Steps to follow
Have you received poor service from a plumber, builder or other provider of services?
If so, is your complaint about the quality of work, the time it took to complete or the unexpectedly large bill that you received at the end of it?
When you agree to purchase a service, you enter into a legally binding contract with the supplier. Consequently, you have legally enforceable rights. The supplier must fulfil their side of the agreement, for example, if they agree to use a particular product or material then they must do so.
You have a right to have the work carried out with reasonable skill and care, within a reasonable time and at a reasonable price. ‘Reasonable’ is judged by comparison with other suppliers. Therefore the work must be completed to at least roughly the same standard as other suppliers.
If the work was not completed satisfactorily, then you are entitled to insist that the supplier returns and puts it right at no extra cost. If this is not desirable then you are entitled to ask another supplier to complete the job and bill the original supplier for the cost.
A deadline may have been agreed for completion of the service. If so, and the supplier goes over time, then you may be entitled to compensation for any losses you have suffered as a consequence. Examples could include the cost of eating out or hotel bills.
There is a difference between an estimate and a quotation. If the supplier gave you an estimate then no price has been agreed and you must pay a reasonable amount for the work. If the supplier gave you a quote for the work then a price has been agreed. You are obliged to pay that amount and not a penny more.
Keep the receipt. If you have lost it, however, don’t despair. You may be able to use a cheque stub or credit card/ debit card receipt as proof that you paid for the service.
Look out for membership of trade associations or professional bodies. This may be useful if the supplier refuses to resolve your complaint. The supplier may be bound by a code of conduct. The organisation may help you process any complaint that you bring.
If neither the supplier nor their trade association or professional body resolves your complaint then you could bring legal action. You can sue for losses you have suffered. In exceptional cases, you may also be able to sue for distress and inconvenience. A lawyer can advise you on whether it is financially worth your while bringing a claim.
If your claim is worth less than £5,000 then you may want to use the small claims court, which is a cheaper option as you won’t need to hire a lawyer. However, you will still need to pay to use the small claims court. Mediation may often be a better way to resolve the issue.
What to watch out for
You are entitled to a ‘cooling-off’ period of seven days when you buy services from your home or workplace, as long as the overall cost of the services is more than £35. This means you have up to a week to cancel without any obligation after that pushy double glazing salesperson has left the premises. The seven-day period applies regardless of any documents you have signed. Any supplier who tries to convince you otherwise is breaking the law. This applies whether or not you invited the salesperson to your home or workplace.
Solicitor’s top tip
Under new regulations—the Provision of Services Regulations 2009—suppliers of services must give customers information on how to make a complaint. In practice, this may simply mean the supplier gives you their contact details. They have a duty to tell you if they are a member of a trade association or professional body that provides dispute resolution services. They also have a duty to try to resolve complaints as quickly as possible.
Dealing with consumers
Overview of product liability and product liability defences
Problems with goods and services
Your consumer rights
I have a dispute