Consumer law solicitor Anna Prasad asks how energy efficient our home appliances really are.

This week is Big Energy Saving Week 2015, a Citizen’s Advice campaign to help consumers cut their energy bills. One of the key ways the campaign tells us we can all reduce our energy bills is to choose more energy efficient products, particularly those home appliances that consume the most energy such as washing machines, fridges, freezers, TVs, tumble driers  and dishwashers.

But how do you know how energy efficient an appliance really is? What can consumers rely on to find the most energy efficient electrical appliances and white goods? Presumably it is the energy rating for the product itself? Surely consumers wishing to reduce their energy bill and their carbon footprint at the same time who buy energy efficient goods will save money in energy consumption in the long run? Perhaps not.

Unlike the exposure of defeat devices for emissions testing in the case of  VW and other car manufacturers, home appliances’ manufacturers test and certificate products themselves. This means home appliances and electrical products are not subject to independent UK testing in the way that vehicles are. The manufacturer of these home appliances carries out the testing and provides the energy efficiency rating relied upon by the consumer.

It was reported last week that the National Measurement and Regulation Office (NMRO) and MarketWatch, an EU-funded programme, are carrying out testing programmes on electrical appliances. The Energy Saving Trust, which leads the MarketWatch programme revealed that 14 out of 36 appliance tested so far fell short of their energy efficiency rating or fail to comply with efficiency rules.  This echoes an EU report last year which found 1 in 5 appliances failing to meet energy efficiency regulations.

This is a concern to consumers across the EU who face an estimated 10.5 billion euros per year in extra energy costs as a result of the inefficiency of household appliances. However, it is not only energy bills that UK consumers are losing out on as a result of these products being rated as more energy efficient than may be the case. The environmental impact of excess energy consumed flies in the face of UK obligations to cut greenhouse emissions. The Climate Change Act 2008 sets a target reduction of 80% of 1990 emission levels by 2050 and includes a Carbon Budget for the amount of greenhouse gas emitted in the UK for a 5 year period. This surely applies to manufacturers and consumers alike, yet whilst consumers rely exclusively on energy ratings provided by manufacturers with no UK testing organisation to hold them to account what can be done?

Consumers who are persuaded to fork out extra cash for an energy efficient appliance in order to reduce their carbon emissions and their energy bills may well have a remedy if the appliance turns out not to be so efficient after all.

Consumers have a right to expect that the goods they purchase are of satisfactory quality, meet the description and are fit for purpose. Where white goods fall short of this, consumers might be entitled to a repair, replacement or refund. They might also be able to recover the additional energy costs consumed by the less efficient product.

These allegations made by the Energy Saving Trust have arisen at an exciting time for consumer protection in the UK. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 came into force on 1 October 2015 to protect and extend consumers’ previous rights under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 and Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982.

Whilst environmentally conscious consumers may feel disheartened that manufacturers have thwarted their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint and their energy bills, they can be reassured that the law looks set to provide redress.