Hundreds of hot tub buyers have complained about faults and not receiving refunds in the last six months after they became a popular buy in lockdown.
With Britons confined to their homes and seeking to maximise the spring and early summer sunshine, the plug-in pools were snapped up in vast numbers – but this has gone hand-in-hand with a rise in complaints.
More than half of the 808 complaints reported to the claims website Resolver in the last three years have been made since March with gripes peaking in June.
Boulevard of broken (jet) streams: Hundreds of people have complained about damaged hot tubs purchased online during the lockdown
Resolver said the number of complaints was likely far higher as the 410 complaints made since Britain went into lockdown six months ago only covered those which included the specific term ‘hot tubs’, as opposed to complaints about ‘spas’ or ‘pools’.
Manufacturers and retailers had previously told This is Money in June that customers faced waits of three months or more to get their hands on hot tubs, with some retailers like Lay-Z-Spa still sold out of many of their ranges even as summer turns to autumn.
But those who missed out may actually count themselves lucky, with Resolver finding many people who were able to purchase them have run into problems, with hundreds of complaints about breakages and consumers struggling either to get their new plug-in pools repaired or their money back.
Figures from NatWest in June also revealed many people were caught up in scams involving the plug-in pools, with cases of fraud rising five-fold between April and May.
They were involved in the third-most frequent fraud cases seen by the bank four months’ ago, after Nintendo Switch games consoles and pets.
Resolver’s Martyn James said: ‘Often it’s just a key component that is playing up, with LED lights a particular issue. But in many complaints, it’s the fundamental purpose of the hot tub that’s the problem, that it doesn’t heat up fully or at all; or it leaks.
‘We also get a number of complaints about the hot tub itself being misrepresented in the advert or on the website.’
He said many complaints stemmed from retailers and manufacturers pointing fingers at the other as to who was on the hook for the money or repair, while plenty of consumers bought them from third-party sellers on Amazon or eBay, with manufacturers refusing to cover claims in those cases.
Earlier this month This is Money took a question from a man who bought a £1,425 hot tub on eBay which was claimed to be covered by a 24-month warranty from the original seller Lay-Z-Spa.
The company initially refused to replace the two LED lights which arrived with the new and unopened tub when they did not work, telling our reader its warranty did not cover hot tubs bought from private sellers on eBay, and that he instead needed to sort the issue out with the auction website.
Hot tub retailers like Lay-Z-Spa are still out of stock after massive demand for the pools over Britain’s lockdown months
After This is Money’s involvement and the eBay seller refusing to respond to our reader, Lay-Z-Spa later agreed to replace the two lights as a ‘gesture of goodwill’, but it appears plenty more consumers have been caught in a confusing web of various warranties and money back guarantees.
And with many retailers selling out of hot tubs due to demand, many have had to turn to second-hand sellers on eBay, with the auction site reporting a 276 per cent year-on-year rise in sales between the start of the lockdown in March and the beginning of June.
Our reader subsequently told us he had learned his lesson and ‘will never buy anything of value new on eBay’ after struggling to find out who was responsible for fixing his broken hot tub.
He was not eligible for eBay’s buyer protection guarantee because he had not claimed within 30 days of delivery, having first tried to make a claim under the warranty he thought he had with Lay-Z-Spa.
One This is Money reader struggled to get their hot tub’s lights fixed or their money back after it arrived faulty after being purchased from eBay. Their warranty claim was initially rejected
What are your rights?
Martyn James said: ‘The rules say that the retailer is responsible for ensuring that the goods you’ve purchased are as advertised and work. They are responsible for sorting out any repairs, replacements or refunds.
As complaints must be made to the retailer under the 2015 Consumer Rights Act if an item does not work or is not as advertised, it is important to work out who that is. In the case of Amazon or eBay, this is the individual seller.
‘In short, you’ve got the first 30 days to complain and get a full refund if the goods are misrepresented or broken’, he added. ‘Then you have six months during which you have to give the firm at least one shot at repairing or replacing, after which you can again seek a full refund.’
However, Mr James urged consumers to temper their expectations if they wanted an item repaired or replaced, even if they have spent thousands of pounds on a hot tub which subsequently broke down.
He said: ‘Realistically, the firm that sold you the hot tub is going to need to get a specialist in either from the manufacturer or independently to carry out repairs. This often involves replacement parts too. In these rather more challenging lockdown times, this is harder than usual.
‘Make sure you register your complaint with the retailer so the 30-day refund clock stops ticking and note down when you did this and who you spoke to. Get estimates for timescales for both parts and the repair itself.
‘Hot tubs are a large purchase and can sometimes be mounted into place, so clearly, returning them isn’t so straightforward – so do be reasonable. The retailer is going to want to repair the item rather than return it where possible, so don’t expect them to pop round with a new one and switch them over there and then.
‘Given the difficulty in moving the tub, have a think about what you’d be willing to accept as a repair.
‘Even if the exact LED lights aren’t available, would you accept an alternative? For minor damage would you take a bit of cash knocked off? Think about where you’d draw the line.’
Adam French, from consumer group Which?, added: ‘If the retailer is refusing to help, you can try to claim your money back through your credit card or debit card provider, depending on how you paid.
‘It is also worthwhile reporting a business that is shirking its responsibilities to Trading Standards or the consumer regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority.’