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Who can repair your household appliances?

Broken kitchen appliances can be a real nuisance and some manufacturers can make it more expensive to get them repaired when something goes wrong. By trying to restrict repairs on their machine to their own repairers, some manufacturers are effectively freezing out the competition.

Unlike car manufacturers who have to share technical information with independent garages by law, electrical manufacturers are under no such obligation. This may mean that if you want your appliance repaired, you have to go through the manufacturers’ own repair team, something that could be much more expensive than an independent repairer.

According to our repair expert, Graham Dixon, for an independent repairer to fix any problem in some circumstances they will require information from the manufacturers to diagnose the fault, fix the machine and clear any fault codes. So, posing as independent repairers, we called the top twelve global appliance manufacturers and asked them for fault codes, technical information and safety bulletins to see who would be willing to share this.

Only one manufacturer, Beko, offered us technical information for free. Candy Hoover and Whirlpool would give us some information but at a fee. The other nine companies refused to give us the full information or were unable to help with our inquiry. Most of these manufacturers told us that they might be able to help if we phoned up with a specific problem so we asked Graham Dixon to phone up again, posing as a repairman who has just finished repairing a washing machine with a specific fault. Would they be any more helpful?

Unfortunately a number of these companies refused to help Graham fix this specific fault. Miele told him that they could only give information to their “own service partners” and despite whirlpool telling us they would provide us with information for a fee, they told Graham he would need the correct equipment which only a whirlpool engineer would have. Indesit also told Graham that he would need one of their own engineers to come out.

Their refusals to share information mean the customer would have no option but to get the manufacturers to send out their own engineers who can then charge whatever price they want. In the case of Miele that could be as much as a £129 minimum call out charge and nearly three times more than the £45 an independent repairer like Graham is likely to charge.

So what were their excuses for not sharing information? Miele told us “Obviously it’s a secret. It would be like phoning up BMW and saying you’re opening a garage can you tell me how to repair your machine, how to repair the car, you know…” which we know is not true. Bosch said they couldn’t give the information because of health and safety concerns and Indesit even explained that they don’t give out information to independent repairers because “obviously they’re going to make money off ourselves.”

We also discovered one other trick when you call the phone number on some of the manufacturers’ websites. Despite being told that you are through the manufacturers directly, on some occasions you are in fact redirected to Domestic & General, the UK’s leading warranty provider. Something they only tell you when you ask. This gives them the perfect opportunity to try and sell you one of their warranty packages.

Company responses

Bosch told us: We would like to reiterate that our policy is not to release technical information to callers as we cannot verify their qualifications to utilise the information in the correct way. Releasing or discussing fault codes or repair instructions over the phone with unknown individuals could be considered irresponsible and render us liable in the event that an unqualified person injured themselves or others when using said information.

We do try to provide some limited assistance as you experienced when one of your researchers contacted our help line. However it is all too common for members of the public to attempt the same when conducting their own repairs and clearly this creates potential safety issues that we simply cannot condone or support.

When we can validate the qualifications of the caller, we do offer full assistance. This is the case, for example, with Gas Safety Registered repairers working on Gas products. In this instance we validate their details online at the beginning of the call and offer full advice within the limits of their qualifications.

As with all enquiries to our Technical Line, we reserve the right to charge a small administration fee for the release of information however, in reality this is very rarely applied.

We work hard to ensure that we offer a repair service commensurate with the quality of our brands. In addition to our own repair service, we work with 46 authorised repairers across the UK & Ireland. Outside of this recognised network, customers are of course at liberty to choose any of the multitude of repairers that operate freely across the country.

As your investigation found, our staff were as helpful as possible and did try to help when asked for specific information and fault codes within the guidelines of our policy. However, as I have outlined above, I believe that we manage this information responsibly.

As part of our company infrastructure we employ over 300 dedicated engineers who are based across the UK and are responsible for carrying out booked repairs for customers whose appliances may be in or out of warranty. Bosch Home Appliances also work with a substantial network of independent appliance repairers who have been trained to repair Bosch Appliances. Increasingly, the technical nature of Bosch Home Appliances means that we need to ensure any repair carried out, is done safely and that a fault is accurately identified and repaired for the appliance to continue performing as intended. This is not solely for the safety of the repairer but also for the customer. May I draw your attention to the fact that within home appliances there are live electrical connections and or water connections – in some cases both. It’s imperative that appliances are fixed and maintained by qualified and knowledgeable engineers.

In response to the specific questions you asked within your letter please see the below points.

1) Why does Bosch not allow independent repairers access to the advanced technical information, fault codes and information on resetting machines to allow the ability to fix all faults across the full range of products?

When any Independent repairer calls with a specific fault code or fault on an appliance we cannot talk him through the repair process as we cannot accurately diagnose a fault over the phone and cannot verify the repairers’ qualifications or ability to carry out the repair safely. However, if an independent repairer requests specific information such as wiring diagrams or coding information we are able to provide this at a small administration fee. We do not produce or release technical information for general consumption.

Indesit told us: Indesit provides information, parts and tooling, to enable independent repairers to diagnose and fix the vast majority of faults that may arise. However, some information is not available for reasons of health and safety linked to product liability or because certain types of repair are either not technically feasible or economically viable.

Requests for such information are usually made via industry associations and businesses, employing independent engineers, with which we have a direct trading relationship. Thank you for supplying further information regarding the calls, which were made to our Customer Service and Trade Parts Teams. As a result of your feedback regarding these calls we will review our procedures to ensure that enquiries are passed to appropriately trained staff who can deal with them in accordance with our policy in this area.

