When an electrical appliance breaks down, it is often easier and cheaper to replace it than to repair it. In order to counteract this, to combat excessive consumption and to achieve the objectives of the "European Green Deal" (climate neutrality of the EU by 2050), the European Union wants to systematically encourage the repair of products. To this end, the European Commission presented a proposal for a directive on the right to repair on 22 March.
- 77% of EU citizens would rather have their electrical equipment repaired than thrown away.
- We explain what manufacturers and importers have to do under this regulation.
- We give examples of what EU countries are doing to make repair attractive to consumers.
For appliances that break down within two years of purchase in the EU, consumers can currently ask the seller to repair or replace the product under the legal guarantee. If neither is possible, the consumer is entitled to a refund. The proposed directive would give priority to free repair over replacement for products still under warranty. On condition that the repair is not more expensive than the replacement.
For defective equipment that is no longer covered by the warranty, the proposal requires the manufacturer to offer to repair the equipment in most cases. Or, if the manufacturer is not established in the EU, for the importer. However, this only applies to certain product categories (e.g. refrigerators, washing machines, telephones, televisions) that are "technically repairable" and as long as the specific repair is possible. How long after purchase the repair must be offered depends on the type of product and is likely to be between 5 and 10 years. In this case, however, the cost of the repair will be paid by the buyer.
To make it easier for consumers to find a repair shop, all EU Member States should also set up a free online platform.
Finally, a Europe-wide standardised form will be introduced to inform consumers about the price and conditions of the repair, thus promoting competition. The form will have to be handed out before a product is ordered for repair.
The proposed directive still has to be passed by the European Parliament and the EU Council in the coming months. In order for it to lead to an effective right to repair, the European Consumer Centre Germany demands
- An obligation to repair all types of products within a certain period of time,
- a precise definition of the cases in which repair is "impossible",
- Adherence to the idea of a digital product passport with more consumer information on repairability, social and environmental footprint, supply chain as well as legal rights and commercial guarantees,
- Clarifying whether these rules apply to software.
The current proposal is an important first step towards a right to repair.
However, according to the European Consumer Centre Germany, the draft does not go far enough in some areas. In particular, the draft only extends the repair obligation to products covered by separate ecodesign regulations. However, a large part of the electrical equipment sold is not covered by such a regulation. Therefore, the obligation does not yet apply to them. This is bad for consumers and the environment.
Belgium has reduced the VAT rate on small repairs to bicycles, shoes, leather goods, clothing and household linen to 6%.
Germany has implemented the Ecodesign Directive, which requires the delivery of spare parts within a certain period of time.
Consumers must also be informed at the time of purchase about what defects can occur in the product, whether and how the product can be repaired and how much the repair will cost.
Retailers are obliged to recycle more, produce less waste and take back old electronic equipment under certain conditions.
They are also not allowed to destroy returned products that are almost as good as new.
The Finnish Consumer Protection Act considers a product to be defective if its life is shorter than could reasonably be expected.
The trader may therefore be obliged to repair the product even several years after it has been sold.
This measure encourages him to keep spare parts available for a relatively long time.
Obligation to provide information on the availability of spare parts
From 2022, sellers are obliged to provide information on the (non-)availability of spare parts. If no information is given, it is assumed that the spare parts are not available. The consumer can then make his purchase decision on this basis.
The manufacturer or importer has 15 days to supply the spare parts. For certain electronic and electrical products, spare parts must be available for at least 5 years from the date the product was placed on the market.
Second-hand spare parts may be used to repair certain electronic and electrical products.
Any action, including software, that makes it impossible to repair or recondition a device by a repairer other than one authorised by the brand is prohibited.
Any business conduct that restricts a repairer's access to spare parts, manuals, technical information or other tools, equipment or software that enable the product to be repaired is prohibited.
In practice, it is the manufacturer or importer who must provide information on the availability of spare parts. This obligation only applies to purchases in shops, not to online purchases.
Mandatory repairability index
From 1 January 2021, a repairability index will be mandatory for five groups of household and electronic products (washing machines with portholes, smartphones, laptops, televisions, electric lawnmowers).
This index provides information on the repairability of the product.
Whether you buy these products in a shop in France or on the Internet, the repairability index must be displayed on the product or its packaging and at the point of sale, or next to the price if it is sold online, on a French or foreign website if it is aimed at French consumers.
Specifically, it is a uniform coloured pictogram with a rating from 1 to 10. A rating of 1 means that your appliance is difficult to repair, while a rating of 10 means that the appliance is easy to repair.
The index is calculated according to a scheme laid down by the relevant ministry: Availability of spare parts and documentation (e.g. technical manual), delivery time of spare parts, their price in relation to the selling price of the product, ease of disassembly, etc.
Good to know: The manufacturer or importer assigns this index and communicates it to the salesperson, who in turn must inform the customer.
The accuracy of the assigned grade can be verified by the competent authorities.
