“A consumer bought garden furniture from us last summer and has just contacted us, complaining that the furniture has degraded over the winter and is now not fit for them to use for another summer season. We don’t think it will have been stored correctly. How should we respond?”
Claims relating to the performance of garden furniture are not uncommon for us to see at The Furniture Ombudsman when the better weather and Bank Holidays come around each spring. Many of our members sell garden furniture as well as their indoor offerings and their sales staff have to be equally knowledgeable about both. The scenario set out by the trader above is fairly typical of the claims we might see; a consumer has stored their furniture over the winter months and when they come to dust it off to use again, it has degraded in some way.
The Furniture Ombudsman will evaluate these complaints by looking at several factors:
- We will ask for photographs from the consumer showing the current condition of the furniture along with confirmation as to how it was stored over the winter. If they have photographs of the furniture in use last year, that can also be a useful comparator.
- We will ask the trader for care and maintenance instructions demonstrating the correct way to store the furniture and we will compare this with the consumer’s storage arrangements. We will ask, for example, were covers available and should a treatment have been applied?
- We will also take into account the age of the furniture. For example, if it is over 6 months old, the consumer will bear the burden of proof, whereas if the issues have arisen sooner, the trader may have to provide more evidence, such as an inspection report or manufacturer viewpoint to enable us to evaluate the claim.
The furniture is required to be fit for purpose, as described and of satisfactory quality under the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Therefore, if it is sold as garden furniture, it will have to be suitable for use outdoors. However, if the consumer is given information about treatments and protective measures, they will need to have complied with these instructions, so it is in everyone’s interest to ensure these are clear and proactively brought to the attention of the consumer, whatever the sales channel.
Waterproof vs Water Resistant
Another issue that can arise, particularly in relation to soft-garden furnishings, e.g. chair cushions, is whether they are waterproof or water resistant. The difference can be quite significant in terms of the consumer’s maintenance and care obligations. Symbols indicating this, whilst useful, might not be clear enough in the absence of explanatory text, so we would urge traders to check their product descriptions to ensure that the consumer has all the information they need – before it is too late and the product has degraded through their lack of care. Remember, information, where provided prominently can be relied upon if issues do arise later on.
If traders give advice verbally on care and maintenance, they should keep a clear, concurrent note of this and make sure that the consumer has a copy of it too.
If the consumer has failed to comply with the instructions, given the timescales outlined in the above scenario, they will probably not be entitled to a remedy.
If the consumer can demonstrate that they have complied with any storage or protective measures, they 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, the consumer would strictly speaking be entitled to a monetary remedy, being either a price reduction (only really appropriate if the issue was purely aesthetic) or full/partial refund (depending on the length of time the items have been in use). It should be noted that if the consumer has purchased the furniture as a “set”, any remedy should encompass all of the items, for example if the consumer’s 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 a consumer has lost faith in the product and/or the liability is not clear cut.
At The Furniture Ombudsman we look at claims in an impartial way to ensure that any remedy due is fair and suitable to the circumstances of the claim.
Legal Counsel & Head of ADR
The Furniture Ombudsman
Provision of Gardening Services