Spare parts and repairs: A right in Europe?

To reach the objectives specified in its Green Deal, Europe has taken measures favouring a circular economy such as eco-design standards, availability of spare parts or the right to repair. France is a pioneer in Europe on the circular economy and strongly encourages repair rather than exchange of defective products. This article presents the European measures as well as the measures in France and in other EU countries to encourage product repair.

Right to repair voted in the European Parliament

77% of Europeans would rather fix a device than buy a new one. To give them the means to do so, MEPs have set the right to repair as a 2022 priority. To make repairs systematic, cost-effective and attractive, they want to : 

  • Encourage consumers to choose repair over replacement, for example by extending guarantees or receiving a replacement device for the duration of a repair;
  • Inform consumers about '"repair scores", estimated lifespan, spare parts, repair services and availability of software updates;
  • Develop smart labelling, such as QR codes or digital product passports;
  • Make the manufacturer and seller responsible for non-conformity of products;
  • introducing durability and repair requirements in a future Ecodesign Directive.

The European Commission is due to publish a proposal on the right to repair by the end of 2022.

Manufacturers must provide spare parts

To ensure that spare parts are available within a reasonable period of time and at an attractive price, rules have been imposed on manufacturers since 1 March 2021:

  • Spare parts for refrigeration devices (refrigerators, freezers, wine cellars, etc.) must be available for 7 years after purchase.
  • Spare parts must be available for 10 years after the purchase of washing machines, dryers, and dishwashers.
  • Manufacturers must assure the delivery of spare parts within a waiting period of 15 days.
  • Manufacturers must provide to consumers a list of spare parts available on the internet.
  • Manufacturers have the obligation to clearly explain through the documentation the defects that may occur, how to carry out repairs, and their cost.
  • Manufacturers must guarantee that the parts of the appliance can be replaced with classic tools.

More information: The new measures of eco-design

The right to repairs in the European countries

Many European countries are currently considering this subject of circular economy and spare parts. An overview of the rules in various European countries, thanks to the ECC-Net.

The country is fighting tons of electronic waste with repair vouchers. These vouchers cover half of the repair costs for consumers up to a maximum of 200 €, encouraging citizens to invest money into repairs instead of throwing away broken electronic devices and buying new ones. The programme has been a great success in the capital Vienna since 2020 and was expanded to the whole country in 2022.

Belgium has reduced its VAT tax rate to 6% for small repairs of bicycles, shoes, leather goods, clothing, and household linens.

Croatia has transposed the Eco-Design Directive, which requires the supply of spare parts within a certain period (see above). 

The seller must ensure spare parts for technical products, motor vehicles and other vehicles during the commercial guarantee period.

There is no specific regulation regarding spare parts in the Finnish Consumer Protection Act. However, according to the Act, the product is defective when the product's service life is shorter than what could reasonably be expected.  If the trader is not able to provide necessary spare parts, the product is considered defective. In such a situation, the buyer may demand a reduction in the price that corresponds to the defect, or cancel the sale if the defect is not minor. Because the trader may be obliged to repair the product several years after the sale, this may encourage the trader to keep spare parts available for a relatively long time. 

In principle the consumer is allowed to choose whether to have the goods repaired or replaced. On the other hand, if the defect is minor and easily repairable, the trader is usually allowed to fix it. The latter starting point emphasizes sustainable consumption.

When it comes to defective products, France encourages circular economy including repair via various measures.

  • Information and availability of spare parts

Since 2022, the seller is obliged to inform the consumer about the availability but also about the non-availability of spare parts. If no information is given, the spare parts are presumed to be unavailable. The manufacturer or importer have 15 days (not 2 months as prior ) to provide the spare parts. For certain electronic and electrical products, spare parts will have to be available for at least 5 years from the date of placing on the market. In case of repair of certain electronic and electrical products, second hand spare parts may be used. Any technique, including via software, which makes it impossible for a device to be repaired or reconditioned by a repairer other than one authorised by the brand is prohibited. Any practice that limits a repairer's access to spare parts, operating instructions, technical information, or other tools, equipment or software for the repair of the product is prohibited.

