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New carpet fails test

A Marton man has won his Disputes Tribunal case over a faulty carpet that the retailer said wasn’t covered by warranty.

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Robert Alexander bought an extra-heavy-duty wool carpet from The Carpet Barn Hamilton in July 2008. Carpet Barn, which now also trades as Carpet Mill, sold the carpet together with underlay and installation at a promotional price of $9300, down from $13,000.

Soon after the carpet was laid, it began shedding fibre – and didn’t stop. The result was it started to look tired and worn. Carpet Barn arranged to get the carpet tested. But tests found it met industry standards for fibre loss and Carpet Barn advised Robert that no warranty claim could be made.

Given the carpet had been sold with an eight-year warranty, Robert believed it should have kept its appearance a lot longer than it had. Our consumer adviser Maggie Edwards agreed: “While the carpet passed the lab tests, the evidence suggested it didn’t meet the ‘acceptable quality’ test of the Consumer Guarantees Act. This test is based on what a reasonable consumer would expect based on the nature of the goods, the price paid, and any statements made about the product.”

Robert took his case to the Disputes Tribunal. The referee, who visited Robert’s home to view the carpet, found its appearance was unacceptable. He found the failure was substantial and said a reasonable consumer wouldn’t have bought the carpet if they’d been aware of the extent and nature of the problem.

While the referee acknowledged the carpet had passed the lab tests, he said these were “technical tests only” and didn’t replicate how a carpet performed when it was actually in use. According to the Carpet Institute of Australia, there’s no definitive test to accurately predict this.

The referee awarded Robert a refund less depreciation. His pay-out was $3450. But we think he should have got a full refund. The Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) says if a good has a major fault, the consumer can opt for a full refund of the purchase price. However, tribunal referees aren’t bound by the law: they must have regard to the law but aren’t “bound to give effect to strict legal rights or obligations”.

In cases like this where there’s a clear breach of the CGA, we think tribunal referees should be applying the Act in their decisions.

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