Buying services – your rights

UPDATE: On 1st October 2015 the Consumer Rights Act 2015 came into force.  This means that any consumer contracts formed on or after this date will need to meet those requirements.  Consumer contracts formed up to and including 30th September 2015 will still need to meet the requirements below.  New advice content coming soon. If in any doubt please call 03454 040506.

The term ‘services’ covers a wide variety of work from a small repair job or home improvements to tv/broadband/mobile phone contracts.

buildersThe Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 states that when work is carried out by a trader you should expect it to be done with reasonable care and skill, in a reasonable time, and for a reasonable charge.

The Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 allow you to challenge some contract terms that may be unfair, unreasonable or that restrict your statutory rights.

If you agreed a contract for a service by distance means (such as online) or after a doorstep call by a trader or at home and the contract was financed by credit arranged by the trader, you may have cooling off periods during which you can cancel.

Your rights

Under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982, you are entitled to expect that a service provided by a trader is carried out:

  • with reasonable care and skill
  • in a reasonable time (if there is no specific time agreed)
  • for a reasonable charge (if no fixed price was set in advance)

Any goods supplied as part of the service contract must be:

  • of satisfactory quality
  • fit for their purpose
  • as described

Under the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999, you have the right to challenge the standard terms and conditions of the contract you have with the trader, if they unfairly remove or restrict the trader’s liability to you and if they create an imbalance in rights in favour of the trader. The terms used by a trader should be written in plain, clear language so that you are in no doubt about their meaning. If you think that the terms and conditions of a contract are unfair, contact Citizens Advice consumer service. Ultimately, only a court can decide whether or not a contract term is unfair.

Rouge Trader doorUnder the Cancellation of Contracts made in a Consumer’s Home or Place of Work etc. Regulations 2008 you have rights against a trader where the contract for the sale and/or supply of goods and services was agreed in your home, someone else’s home, where you work or during a trip arranged by the trader away from their business premises.

Under the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 you have rights against a trader where the contract for the sale and/or supply of goods and services was agreed without face-to-face contact using distance means, such as internet, phone and mail order.

Before agreeing the service contract
Always research the service you require before you enter into an agreement with a trader. Compare prices and, depending on the nature of the service, obtain at least three quotations from traders rather than estimates. An estimate may vary as it gives a general outline of the work and a guide price, but a quotation is a fixed and binding price for specific work. The price should include Value Added Tax (VAT) or tell you how much VAT will be added. Make sure the price you have been quoted includes all costs and that there are no hidden ‘extras’ that will be added in later.

There are very few trades or businesses where the law requires qualifications, but any claims made must be true. You should check claims of membership of trade associations or approval by official bodies (For more information, check out the ‘Trade associations and regulatory bodies leaflet’). Anyone working with gas must register by law with Gas Safe (telephone 0800 408 5500).

Obtain a detailed written agreement (and a detailed invoice once the work is complete).

Try to avoid paying cash in advance unless you have to but if you do, pay as little as possible. You could lose money paid in advance. If you pay by credit card or on finance arranged by the trader, you may have rights against the finance provider under the Consumer Credit Act 1974, should the work prove unsatisfactory or the trader goes out of business before completion.

Cancelling a Service
If you buy goods or services costing more than £35, whilst in your home, another person’s home, your workplace or during a trip organised by the trader, you have the right to a seven day cooling off period during which you can cancel the contract and get your money back.

If you buy goods or services by distance means, such as online, by phone or mail order, you have the right to a seven working days cooling off period during which you can cancel the contract and get your money back. If the trader does not fulfil their legal obligations, this cooling off period can be extended.

If you sign agreements in your home for a service (which may include goods) and for finance to pay for that service, you should receive copies of the agreements at that time. You have the right to cancel five days from the time you receive the second copy of the credit agreement from the finance provider. The cancellation applies to the contract for the service as well.

If something goes wrong
If the service is unsatisfactory or has not been completed on time, there are a number of options open to you:

When work is not completed on time or within a reasonable time, you can write to the trader to make time ‘of the essence of the contract’. This means that you set a specific date for the work to be finished and if the trader fails to meet the deadline, you can consider them to be in breach of contract. You can obtain other quotations and have the work completed by another trader, holding the original trader liable for the costs. If you have extra expenses as a result of the trader’s breach of contract, you may also be entitled to claim them.

In most cases, you should allow the trader the opportunity to put things right. Your right to claim damages if the dispute goes to court could be affected if you have not allowed the trader this opportunity. Tell the trader what the problems are and what you want the trader to do. Confirm this in writing with a deadline for the remedial work to be completed. Give notice that after this deadline, you will obtain quotations from another trader and seek to recover costs from the original trader in court if necessary.

If you have a contract with a trader to provide a service for you (which may or may not include the supply of goods) and the trader carries out additional work or provides goods without obtaining your permission beforehand, you may not have to pay for the unauthorised work/goods. Depending on the circumstances, you may want to consider the following:

  • discuss the full facts with the trader and consider accepting that the extra work was required and pay a reasonable sum
  • inform the trader that you will not pay for the unauthorised work/goods and ask them to undo the work and remove the goods and replace with the original ones
  • negotiate a reduction in the price, taking account of the fact that the work was unauthorised

If the trader refused to release your goods and claims that the work was authorised, they may be entitled to exercise a lien over the goods (this is a legal right to hold disputed goods until payment is made). In these circumstances, the only way you can recover possession is to ‘pay under protest’ and to pursue your claim for reimbursement – it’s important to seek advice about paying under protest from Citizens Advice consumer service on 08454 04 05 06.

About suffolktradingstandards
Suffolk Trading Standards is working towards creating and fair and safe trading environment. By creating empowered consumers, that are armed with the knowledge to stop 'rogue traders'.

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