More consumers invoke 'lemon law' for defective goods

Top 3 industries complained about are cars, electronics and cellphones

More people are stepping forward to complain about defective goods, more than half a year after Singapore's "lemon law" came into force.

The law, which protects consumers against defective goods - or "lemons" - came into effect on Sept 1 last year.

The number of complaints regarding such goods plunged in the same month.

Back then, many had hailed the drop as a sign that businesses were starting to source for better products, or were more proactive in resolving disputes with consumers directly.

Now, it seems that this may not be the case.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) received 50 complaints against defective goods in December last year - the highest number since October 2011. Two months ago, in February, there were 48 complaints.

This contrasts with figures in September, when only 16 cases were lodged with Case.

The top three industries complained about in recent months: cars, electrical and electronic products, as well as mobile phones.

Case's executive director Seah Seng Choon said the jump could be due to an increased awareness of the law.

Last year, he said, was also marked by high sales of used cars as a tight supply of certificates of entitlement made new cars too expensive.

"Used cars are more prone to defects. Consumers are also more aware of the lemon law. They now know they are protected and are coming forward," said Mr Seah.

Under the new law, "lemons" reported within six months of delivery are presumed to have flaws at the time of delivery.

Buyers can then ask the retailer to repair or replace the item.

If the retailer fails to do so "within a reasonable timeframe or without significant inconvenience", the buyer can keep the product but demand a discount, or return it for a full refund.

If unsuccessful, the consumer can report the incident to Case, which can contact the retailer directly, invoking the lemon law.

The good news: Case's resolution rate has risen to 82.4 per cent since the lemon law was implemented, up from 74.7 per cent before that.

"Businesses are aware of the lemon law and are more willing to resolve matters. It also gives us more teeth to get the business to agree," said Mr Seah.

When contacted, some retailers said more people now cite the lemon law to demand exchanges and refunds.

"Some requests are reasonable, but others want to return items that are not even broken, then they talk about the lemon law," said Mr France Ee, 39, who works at Inbox International, a second-hand mobile phone and accessories store in Toa Payoh.

"I just tell them we don't entertain such requests," he said, adding that six people have cited the lemon law at the store in the past three months.

Furniture giant Courts has received a handful of "frivolous" demands.

"It's going to happen. If there is even a slight chance that they could be right, even if we think they are not, we just take their word for it," said Mr Terry O'Connor, chief executive of Courts Asia.

The new lemon law has also helped Mrs Jasline Chua, 35.

The sales manager tried to return a faulty phone charger she bought for $50 in December last year, but the store refused to do an exchange.

Said Ms Chua, who got a refund only when she approached Case for help: "When you go down alone, they just say no. There was nothing I could do. I will never go back to that shop again."

limjess@sph.com.sg