Buying services - your rights
The term 'services' covers a wide variety of work from a small repair job or home improvements to tv/broadband/mobile phone contracts.
The Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 states that when work is carried out by a trader it should 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.
In the guide
Any goods supplied as part of the service contract must be:
For more information, check out the 'Buying Goods - Your Rights' leaflet.
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. These terms maybe deemed as unenforceable 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.
Under the Cancellation of Contracts made in a Consumer's Home or Place of Work etc. Regulations 2008 you may have cancellation 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. For more information, check out the 'Your Rights to Cancel When Buying at Home' leaflet.
Under the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 you may have rights such as a right to cancel 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. For more information, check out the 'Shopping from home' leaflet.
Under the Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012, traders are banned from charging fees to consumers that are excessive for using payment methods such as credit and debit cards. The fees charged must reflect the actual cost to the trader of using that particular payment process. The regulations apply to most sales and service contracts but excludes some contracts, such as those for social and health services, certain financial services and food and drink delivered by regular roundspeople. A contract term relating to requirement to pay a fee is unenforceable against you to the extent of the excess charged. If you have paid an excessive fee, the excess must be repaid to you. If you believe a trader's fees are excessive report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service.
Before agreeing the service contract
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). Part P of the Building Regulations requires most electrical work in the home to be carried out by an electrician registered with a government-approved scheme. You must be given safety and compliance certificates to show that the work meets the requirements of the Building Regulations.
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. For more information, check out the 'Your rights when buying on credit' leaflet.
Cancelling a Service
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. For more information, check out the 'Shopping from home' leaflet.
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
WORK NOT DONE ON TIME
WORK NOT SATISFACTORY
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.
How to complain effectively
Make sure you have all the relevant documentation, such as the estimate or quotation, the contract, the guarantee or warranty (if you were given one) and the credit agreement (if any).
Collect any evidence you can to support your claim - videos and photographs for example.
Act quickly. Speak to someone in authority - the owner of the firm or a customer services manager within a company. Explain your problem calmly but firmly, and ask for your complaint to be dealt with. Always keep a record of the name of the person you spoke to and his/her contact details and also keep a note of what was said. When dealing with sole traders or partnerships, it is important to get the name(s) of the owner(s) of the business.
Remember that if you feel you have been deliberately misled by the trader, you should report it to Citizens Advice consumer service so the complaint can be referred to trading standards.
If you do not want to speak directly to the trader, confirm the details of your complaint in writing or by email. Send your letter by recorded delivery and make sure you keep a copy for yourself - you may need it as evidence later if the matter is unresolved. Keep copies of emails sent and received. Set out what you would like the trader to do to resolve the complaint and set a reasonable deadline for a reply.
If you pay for the service by credit card or on finance arranged by the trader and if it costs more than £100, you are protected by the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Section 75 of the Act makes the finance provider as responsible as the trader for a breach of contract or a misrepresentation. You are entitled to take action against the trader, the finance provider or both. This does not apply to charge cards or debit cards. Send the finance provider a letter or email, which should include your account number and other relevant information from your credit agreement, and set out the details of the complaint you have against the trader. Include a copy of the letter you sent to the trader. For information, check out the 'Your rights when buying on credit' leaflet.
Depending on the type of service you contracted the trader to provide, they may be prepared to carry out a home visit if this assists them establish what the problem is. It is wise to have someone with you when the visit goes ahead.
If the trader makes an offer to settle the complaint, you can either accept or continue to negotiate. However, you should bear in mind that accepting an offer usually means that you cannot ask for more later. If you are uncertain whether or not to accept the offer, you should seek further advice.
Find out if the trader is a member of a trade association. Some trade associations provide a dispute resolution scheme as part of their service so if you have a complaint against one of their members, they can assist in resolving the problem. In some cases they will be able to provide experts to examine work/products if the nature of the problem is in dispute. Check out the 'Trade Associations and Regulatory Bodies' leaflet.
Alternatively, if you choose not to use a trade association or the trader does not accept any of the evidence you have presented in support of your claim and you remain in dispute, you may need to obtain an expert opinion to establish what the problem is, how it was caused, what it will take to sort out the problem and who is to blame. You may be able to come to an agreement with the trader to obtain a joint independent report, perhaps splitting the cost so that you can both be satisfied about the impartiality of the opinion. Of course, the trader does not have to agree to this, but if you make this request in writing and the trader rejects it, they may find it difficult to argue later that they have acted reasonably.
If someone has been injured as a result of the work or if you believe a criminal offence may have been committed, you should contact the Citizens Advice consumer service for further advice before allowing the trader to rectify the problem.
What should I put in my complaint letter/email?
For more information, check out the 'Writing an effective letter of complaint' leaflet and template letters.
What happens if the trader does not reply or ignores me?
You can contact your local court or visit the www.justice.gov.uk website for information on how to start your claim. However they cannot provide you with legal advice or comment on the likely success of your claim. You can also start a claim online at Her Majesty's Courts Service's Money Claim Online.
However, you must remember that court should be viewed as a last resort and even if your claim is successful there may be costs involved in enforcing a judgement.
For further information please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service, which provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Visit www.adviceguide.org.uk or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.
Last reviewed/updated: June 2013
Northumberland County Council, Trading Standards Service, Loansdean,
Morpeth, Northumberland NE61
2AP Copyright © Northumberland County Council Trading Standards
Copyright © Northumberland County Council Trading Standards Service 2006