The Productivity Commission has released a Draft Report titled Right to Repair, calling to reduce barriers when it comes to the repair of faulty goods and accessing repair services at a competitive price.

The Report responds to growing concerns around products becoming obsolete and ending up in landfill prematurely, coupled with a lack of competition in the repairs market due in part to more sophisticated technology and embedded software in today’s products that can increase the cost and complexity of repairs.

“Although in many cases suppliers do not impose restrictions on consumers with respect to repairs, consumers or third parties are often prevented from being able to repair products due to a lack of access to tools, parts or diagnostic software,” the report states.

The Commission acknowledged that consumers already have considerable rights for product repairs, replacements and refunds under the Australian Consumer Law, but believes the guarantees could be improved. However, this would involve a range of policies including consumer and competition law, intellectual property protections, product design, labelling standards and environmental and resource management.

The Commission believes the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) could provide guidance on the reasonable period of product durability for common household products; regulators could be provided with alternative dispute resolution processes; and manufacturer warranties could state that consumers are not required to use the repairers or spare parts specified by the product manufacturer.

The Commission is seeking further evidence on other reforms, which may require manufacturers to provide software updates for a reasonable period, amend copyright laws to enable third‑party repairers to copy and share repair manuals, and access hidden repair data, and product durability or reparability labelling scheme to help consumers identify products that best meet their needs.

There is also scope to improve the way products are managed when they become ‘e‑waste’ by amending regulated product stewardship schemes to remove current incentives that focus solely on product recycling, rather than repair and reuse.

Choice: Consumers deserve more rights

Consumer rights advocacy group, Choice has welcomed the recommendations to make consumer rights more usable.

The Productivity Commission draft report recognises that a ‘right to repair’ is complex – it covers different laws and protections, from intellectual property to consumer protections, Choice senior campaigner, Dean Price said.

“Our consumer laws are clear – we have a right to a repair, refund or replacement within a reasonable period if a product fails. However, some companies fight customers every step of the way when they try to enforce these rights. The Productivity Commission is right that consumers need more options to escalate complaints when a company doesn’t play fair,” he explained.

“A super complaint system would allow designated consumer organisations to take systemic failures to consumer regulators across the country and require these regulators to respond in a timely way.

“Super complaints have worked successfully in the UK since 2002 and it would allow groups like Choice or community legal centres who work closely with communities to sound the alarm quicker when we see consumer harm.

“Providing consumers better guidance on durability is a welcome first step. The Productivity Commission has recommended that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) provide input into the development of this guidance.

“However, this guidance should be backed up by information on durability at the point of sale. People want to know how long a product will last when they’re shopping and the information should be as easy to read as water and energy efficiency labels.”