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When Ernest put John Lewis in a spin

After his washing machine developed a fault, retired barrister clashed with retail giant in an epic battle over his consumer rights

02 March, 2018 — By John Gulliver

Ernest James – held John Lewis to account

THE greatly lauded retailer John Lewis PLC met their match when they took on Ernest James over a complaint as a dissatisfied customer.

They had obviously not been aware that he was known as a bit of a nightmare for developers as chairman of the council’s planning committee. All that was in the 1990s before James retired from the council but I realised the other day that James hasn’t lost his touch.

John Lewis – who ought to have known better as a company run on the lines of a mutual society – clashed with James after he complained about a faulty a Bosch washing machine, bought in October 2014 for his Belsize Park home. He had bought it for £380.

Eighteen months later it began to go wrong – the door wouldn’t open unless James unplugged it and then waited about half-an-hour.

James, a retired barrister, knows a thing or two about contract law, but he also knows as a former man of the law about the risks of self-advocacy, so he contacted Which? Legal services for their help.

They made it clear that under consumer law John Lewis would have to pay for repairs.

Going to the top, James’ first letter was fired off to Paula Nickolds, managing director of John Lewis. Then amidst a flurry of emails between James and the “after-sales” manager of John Lewis, James was told he would have to pay for a Bosch representative to inspect the machine and possibly for a new part – all costing several hundred pounds. John Lewis refused to give him a refund, repair or replacement.

Battle commenced when James took John Lewis to a small claims court early last year. John Lewis prepared a defence. By then, the case had escalated in that it was scheduled to go before a High Court judge. A few months later John Lewis began to cave in. A Bosch engineer was called in and found a fault with the door lock and power module.

Within a short time John Lewis reversed their position and agreed to pay for the repair work. Annoyed that in his opinion the John Lewis team had been “misleading”, James sought damages – and was awarded several hundred pounds to cover his claim.

It turns out that consumer contracts are governed by the Consumer Right Act 2015 or the Sale of Goods Act 1979 which make it an implied term that the goods will be of “satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and match their description”. In James’ case the washing machine had not been of a “satisfactory quality”.

The important point to bear in mind as a consumer – according to Which? Legal – is that you have the right to request a repair or a replacement and that this has to be done within a reasonable time and be cost-free.

In England, this right can be enforced up to six years from the date of the breach and regardless of whether you have a warranty. It is also an offence to give consumers misleading information about their legal rights.

A mystery hangs over why John Lewis became embattled with James. Why weren’t they aware of his rights under law? Are their sales team conversant with consumer rights? Why do the John Lewis sales team emphasise to customers the benefits of guarantees or warranties – all at a cost – when their basic rights are protected by law?

James, now retired at 73, has done it again!

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