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- Buying Services
- Faulty Services
- If there is a problem
- Contracts for services - things to consider
- Additional consumer rights
- Disputes with the trader
- What if the trader goes bust
- Doorstep Selling
- Cancelling services
Services are some of the most important and expensive things we buy. Financial help, wedding photos, legal services and help from tradesmen are the sort of services most of us will buy at some point in our lives.
We’ve had nearly 20 years of experience of talking people through their consumer rights and ensuring they get what they paid for or their money back. The rights we’re talking about in this section apply if you’ve bought the services from a trader (business).
Under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 you can expect any services you buy to be carried out;
- with reasonable skill and care,
- within a reasonable time (or by the agreed time) and
- for a reasonable fee (or the agreed fee).
Any goods that are fitted as part of a service must meet the requirements of the Sale of Goods Act.
If things go wrong and the services you receive are not acceptable there are some things you can do.
You can contact the trader to try and solve the problem and give them the opportunity to put it right.
If the quality of the work is unacceptable or if the work you have paid for has not been completed, and the trader is unable or unwilling to put it right it may be possible to get someone else to put it right. If you decide to do this you should tell the original trader that is what you intend and also what this is likely to cost. You can do this by getting 2-3 other quotes for the work.
If the problem is that the services aren’t carried out within a reasonable time, you need to consider:
- What timescales were discussed when you ordered the services.
- Did you make it clear what timescale you were expecting or did the trader represent that the work would be done within a specified time?
- Is there a written contract and what does it say?
If the contract is silent about timing and there were no discussions at the time, you may be able to write to the trader to make it clear that “time is of the essence”. This means you can try to agree a specific date for the work to be finished. Suggestions should be reasonable and achievable. If the delay continues to be unreasonable, you might be able to get compensation and/or get the work completed by another trader.
It can be difficult to get bad services fixed and a lot will depend on any agreement or contract you have. It is very important to be clear what you are signing up to and what has been agreed between you and the trader.
When agreeing a contract with a trader it is best to get it in writing. The law allows you to challenge terms that may be unfair or unreasonable to you as the consumer. The standard terms and conditions of the contract used by the retailer should be written in plain, clear English. It is unlawful for a retailer to have a contract clause or terms that attempts to restrict your rights as a consumer.
To help contractual disputes, try to consider the following before you agree to have work done for you:
- Research the matter before entering into an agreement/contract for expensive work. Try to obtain several quotes and estimates for the proposed job. While an estimate is often taken as an educated guess, and a quotation as a fixed price for the job, they all provide guidelines for you to use as comparison with other quotations/estimates. Lastly remember that estimates can be changed – quotations cannot!
- The price for the works should include VAT (or let you know how much VAT will be added to the final bill). Check that the price you have been given includes all costs and that there are no hidden extras to be added later.
- Get a detailed agreement in writing (and a detailed invoice at the end of the job).
- Look into an insurance backed guarantee for expensive work. Make sure to investigate thoroughly as some trade associations have schemes.
- Extended guarantees for domestic equipment and breakdown warranties should be researched very thoroughly. They may not be good value for money or further not suitable for your situation.
- Extended guarantees are only as good as the company who offers them. If the company goes under, so does the guarantee unless backed by an insurance policy.
- Although there are very few businesses or trades that the law requires qualification for, if the company claims a qualification, the qualification must be valid. Check into any claims of approval by government bodies or associations with trade associations.
- Anyone working with gas must be Gas Safe registered.
- Never pay the whole cost of the services in advance unless you have to. If you must pay in advance, try and agree a schedule of payments ensuring there is some left at the end of the work to cover any problems.
- Think about how you are going to pay for the works done. Some types of payment, such as credit card payments or finance arranged by the tradesman, might give you a claim against the credit card/finance company should the work not be satisfactory or if the contractor goes out of business before the job has been completed.
Extended Warranties or guarantees
If you have bought an extended warranty of more than a year, you can cancel it up to 45 days after you purchased it (provided you have not made a claim) and get a refund, unless you bought it online (or otherwise at a distance) in which case you have 14 days to cancel it.
If you want to cancel after the 45 day period, or have made a claim it is still possible to get a refund but this will only be for part of the cost of the warranty. The amount refunded will depend on the wording of the warranty agreement.
