Lemon law is about lemons but not the citrus variety. Lemon law dates to a time when buying a car with plenty of defects from an unscrupulous trader was referred to as buying a ‘lemon’.
Lemon has long been a British slang term or colloquialism for a defective item, and whilst it is rather old fashioned now – “he’s sold me a lemon” – as far as the legislation in Singapore is concerned, the name has stuck.
Lemon law now has a reach far beyond its antecedents and doesn’t just apply to cars in Singapore.
What is lemon law in Singapore?
Lemon law protects consumers against unfair practices if they purchase defective goods or items which do not conform to the contract. Meaning, they are not as described.
Whilst the phrase ‘lemon’ may have originally referred to cars, Lemon law in Singapore now extends to all defective products with just one or two specific exceptions.
The relevant statute is the Consumer Protection Fair Trading Act (CPFTA) which has been in place since 2012.
What does Lemon law entitle the consumer to do?
Lemon law allows the purchaser of a defective product to make a claim for a replacement item or a refund within six months of the purchase date.
The definition of a defective product
In consumer protection, defective can cover a range of problems relating to an item’s safety, function, or value. A defective product can be faulty or unsafe, but it also includes items that don’t comply with the description or purchase agreement at delivery time.
Some general examples of defective goods include:
- The product doesn’t match the advertised description.
- The merchantable quality is substandard, inferior, or not as described.
- The functionality is not as advertised, so it cannot be used for the purpose for which it was purchased.
What is not a defective product and falls outside lemon law?
Not every product or service that fails to deliver can give rise to a claim under lemon law. Here are some examples of items that the legislation won’t cover.
- The item failed due to natural wear and tear.
- The purchaser was advised of the defect by the seller but went ahead and bought the product anyway.
- The purchaser finds the product is not designed to do what he wants, which is an error made by the consumer before the transaction and not the seller’s fault.
- The consumer didn’t use the product in line with the sellers/manufacturer’s guidelines and/or provided improper care, storage, or unauthorised repair.
There are also certain items or products which don’t fall within Lemon law due to their type. Lemon law doesn’t cover consumer transactions relating to:
- Rental goods which are outside a hire-purchase agreement
Transactions that fall within lemon law
Lemon law protects private individuals as consumers, so the purchase of goods must not be made as part of a business transaction from the buyer’s perspective. The seller must be a commercial trader supplying a product as part of their business. Business-to-consumer transactions are often labelled B2C.
Lemon law won’t cover private purchases on consumer marketplaces on social media or platforms such as Lazada or Shopee. A private individual could still be buying from a business seller, but if they don’t manage their business on these websites, then the transaction will be classified as consumer-to-consumer.
A business to business (B2B) transaction is between two businesses; Lemon law does not protect these transactions.
Lemon law only applies to goods and products purchased after 1 September 2012.
What happens when a consumer purchases a defective product covered by lemon law?
Lemon law requires the seller to repair or replace the product if appropriate within a specified period; this could be under the product warranty if the item has one that is valid and still in date.
If a repair or replacement is impossible, the seller can offer a partial or full refund. A partial refund may reflect the fact that the buyer has had some use for the product before it became faulty or failed.
If the consumer receives a full refund, they must return the defective product. The buyer usually keeps the product if the refund is only for part of the item’s value.
Sometimes repairs can be uneconomic if they are very labour intensive, and it can be cheaper to simply replace the item.
Next steps for the consumer
Several options are open to a consumer with a faulty or defective product that falls under lemon law. However, before considering court action or other interventions, the consumer should approach the vendor, alert them to the problem, and give them time to put it right.
Negotiating with the seller is the quickest and cheapest way to resolve the problem.
Consumer Association of Singapore (CASE)
The Consumer Association of Singapore can help buyers struggling to negotiate with the seller. They also advise and assist with filing claims.
Small Claims Tribunal (SCT)
The Small Claims Tribunal is a quick and cheaper alternative to the civil courts and covers claims up to S$20,000 in value or S$30,000 if you and the seller agree.
SCT cases cannot have legal representation, so there are no costs awards or expensive legal fees. However, some people take legal advice on presenting their claim (this is allowed; it’s just legal representation at the hearings, which is not allowed), in which case, they will be responsible for paying those charges.
Buyers who are not getting anywhere with the seller can also opt to file a complaint with Enterprise Singapore, which oversees the Consumer Product Safety Office (CPSO) and ensures consumer products’ safety in Singapore.
Enterprise Singapore has the power to order a seller to stop their business plus impose a fine of S$2,000, a prison term of twelve months, or both.
A buyer can take his case to the civil courts. The SCT is not an option for items valued over S$20,000 at purchase.
Can the seller mount a defence to a consumer claim under lemon law?
Lemon law presumes any defects found in the product within the first six months were present when it was purchased. It is for the seller to demonstrate this is not the case which can be challenging.
A more likely (and valid) defence to the buyer’s lemon law claim would be the buyer has not used or stored the product correctly or made unauthorised repairs.
Final thoughts on Lemon Law in Singapore
Lemon law protects consumers when purchasing most products and goods in Singapore. Understanding how the law works allows consumers to make the right choice of recourse when an item they have purchased is defective.
Frequently asked questions
Does lemon law in Singapore only apply to new products?
Lemon law includes both new and used or second-hand products and goods bought via a business. However, the problem with preloved products is that satisfactory quality can become a debatable point.
A second-hand product cannot be compared to the equivalent product when brand new, but must be measured against a comparable or identical item of the same model, specification, and age.
If a product is labelled ‘non-refundable’ or ‘non-exchangeable’ by a seller, does that mean it is exempt from lemon law?
Labelling a product in this way doesn’t take it outside the reach of lemon law, but this tactic can deter consumers from claiming as they assume they have no rights.
Lemon law also covers discounted products which must still be of merchantable quality, even if the seller chooses to lower the price.
Is there a time limit beyond which a buyer cannot make a claim under lemon law for a defective or faulty item?
Lemon law only applies for six months from the product’s purchase date. This means that goods with a short warranty of three months can still be caught by the legislation and give the buyer recourse to action and compensation.
For perishable goods with an anticipated shelf-life of less than six months, the presumption that a defect was present when the product was bought applies only to the end of the shelf-life period and not for a whole six months.
Why is the retailer liable for a defective product? Shouldn’t it be the manufacturer?
Any retailer selling an item in the course of their business implies the usability, function, and safety of that product even though they are only distributing it and have not manufactured the item.
The buyer’s contract is with the seller. So, the buyer can insist on a repair, refund, or replacement item, even though the seller may try to avoid this because they are merely the supplier. Lemon law is clear the seller must repair or replace the item and can also be held liable for injuries or monetary losses caused by selling a faulty or defective product.