Consumer Rights in Spain - The Worten Experience
One of the advantages of buying products in Spain and the Canary Islands is that all goods that are sold come with a two-year manufacturers’ guarantee, regardless of where the product is purchased. In addition, shops are obliged to accept the return of an unused item if you change your mind, within a fifteen-day cooling off period. This is one of the reasons why I, as an expat, much prefer to buy expensive items in Spain rather than from the UK, which offers a measly one-year guarantee. However, there are some annoying exceptions, for instance, some high value and high tech products, although sold with the obligatory two year guarantee, are exempted from product returns within the 15 day period if the seal on the box has been opened, unless the item is faulty.
In addition, manufacturers selling goods in Spain have to ensure that spare parts are available for at least six years following the date of sale. Although little known by the general public, this law is designed to discourage manufacturers from suddenly discontinuing the supply of replacement parts for major products at short notice, leaving purchasers with no option, but to purchase a more modern item. This form of planned obsolescence is, in theory, not allowed in Spain.
I have friends who were recently faced with this issue when an expensive coffee maker failed and required a replacement part. The replacement part was no longer available and, when challenged, the suppliers were forced to supply an equivalent replacement product free of charge, even though the coffee maker was over four years old. Many consumers are unaware of their rights in this matter.
This becomes more complicated with extended warranties, which provide cover for major appliances, such as washing machines and freezers, when the manufacturer’s guarantee expires. There are insurance policies available for all major appliances from the better department stores, whilst some chains of electrical stores, as well as supermarkets selling electrical goods, offer purchasers the option to pay an additional fee to extend breakdown cover for a further 2 to 3 years. These add on deals often appear to be good value, or offered free, but as in most things in life, you get what you pay for, and some are hardly worth the paper that they are printed on.
In my own recent case, our three-year-old washing machine suffered a major breakdown. It was an expensive machine, bought from a well-known electrical store, Worten, which I have used many times before, on the basis that it would last longer than some of the cheaper models, and that I would have a reliable company behind the product. The manufacturer’s two-year guarantee had expired and I therefore had to rely upon the additional warranty that I had purchased with the machine, which was called 'Guarantee Extra'. I assumed that a telephone call to the store would bring a service engineer for the specific brand of washing machine to my home within a day or two. In reality, I had to wait for about a week before an engineer eventually appeared. The engineer was appointed by the store to repair and install a whole range of products, and was not a specialist engineer. The engineer gave the washing machine a cursory look, shook his head, and told me that the machine was a “right off” and if repaired the part would be very expensive. Permission would have to be obtained from the insurance company before the repair could take place and he would have to write a report, sending a full quotation of costs to the store.
Four weeks later, there was no sign of either the machine being repaired or a replacement machine being delivered. Many phone calls to an expensive phone number and emails led to unhelpful customer service staff telling me to wait yet “another ten days”, which eventually resulted in the same engineer returning to take away the machine for repair, without notice, or giving a receipt. He confidently assured me that the part was now in stock and that the washing machine would be returned within four days, and repaired free of charge under 'Guarantee Extra'.
It has now been four months since the washing machine broke down, and as yet there is no sign of a resolution or return of the washing machine, and in despair I have now bought a new one from another company. In addition, both the completion of the ‘libro de reclamaciones’ (complaints form), as well as reporting the issue to OMIC (the department responsible for consumer affairs at the Town Hall) has brought no resolution to the problem, so be very wary of the protection that these two so-called resolutions provide; I suspect that both approaches are little more than worthless bureaucracy.
Looking back, it would have been wiser to cover certain key appliances, such as washing machines, dishwashers and freezers, with a separate insurance policy through a named insurance company rather than through the add on 'Guarantee Extra' deal offered at the till. This would have given me the option to request service and repair from the authorised dealer rather than a local generic agent who dabbles in the repair and installation of a whole range of products. The experience has failed to give me confidence in purchasing large items from Worten again.
Generally, consumer protection in Spain is very good, but as in most things, we have to be careful, do our homework and accept that we usually get what we pay for.
A number of readers have contacted me since this article was published; it seems that I am not the only one to have this issue with Worten and their ‘Guarantee Extra’.
From the time that the washing machine was collected from my home, with no notice of intended collection or receipt given, there was no contact from Worten or the service engineer. Completion of the customer complaint form, as well as our insistence that the ‘Guarantee Extra’ should cover the repair brought no result.
In their defence, Worten claimed that the repair was outside the cover of the guarantee, although we were not given a list of exceptions when the guarantee was purchased. In addition, we were given four different reasons about what was wrong with the machine.
We referred the claim to OMIC, the Town Hall body responsible for dealing with consumer disputes. They agreed to contact the company.
We heard nothing for four months, until one day we received a telephone call from OMIC to visit their office for a “resolution”. This “resolution” was nothing more than a threat from Worten that we either had to pay them for the repair of the machine, or they would make a charge to return the broken machine back to our home. In addition, if we didn't comply, Worten would charge us one euro for each day that they stored the washing machine. OMIC didn't seem that interested in our protest, but said that they would respond to Worten on our behalf.
We finally contacted the manufacturer of the washing machine, who were very helpful. Even though the machine was well outside their guarantee, they agreed to intervene and speak to both Worten and OMIC on our behalf. This they did, and reached agreement with Worten to dispose of the machine, without cost to ourselves.
In conclusion, this was a worrying incident that did nothing to encourage us to shop with Worten ever again. The customer complaint process, as well as the OMIC intervention, appeared to side more with the trader than the consumer. Without the intervention of the manufacturer of the washing machine, I suspect that this issue would have necessitated the intervention of a lawyer, which would have exceeded the cost of the washing machine. Finally, in most cases, ‘Guarantee Extra’ from this company should be avoided, as they may not be worth the paper that they are printed on.