The Repair Index will soon be extended to other product categories and, from 2024, will be developed into a Sustainability Index, taking into account new criteria such as the robustness or reliability of products.
Visibility of repairers
The French ministry responsible has a website where you can find a professional who will repair, recycle, buy back or offer another solution to extend the life of products.
The website also offers practical tips on responsible shopping, tools or items to share with your neighbours, and much more.
To encourage the repair rather than replacement of defective products, the limitation period for statutory warranty rights is suspended while your product is being repaired, or extended by 6 months if you choose to have it repaired.
If the seller replaces the appliance instead of repairing it as you requested, the period of validity of the warranty rights is even extended by 2 years.
Prohibition of planned obsolescence
Planned obsolescence is defined as "the use of techniques by which the person responsible for placing a product on the market deliberately seeks to shorten its life in order to increase the rate of replacement" (Article L.441-2 of the Consumer Code).
Also prohibited in France are:
- any technique, including software, intended to make it impossible to repair or repackage an appliance (Article L.441-3 of the Consumer Code)
- any agreement or practice aimed at restricting a repairer's access to spare parts, instructions for use, technical information or any other instrument, device or software enabling products to be repaired" (Article L. 441-4 of the Consumer Code).
Planned obsolescence is considered a deception punishable by up to two years' imprisonment and a €300,000 fine (article L 454-6 of the Consumer Code).
To limit the planned obsolescence of equipment, particularly smartphones, you need to know how long your device can withstand successive updates.
Creation of a repair fund
In order to reduce the amount of repair costs borne by consumers, France intends to set up a repair fund financed by the polluter-pays principle.
To this end, manufacturers will have to join the so-called "ecological organisation" and pay a sum of money to it.
This amount will be paid into a fund that will finance 10% of the cost of repairs carried out by certified professionals.
Consumers therefore pay a little less for the repair of their defective product, which is no longer covered by the legal warranty because the time limit has expired.
The repairer will have to arrange for this 10% to be paid from the fund.
The fund is to be set up by the end of 2022 and will initially be available for the repair of electrical and electronic equipment.
There is no obligation to provide information on the availability of spare parts, but the seller must inform the consumer if the goods are no longer manufactured.
In Ireland, sellers are not obliged to inform consumers about the availability of spare parts.
However, if the seller indicates in the offer, advertisement or description of the product that spare parts and adequate after-sales service will be available for a certain period, the consumer may rely on this.
The VAT rate for small repairs to bicycles, shoes, leather goods, clothing and household linen has been reduced to 13.5%.
Croatia has transposed the Ecodesign Directive, which requires the supply of spare parts within a certain period.
The seller must provide spare parts for technical products and vehicles for the duration of the manufacturer's warranty.
Luxembourg has reduced the VAT rate to 8% for small repairs to bicycles, shoes, leather goods, clothing and household linen.
If products require servicing or parts replacement in Malta, this must be done within a reasonable time from the date of delivery.
Malta also applies a reduced VAT rate of 5% on small repairs to bicycles, shoes, leather goods, clothing and household linen.
The Netherlands has reduced the VAT rate on small repairs to bicycles, shoes, leather goods, clothing and household linen to 9%.
To fight e-waste, Austria has introduced repair vouchers.
Consumers who want to have their old appliances (including smartphones) repaired can obtain these vouchers, which cover half of the repair costs up to a maximum of 200 euros.
Depending on the product (washing machines, refrigerators, monitors, etc.), Poland has introduced a right to repair with a replacement obligation for 7 to 10 years from 1 April 2021.
Poland also applies a reduced VAT rate of 8% on small repairs to bicycles, shoes, leather goods, clothing and household linen.
The manufacturer is obliged to supply spare parts for 10 years from the date of placing on the market.
Portugal applies a reduced VAT rate of 6% to small repairs of bicycles, shoes, leather goods, clothing and household linen.
In Slovenia, when a contract is concluded for certain technical goods, the seller must provide a special guarantee which includes instructions for assembly and use and obliges him to ensure that defects are repaired free of charge during the guarantee period.
The manufacturer must also repair the products and supply spare parts against payment for at least three years after the end of the warranty period.
This after-sales service may be provided by the manufacturer itself or by a third party.
Finally, Slovenia applies a reduced VAT rate of 9.5% to small repair services for bicycles, shoes, leather goods, clothing and household linen.
Manufacturers must provide spare parts and technical service for 10 years after the product has been discontinued.
Sweden has reduced VAT on the repair of bicycles, shoes, leather goods, clothing and household linen from 25% to 12%.
For large electrical appliances, craftsmen are allowed to offer repairs at 50% below the actual cost, with the difference paid by the state.
Swedish consumers can also receive a 50% tax reduction if they can prove that they have carried out repairs to clothing, curtains and bed linen, as well as repairs, installation or maintenance of IT equipment (computers, tablet PCs, game consoles, TVs, smartphones) at home, and updates or installation of operating systems and computer programs.
Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Innovation Council and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Executive Agency (EISMEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.