The Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 means that consumers who enter into a contract for goods and services can expect these to be supplied with reasonable care and skill.
What constitutes a service?
The term 'services' covers a wide variety of work.
From a small repair job on a vehicle with no written details or the installation of solar panels to a new kitchen or major building work, all require you to enter into a contract.
Services can be provided alone, or they may be provided with goods, for example the fitting of a new kitchen.
Examples of services provided without goods include:
- dry cleaning
- work done by professionals, such as solicitors, estate agents and accountants
- leaving a coat in a cloakroom, in return for payment
- using a parking space in return for payment
- private health treatment, including cosmetic surgery
Examples of services provided with goods include:
- repairs to goods where parts are replaced, such as car repairs
- fitted kitchens
- home improvements involving building and decorating work
- double glazing
In all of the above examples, the contract would be governed in accordance with the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 (as amended), which implies into all contracts of work or services that the work will be carried out:
- with reasonable care and skill
- in a reasonable time (if there is no specific time agreed); and
- for a reasonable charge (if no fixed price was set in advance)
What is reasonable?
It can be difficult to know what is deemed as being 'reasonable'. Here are some ways you can find out.
To get guidance on reasonable standards of work, contact a trade or professional association. If goods are being installed as part of the service, you could contact the manufacturers.
You could also ask an independent expert for an opinion on the work, or to test a repair. But be aware that this can be expensive and you may not always get your money back from the trader, even if the expert supports your case.
To get guidance on how long a job should take, ask other traders how long they would take to do the work.
If you haven't agreed a price and the trader appears to be charging too much, ask other traders how much they would charge to do the same job.
With regard to any goods which are supplied at the same time, any goods or parts fitted as part of the service or work contract must be:
- as described
- of satisfactory quality
- fit for their purpose
Problems with contracts
If you find the work that has been carried out is not satisfactory, costs more than was agreed or takes too long, you may be able to claim compensation.
Unlike buying goods, it's not so easy to reject the whole job and ask for all your money back - although you should consider this if you can show that the workmanship was so poor that you got no benefit from it.
So, if you're faced with any of these problems you have a number of options to consider.
Remember that where a trader guarantees their work for a set period of time that guarantee does not affect your legal rights to have work done with reasonable care and skill using materials that are of satisfactory quality, as described and fit for purpose.
A trader would not be able to claim that you cannot get a repair on any work that you discover is not up to standard after your guarantee period is over.
You could be legally entitled to have issues with the quality of work put right free of charge or to have any products repaired or replaced.
Breach of contract
If the work is not completed on time or within a reasonable time, you can write to the trader, making 'time of the essence of the contract'.
This means you can set a specific date for the work to be finished, after which you will consider the trader to be in breach of contract.
You will then be free to get other estimates, have the work completed by another trader and hold the original company responsible for the costs.
You may have to go to court as a last resort, so a more practical solution may be to agree fair compensation for the delay.
It's usually considered reasonable to give the trader a chance to put things right.
The amount of compensation you can claim for shoddy work could be affected if you unreasonably refuse to allow the trader an opportunity to make amends.
Unhappy with a service?
If you're not happy with a service that has been provided, you should inform the trader straight away explaining what you're not happy with.
You should confirm this in writing with a list of the specific problems to be sorted out, giving a deadline for the remedial work to be carried out.
If you have agreed certain work, and the trader goes ahead with additional work without your authorisation, you don't have to pay for that extra work.
However, a more practical solution may be to accept the need for extra work and pay if it seems reasonable, or ask the trader to undo the work.
Or you could try and negotiate a price for the work, taking into account the fact it was unauthorised.
Payment 'under protest'
You may have to pay under protest and take legal action for compensation if you're still in dispute with a trader.
To do this either write 'paid under protest' on the back of the cheque, or when paying also hand/send the trader a covering letter stating that you are paying 'under protest'.
If you're not happy with work, you may want to consider withholding some of the payment. You're perfectly entitled to do this, if you are genuinely not happy with the standard of the work.
You'll have to decide whether to pay some of the bill and keep back enough to cover the disputed area or to delay the whole payment.
Always tell the trader what you're doing and why. Be reasonable and be prepared to negotiate, as this could avoid getting involved in any legal proceedings against the trader.
See how to complain about poor building work.
Gather evidence to help your case
If the dispute is not resolved quickly you'll almost certainly need supporting evidence, since it is up to you to prove your case 'on the balance of probabilities'.
Depending on the type of work, take photos and keep copies of all letters and documents.
If you have to pay for an expert report to use in court, you should try to get agreement from the trader on which one to use.
Write a letter to the trader to suggest this so you can show you've tried, but if he refuses or you cannot agree, you should get a report anyway.
Try and keep the cost of the report below £200, which is the maximum that you can recover for the cost of an expert’s report in the small claims court.
Whatever expert you use you choose to use, you should ask your expert to include the following:
- what the problem is
- what the cause of the problem is (i.e. bad workmanship, inherent defect, faulty components, etc)
- what needs to be done to put the matter right
- how much this will cost
- if relevant, photographs, diagrams, plans, etc
The person giving the opinion should also give their qualifications or credentials.
There are ombudsman schemes for many services so find out if your trader is a member of one of these schemes.
If you have a complaint, it may be better to go to the ombudsman than to go to court.
Gas, electricity, telecommunications and water suppliers are governed by independent regulators you can take complaints to.
You will need more advice if the work or a product causes an accident or personal injury and/or damages property. Your local Trading Standards Service deals with unsafe products and can give basic guidelines on the best thing to do.
Remember, it's no use spending money or time if you can't find the trader, they appear to have no money or no fixed address, or you can't prove your case.
Unless of course, a credit card was used, in which case you would still be able to pursue your claim under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.