provides rights for people to get repairs or replacements for defective products, the commission has recommended changes, including requiring manufacturers to provide software updates for reasonable periods, to enable consumer groups to collect common complaints about certain products to lodge as a “super complaint” for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to investigate.

The commission recommended state and territory governments find alternative dispute resolution processes for people with repair issues, to avoid matters ending up in the courts, and that the ACCC be empowered to seek penalties when suppliers fail to provide remedies when required to do so.

The recommendations in the report are largely identical to recommendations in the draft released in June. However the commission has backed away from a recommended prohibition on warranty voiding clauses, or stickers placed on products that void the warranty if broken, arguing such a ban could increase the cost for manufacturers and consumers.

Since the draft release of the report, Apple has announced it will provide spare batteries, screens and camera parts for iPhones 12 and 13 to allow people to repair their own iPhones.

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