Remember, extended warranties and guarantees are only as good as the underlying company providing them. If the company goes bust/stops trading you probably won’t be able to use the guarantee or warranty.
Right to specific pre-contract information if you buy something at the retailer’s premises
From the 13th of June 2014 consumers will have a right to specific information before they enter a contract. This information includes:
- The main characteristics of the goods or services.
- The identity of the trader.
- The total price of the goods and/or services including taxes.
These information requirements do not apply to contracts which involve ‘day –to –day’ transactions and are performed immediately. So getting your car washed probably won’t be covered by them, but less regular services or services to be delivered later will be e.g. getting a kitchen fitted.
When buying goods or a service it is always worth considering how to pay. Payment by credit card or finance agreement can offer additional benefits as seen below.
If you buy a service for under £100 with your debit card or credit card you might be able to reverse the transaction and get your money back. You bank or building society will be able to tell you about their chargeback policy and how you use it. It is important to get in touch with them as soon as you realise that there is something wrong with the products or they haven’t turned up as there is usually a time limit of 120 days for you to claim the charge back.
Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act
If you buy a service for more than £100 and less than £30,000 with a credit card, you are protected by s75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. This means that your card company has joint responsibility with the seller if there is something wrong with the service. This means you can claim against your card company to get your money back. It is the price of the service that matters, not how much you paid on the credit card. So the card provider could still be liable even if you only paid the deposit by credit card. If you need to claim under s75 you need to contact your card provider as soon as possible and follow their claims process.
Payment under Protest
If you have a dispute over a service delivered or dispute a bill for a service, the service provider can refuse to return your goods until the bill has been paid i.e. a garage refuses to return your car until the bill is paid. In this case you should consider paying the amount under protest and mark the bill and receipt on that basis. You can consider if court action is possible to recover all or part of the money.
If a seller is being difficult and won’t deal with your complaint properly, or has tried to defraud you (for example, by describing products wrongly or not providing products for which you have paid) you can report them to trading standards. It is usually a good idea to tell them that you are considering this as it may encourage them to sort out the problem. You can find out more abouttrading standards here.
Sadly, this is happening more and more often. You may still be protected by s75 (see above) or by a manufacturer’s guarantee or warranty or any extended warranty supplied by a business other than the original trader. If you don’t have any of those protections, you need to make a claim in writing to the administrators of the company. You can usually find out who they are on the company website or by contacting Companies House or the Insolvency Service. If you make a written application it means that you will be considered with all the other unsecured creditors of the company. You might not get all your money back and it can take up to 12 months for the administration to be sorted out and payments to be made.
Doorstep sellers (of services worth £35 or over) have to follow certain rules, including giving you a 7 day cooling off period in which to cancel. If you want to cancel, make sure you do it within those 7 days of receiving notice of your right to cancel and before the services have been performed. From the 13th of June 2014 the 7 day period is increasing to 14 days.
Doorstep selling regulations will apply whether you are visited by a trader with or without an appointment or agree the sales contract verbally or in writing.
It includes the sale of products and services to you at:
- your home
- your workplace
- another individual’s home
- on an excursion the trader has organised away from their business premises
You must be given specific information about cancellation in a document called ‘Notice of the Right to Cancel’.
If the trader does not follow the regulations, they will have no right to enforce the agreement which includes the collection of any outstanding sums due.
If you feel that you have been bullied into signing a contract you can complain to Trading Standards (see above), the company who sold to you and if the company is a member of the Direct Selling Association, to the association too. The Direct Selling Association has a code which its members should comply with. If they don’t they can be forced to repay your money, replace or repair products and/or pay you up to £5,000 in compensation.
When you enter into a contract/agreement with a supplier of services you are generally entering into a legally binding agreement. As such it is not usually possible to change you mind and cancel the agreement.
In some cases, if the agreement falls within the definition of doorstop selling, it may be possible to cancel under a cooling off period.
If you have decided to buy the services with the help of credit finance, there may also be a cooling off period of 14 days for the credit agreement. However this only relates to the finance arrangement and does not apply to the agreement for the service. So if you do cancel the finance contract the agreement for the services will remain.
Buying at a distance or online
Please see our separate guide to buying online.