As you are aware Indesit Company cooperated fully with the OFT investigation that was undertaken in 2011 to examine the functioning of aftermarkets for domestic electrical goods (DEGs).* It concluded “there is no evidence that manufacturers have foreclosed the market for DEGs repairs by imposing restrictions on independent repairers' ability to access spare parts or technical information.”

Finally, we should like to emphasise that we aim always to treat our customers fairly.

*Aftermarkets for Domestic Electrical Goods OFT April 2011. Findings on aftermarkets and the launch of a short market study into extended warranties.

Miele told us: At Miele we are committed to offering the highest standards of customer care throughout the entire lifetime of an appliance. Miele has some of the most technically developed products in the market and to support this we have a service partner network of independent repairers based throughout the UK, which work alongside our own field service technicians to support our customers. Our network of independent repairers have full access to all our technical information, and all repairers are able to apply to join our network.

We offer extensive product training to those independent technicians within our network, in order to ensure they offer the best and most up to date knowledge to Miele customers. We also ensure that they have the correct safety and electrical qualification to support us, and more importantly our customers.

The design and construction of our products means that we have a technical aspect to the product which requires technical training in order to safely work on it. For example, we have electronic controls systems which require the use of a laptop and software to communicate with the products. These have to be trained and supported.

Miele would be unable to support independent repair companies outside of our network with the level of training and electronic documentation required to support our products, or ensure delivery of the high level of service expected by Miele customers.

Whirlpool told us: We have investigated your queries and have the following answers, which I hope will help in your reporting to the consumer on behalf of Whirlpool.

When we called to ask for full technical information and fault/reset codes we were informed that as an independent repairer we could purchase access to technical information for a fee.

Whirlpool UK does ask for a fee to purchase the information because it is passing on a cost that Whirlpool has to pay to administer and control the web based system. This information is held within our own system which needs to be controlled and administered to give the right access, to the right products per country and is similar to a licence fee. Therefore we ask for a fee of £120.00 which is valid for one full year.

However, on calling with a specific problem we were told that even if we had bought a genuine Whirlpool spare part a Whirlpool engineer would have to be called out to run a test programme to get a machine running again, and only a Whirlpool engineer would have the correct equipment for this task.

We select and assess our independent repairers rigorously to ensure that they are equipped with the correct tools and have the right training. For example if a circuit board should fail the untrained independent would not have the right tool to access and re-programme the board. They would not be able to fix it and suggest replacing the board, which would be unnecessary and wasteful, costing the consumer additional expense as well as another visit. At every opportunity it is our aim is to avoid multiple interventions and to improve our customer service.

Additional questions:

Why does Whirlpool not allow independent repairers access to the advanced technical information and equipment to allow the ability to fix all faults across the full range of products?

It is not that we don’t allow access we see it as highly important that we are vigilant and control access. We allow some independent repairers access and they can buy the information; this is in an effort to ensure the quality of the repair and that they have the correct tools to do the job properly and correctly.

We take our service requirement extremely seriously and therefore select who is eligible to receive the information. We are trying to avoid ‘’multiple intervention’ where an unsuitably equipped or untrained engineer cannot fix the problem on the first visit and therefore has to return time after time. It is confirmed from our research that multiple service visits are a considerable irritant to the consumer and we are trying hard to eliminate this. Our objective is to have controlled access to the technical information to ensure a high quality repair, avoid multiple interventions and pursuing a first time fix.

Why does Whirlpool offer access to technical information for a fee but not allow independent repairers access to the equipment required to carry out all repairs?

As previously stated we meticulously select and train our independent repairers. They are equipped with the correct tools so they can access and repair the appliance in the minimum amount of time. For example one of the criteria for an independent repairer is to have an Esam tool. The untrained independent would not have this tool and would mean a second call-out and therefore additional cost for the consumer. Or the other scenario is they would not be able to fix it and suggest replacing the board, which would be unnecessary and wasteful, costing the consumer additional expense and another visit.

Domestic & General told us: Domestic & General say customers are under no obligation to take up their repair and protect option, which offers many advantages over a standard repair. Further, all customers who choose to purchase a plan are clearly informed that it is provided by Domestic & General.

Electrolux told us: We confirm that Electrolux does have an agreement with Domestic & General to provide specific warranty services for our organisation and we have worked in partnership with Domestic & General for many years successfully offering peace of mind repair and warranty solutions to the end consumer.

When customers contact our Electrolux Customer Care they can, depending on the service they require, be transferred to the Electrolux team that Domestic & General operate on our behalf.

Without knowing the specific details of the telephone calls you made it is difficult for us to comment on whether we need to address, through training or process, any issues in relation to how we handle enquiries of this nature that reach either the team mentioned above, our own direct employees or any other third party organisations that provide a service on our behalf.

Electrolux does not consider that it restricts the availability of technical information to independent servicing and repair organisations. We believe that the different types and levels of technical information, ranging from parts identification to detailed wiring diagrams and service manuals, are widely available. We provide technical information through our Electrolux Trade website, as well as directly on request.

Electrolux promotes and recommends that the public use our authorised network of indirect service providers as they provide technicians that have been trained on our products and use genuine spare parts when repairing appliances.

Where an individual or organisation which is not part of our authorised network requires technical information we may request that they confirm their competence and any applicable company information before providing information.