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7 May 2021

'My u201chard-wearingu201d leather sofa is a dog's breakfast - and now the shop is bust'

The surprising debate around the quality of 'bicast' leather and your options if your sofa isn't up to scratch
Dog on a sofa

Do you have an issue you need put right? Which? is here to help get your consumer problems sorted.

Dear Which?

I'm at my wit's end over what to with my three-year-old leather sofa suite, it looks in such a state and is totally unsuitable for us.

We decided to replace our nine year old leather sofa suite in 2018. After visiting a Harveys showroom, we bought a cheap-ish (£1,000) leather sofa suite.

We explained to the salesperson that it had to be able to withstand use by our medium-sized family dog. We didn't think this was a tall ask as we'd owned leather sofas for a number of years and hadn't experienced any issues with them, my car interior is also leather and the dog regularly jumps in and out of that.

The salesperson assured us the suite would be hard-wearing and suitable for dogs. It wasn't.

It scratched straight away and so we told Harveys that we wanted to reject the suite as it was unsuitable for us.

We went back to the store and discussed a different suite with a salesperson. We explained that we had problems with the leather suite they had sold us previously, which they knew about anyway.

The salesperson said that if we spent more on a better quality leather then we'd have no issues. We spent £4,000 this time and we also took out insurance, which covered pet accidents.

We also bought the leather cleaner as this was apparently the only maintenance the sofa would need.

The new sofas arrived and scratched straight away. I then rang different stores to ask about the leather material and suitability for dogs and was told that the leather was non-scratch and hard-wearing.

I contacted Harvey's and tried to reject the suite again. Several weeks later, in 2019, Harveys responded and denied there was an issue with the material and told me to claim against my insurance.

I loathed to do this as it didn't resolve the issue of the material not being suitable, but I did contact the insurance company and was told I was too late to claim as it had to be within two weeks of the 'accident' happening.

Since the first scratch, we have used throws to protect the leather, but it's such a shame as it ruins the look of these expensive sofas.

Now Harveys is in administration and I don't know what to do. Can you help?

Geoff Cox, East Sussex

Geoff Cox
Geoff Cox, photo by UNP

Put to Rights

Lauren Deitz, Which? Consumer Rights expert says:

It's no surprise you've reached your limit with this debacle, Geoff. Durability is one of the main perks of leather and is a popular 'pet-proof' choice for that reason.

Explaining your needs to Harveys, as you did, should've resulted in some valuable advice and ensured that your sofa met your expectations. It's very disappointing that you were informed twice that the leather material would be suitable and it simply wasn't.

Given your experience with owning a leather suite for nine years and, as you mentioned, your car being upholstered in leather, it was a reasonable expectation that you should be able to find a material that would meet your requirements.

While some leathers are more hard-wearing than others, it's important to get clarity from the retailer if you're not sure about the quality and resilience of the material, as you did. Ask for a sample and test the fabric yourself to see how it meets your expectations. You should also ask about any care and maintenance of the product before you buy.

Many sofas sold as 'leather' are often bonded leather, sometimes known as bicast, meaning it's mixed with other materials. There is much debate around the durability of bicast leather and it's generally viewed to be not as strong as natural leather.

In 2015, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that an ad by Love Sofas Ltd was misleading as the product only contained 35% leather. A product advertised as leather must be 100% leather, otherwise, it could be misleading, so make sure you check the description of the material too.

It's disappointing that Harveys didn't assist you further when you complained. It's down to the retailer to ensure that it's marketing and selling its product in a way that meets the expectations of its customers.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 sets out that a product must be of satisfactory quality, as described and fit for purpose. It would seem that the sofa suite failed to meet these expectations and that you were poorly advised as to the suitability of the product.

We tried to contact Harveys' customer service team on your behalf, Geoff, but as the retailer went into administration in 2020 there's little that it can do.

When a company goes into administration, it calls in an insolvency firm to manage the closure, settling of debts and sale of its remaining assets. Unfortunately, its customers do not have automatic rights to refunds or compensation for unwanted or faulty goods.

Customers can submit claims against the company for refunds or compensation, but the process can be lengthy and outcomes are mostly disappointing. That said, we do advise that it's worth trying to submit a claim if you have reason to - find out more about how to get your money back when a company goes into administration.

Alternatively, if you used a debit card or credit card to purchase the sofas, you can try to use a chargeback or Section 75 claim. Chargeback and Section 75 allow you to reverse the transaction on the basis that your rights have been breached.

You could also try to appeal the decision of the insurance company, and if that's unsuccessful you may be able to take the matter to the Financial Ombudsman to review the dispute.

Need to know

Get in touch. If you've got a consumer rights problem you need put right email us at yourstory@which.co.uk Please be aware that we cannot help with, or respond to every email that we receive. The inbox is monitored periodically during office hours, Monday-Friday 9am-5pm.