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    Feb 18, 2015

    Car buyers a driving force behind grouses

    CONSUMER complaints about defective goods have jumped since the so-called "lemon law" came into force.

    The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) received 701 such complaints from September 2013 to August last year, the second year since the law came into force on Sept 1, 2012. This is up 26.5 per cent from the 554 complaints received in the first year.

    The numbers look set to remain high, with 266 complaints already received from Septemberto the end of last month.

    Grouses from car buyers came up tops, making up 30 per cent of the 1,521 lemon law complaints received so far. A large proportion also came from buyers of furniture, mobile phones as well as electronic and electrical goods.

    The number of claims in these categories have also jumped over at the Small Claims Tribunals (SCT), which received 218 vehicle purchase-related claims last year - up from 135 in 2013, 104 in 2012 and 64 in 2011.

    A total of 249 claims were made in the electronic goods category, up from 82 in 2013. Claims for mobile phones rose from 249 in 2013 to 265 last year; that for furniture fell slightly to 280 last year, but was still higher than the 189 complaints in 2011 - the year before the lemon law was enacted.

    The SCT is usually the last resort for consumers saddled with defective goods, with many first heading to Case.

    Despite the rise, there were complaints that make up less than 0.5 per cent of the total number of goods sold in these categories, said Case executive director Seah Seng Choon.

    The lemon law is an amendment to the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act and the Hire Purchase Act, which gives consumers more protection against inherently defective products, colloquially known as "lemons". It requires retailers to repair or replace a product found to be defective within six months of purchase or give a refund.

    "When there was no lemon law, it was more troublesome to get redress. More consumers know their rights now and are taking advantage of it," said Mr Seah. He expects the number of complaints to fall over time, as retailers offer better quality products and settle disputes on the shop floor.

    This is the purpose of the law - to lift service levels and quality of goods sold here, he added.

    Case successfully resolved 70 per cent of the lemon law cases for complainants who authorised it to handle their claims. The unresolved cases are ongoing, which have been dropped or redirected to the SCT.

    The 1,521 complaints logged by Case were valid. It throws out those deemed unfair to the retailer. In one case, a customer tried to get a refund for a mobile phone that had become waterlogged due to his profuse perspiration.

    While Case does not track how many cases are thrown out, Mr Seah said they are in the minority.

    But Helen Khoo, executive director of WingTai Asia, which manages the Topshop and Dorothy Perkins brands, sees "one or two" frivolous demands a month. They had none before the lemon law came into effect.

    One customer tried to return a bag with a broken handle. A check by a staff member found that the model had been sold two years ago.