In practice, it is the manufacturer or importer who informs the seller, who in turn must inform the consumer of the availability of spare parts. This obligation only applies to purchases in a shop, not to online purchases for example (although the seller is free to make the availability of spare parts a commercial argument and to indicate this on his website).

  • 1st european country to impose a repair index

​​​​​​Since 2021, there is repair index on 5 categories of product (smartphones, laptops, washing machines, TVs and lawn mowers). It will be extended to six new products starting November 4, 2022. Consumers are informed, at the point of sale, on the reparability of the product to purchase, based on 5 criteria.

  • The availability of documentation (e.g. technical manual with repair instructions)
  • The ease of disassembly of the product, the type of tools needed and the characteristics of the fixings
  • The commitment of the producer on the duration of availability of spare parts and on the time of their delivery
  • The relationship between the selling price of the spare parts and the price of the product
  • Sub-criteria specific to each product category concerned (e.g. the presence of a usage meter for washing machines)

This index is calculated directly by the manufacturer, who sends this score to the seller, who must then display it. This index is to be replaced by 2024 by a durability index which will include new criteria such as robustness and reliability of the product.

Propositions for a more reliable repair index:

- Each criterion has unfortunately the same weight in the final score, to the detriment of important criteria such as the availability of spare parts. For example, while smartphones and televisions score below average on the criterion of availability of spare parts, respectively 4.8/10 and 3.1/10, these families show commendable reparability indices of 7.2/10 and 6.6/10." A more decisive criterion should weigh more heavily in the final score. The weighting of the index should therefore be done by considering the importance of each criterion.
- The location of the repair index should be more precisely regulated. Indeed, on some e-commerce websites, it is easy to find this index affixed right next to the product advertisement. On other sites, it is sometimes a struggle to find it.
- For consumer to be able to fully benefit from this repair index, they should have an access to the detailed calculation grid, not only the summary with the final score. Producer commitments and actions explaining the allocation of points and the final score should be available to justify the scores awarded.

  • Visibility of repairers

The Ministry of Ecological Transition and ADEME have created a website longuevieauxobjets.gouv.fr, with all kinds of practical advice, news, tools for sharing objects with neighbours or diagnosing equipment breakdowns... But it's also, and above all, a directory that allows to quickly identify the professionals best able to meet the consumer’s needs, whether looking for an alternative to buying something new or a solution that will help avoiding throwing away something that could still be useful.

  • Change in the rules on legal guarantees of conformity

Consumers are encouraged to choose repair over replacement with a new product. For example, by suspending the legal guarantee of conformity while a product is being repaired. Or by granting a six-month extension of guarantee if a consumer asks a trader to repair the product. France even has a 2-year guarantee renewal if the trader decides to exchange an appliance instead of repairing it as requested.

  • Fight against planned obsolescence

Planned obsolescence is a punishable offence since 2015. And to limit programmed obsolescence of devices, and particularly smartphones, consumers also benefit from new rules concerning updates: consumers are now informed about the length of time their device will be able to withstand successive updates.

  • Repair fund

To reduce the repair bill paid by consumers, France wants to create a repair fund financed by the "polluter pays" system. Producers will have to join and pay a sum of money to a structure called "eco-organisation". This money will be placed in a fund that will be used to finance 10% of the cost of repairs carried out by certified/labelled professionals. Consumers will therefore pay less to repair their defective product that is no longer under guarantee. The repairer will have to take steps to recover the amount covered by the fund. The fund should be in place by the end of 2022 and will initially be used for the repair of electrical and electronic equipment.

Germany has transposed the Eco-Design Directive, which requires the supply of spare parts within a certain period (see above). 

In addition, consumers must be informed at the time of purchase which defects can occur, whether and how the product can be repaired and what the costs are.

Traders have also obligations to recycle more and produce less waste and take back old electronic equipment under certain conditions. They can no longer destroy returns of products that are almost as good as new.

Core measures:

- The fitness for use of goods must be maintained (e.g. through careful handling, storage, transport, donation of the goods, reduced sale of the goods, sale before the expiry date, etc.).

- If the goods can no longer be used for their original purpose, other uses can also be considered

- If the goods can no longer be used, recycling is preferable to destruction ("cascade of use").

- Already during the production of the goods, care must be taken to ensure that waste is reduced through production and use and that any waste can be recycled or disposed of in an environmentally sound manner ("product responsibility").

So far, these are rather voluntary obligations. 

The seller must ensure the supply of spare parts during the estimated lifetime of the product.

 

In Ireland, there is no obligation for the seller to inform the consumer about spare parts, but the law specifies that spare parts as well as adequate after-sale service must be provided by the seller for the period mentioned in the offer, description, or advertisement made by the seller.

The VAT tax rate for small repairs on bicycles, shoes, leather goods, clothing, and household linens has been reduced to 13,5%.

There is no obligation to inform consumers on the availability of spare parts, but the seller must inform the consumer if the goods are no longer produced.

Luxembourg applies a reduced VAT rate of 8% on small repairs on bicycles, shoes, leather goods, clothing, and household linens.

In Malta, if products purchased by the consumer need maintenance or replacement of parts, this replacement of parts and the appropriate repair service must be available within a reasonable waiting period after the delivery date. 

Furthermore, Malta applies a reduced VAT rate of 5% for small repairs on bicycles, shoes, leather goods, clothing, and household linens.

Poland has implemented a right to repair since 1 April 2021 with an obligation of spare parts for 7 to 10 years, depending on the product.

Poland applies a reduced VAT rate of 8% on small repairs on bicycles, shoes, leather goods, clothing, and household linens.

The manufacturer has the obligation to provide spare parts needed for the repair of goods for 10 years from the date of the placing on the market of the last item.

The professional has to provide assistance for registered goods for 10 years (not necessarly for free).

Portugal applies a reduced VAT rate of 6% for small repairs on bicycles. A reduced VAT rates for repairs on shoes, leather goods, clothing and household linen is under discussion.

The manufacturer must assure the supply of replacement parts during the estimated lifespan of the product.

 

In Slovenia, at the moment of a contract’s conclusion, the seller must provide a specific guarantee for certain technical goods that provides instructions for assembly and use, and which commits the seller to repair defects free of charge during the guarantee period.

The manufacturer must also, in exchange for payment, repair products and supply spare parts for at least three years after the expiration of the guarantee period. This after-sale service is guaranteed by the manufacturer itself or a third party.

Finally, Slovenia applies a reduced VAT rate of 9,5% on small repairs on bicycles, shoes, leather goods, clothing, and household linens.

Manufacturers are obliged to have parts to repair their products for 10 years after the product is no longer manufactured. They also have to provide a proper technical service during 10 years.

Sweden has reduced the VAT rate of 25% to 12% for repairs services for bicycles, shoes, leather goods, clothing and household linen.

Craftsmen are allowed to offer repairs on large electric appliances at prices up to 50% less expensive than the actual cost – the difference is paid by the state.

A tax deduction, the so-called “RUT- deduction”, applies to certain services within the households. The RUT-deduction means a tax reduction of 50 % of the labor cost for the service. Services covered are for example  repairing clothes, curtains, bedding and removable sofa upholstery. IT services in the consumer's home are also covered, e.g. to repair, install and maintain computers, tablets, game consoles, televisions and smart phones, as well as updating and installing operating systems and computer programs. 

The Netherlands have reduced their VAT rate to 9% for small repairs on bicycles, shoes, leather goods, clothing, and household linens.