Your consumer rights when you buy and receive a service from a business seller
Legal rules apply to the supply of services to consumers and traders can’t avoid them. These rights are set out in the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Among other rights due to you as a consumer, the law requires that services must be 'completed within a reasonable time-frame and at a reasonable price'. Services must also be performed on a timely basis.
Some contracts will additionally make the timely performance of the services a fundamental term of the contract, by specifying deadlines and expressing them to be 'of the essence'.
This means that not meeting deadlines will be a breach of contract by the supplier, for which the remedy is usually the right for you to terminate the contract and demand compensation.
Work carried out under quote/estimate
Where work is being carried out under a quote/estimate, and the trader takes longer than the time-frame that you agreed, they should prove to you that this delay is reasonable – which usually means the length of time that another equivalent trader would take, given the particular situation you’re both in. What counts as reasonable behaviour by your trader will depend on the particular circumstances, and may include taking into account:
- circumstances that became evident only after the quote was provided to you – and which were not known at the time it was produced, but also
- how the trader brought those changed circumstances to your attention – and whether they did so reasonably, and
- whether you in fact requested those material and significant changes – or brought about their occurrence by your own activities, and
- what the trader’s terms and conditions say – since these may give the trader certain rights of leeway in timing of the works and what’s covered, as well as contain quote/time-frame disclaimers that prevent you from relying on the quote too much.
You also can’t be unreasonable and expect the law to protect your rights. So if at the start of a job, you agree a price and timescale for the trader/service provider and then you change your mind and substantially alter the scope of works, if the trader then incurs further cost and time to complete the work, it’s not unreasonable for them to take longer (or to charge you more).
Generally, most traders will point out and agree the impact of any changes to their scope of rights, but if they do not, and depending on the changes that you’re requesting, it may be because they’re assuming it’s evident given the particular circumstances. Neither of you may be acting unreasonably in requesting alterations or taking longer to complete the works as a result, but the manner in which you communicate with each other about these things and the steps taken after that could have a material impact on your rights.
Depending on how you bought/ordered the service/works, the terms you agreed, and how much time has passed since, you’ll have cancellation rights by law (under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013, which came into force on 13 June 2014 and apply to contracts entered into on or after that date).
For services ordered at a distance, you’ll usually have up to 14 days to cancel a contract, sometimes longer, if the trader didn’t provide you with key information before or at the point in time when you placed your order and agreed to their terms. You can find out more on your consumer cancellation rights here. Bear in mind that in some cases, if some of the work has already been carried out, you may need to pay for the value of work already done if you then cancel the rest of the contract.
Exceptionally, there are also some service contracts where you won’t have a right to cancel. For example, hotel bookings, flights, car hire, concerts and other event tickets, or where the trader is carrying out urgent repairs or maintenance.
Always check the trader’s terms & conditions. These should contain key information including:
- how you will pay for the goods or services and when they will be provided to you
- details of your right to cancel once you’ve placed your order.
You’ll also have cancellation rights if the trader has breached the terms of your contract with them. So, for example, if you made the performance of the service a ‘time is of the essence’ condition, or it would have been reasonably obvious that this was the case, e.g. the service was to be performed in preparation for an event/wedding on a fixed date, then delay by the trader/supplier such that the service can no longer fulfil the key purpose for it’s acquisition, could well be a breach of their contract with you.
Even here, however, check that events outside the trader/supplier’s reasonable control (and which are carved out/referenced in their terms and conditions) have not caused the delay – as in this situation, the trader/supplier could potentially be in a decent position to defend your challenge.
Getting a second opinion
You can help bolster your objection to delay by getting a second opinion from an equivalent trader. Make sure this is someone independent and who your trader can’t challenge for bias. The second trader may want to charge you a fee for providing the opinion.
Withholding pay vs ‘paying under protest’
It’s good to get an expert view on what you should do in your particular circumstances. Not paying the trader could in some cases, depending on the supplier, affect your credit rating – which can occur even if you’re in the right and you ultimately win your position against the trader. So look out for that risk when you’re considering your options.
If the trader is forcing to you pay in circumstances where, for example, they have something of yours, such as computer equipment, a watch, or other items of value in their possession, and you can’t get them back without paying, you could pay but make it very clear that you’re ‘paying under protest’, which will help your case if you do decide to make your complaint into a more formal legal action.
The template gives you both of these drafting options, as well as others.
What can you do?
The template gives you a variety of options, the reasonableness of which will depend on your particular situation. You could:
- require the works to be started and/or finished by the same date or a new, reasonable deadline date
- cancel your order and require a refund
- claim compensation for any reasonably related costs that you’ve had to incur as a result of the delayed service/works
- refuse to pay further money due from you to the trader/supplier
Each comes with its own set of considerations and the template provides further guidance as you work through them and decide what best suits you. If you’re not sure, our Speak To An Adviser service will provide you with a helpful steer.
Most businesses these days have a website on which they display their contact details and often, the terms and conditions under which they sell (even if they’re not selling online). Take a look at these as they may (and ideally should) contain information about how you can complain to them and the time frames and rights they give you. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 specifies that you are entitled to an answer from your service provider/seller within 14 days for straightforward complaints, which applies to most complaints (3 months for more complex ones).
Keep copies of all your correspondence and any attached documents, such as receipts, copies of guarantees/warranties that you have activated (if relevant), etc. Some businesses will have self-imposed, or legally imposed deadlines for responding to you and for resolving your complaint. If they refer to these deadlines in their documentation, make sure you reference them in this letter too.
Most traders trade off reputation and word of mouth referrals/ratings and most traders will be upset that you’re not happy and will normally be very reasonable in remedying your concerns.
Calm conversations to point out what you’re not happy about are always a better starting point than letters and even emails – though the content of this template is a great format for a phone conversation and it is always worth knowing your rights and how to express them in any discussion and, if needed, in any correspondence that further asserts your rights.
Taking your complaint further
If you’re not satisfied with the response you get from the seller, then you can:
- find out if they have an ombudsman or other professional standards body to whom you can complain (sadly there isn’t really one for standard retailers); or
- you could consider complaining to Trading Standards; (Bear in mind, though, that your local trading standards department's role is to address the issue with the retailer, not to get your money back), or
- you could, depending on the supplier’s terms, suggest alternative dispute resolution/mediation.
- You might be able to rely on your card or payment provider for help, if you paid by a credit or debit card, you used a provider like Paypal, or your purchase was financed by a hire purchase company.
- Finally, you can consider a claim brought in the courts, though this can be costly and take some time to be heard.
Before taking any of those steps, it is highly advisable to see if you can get the seller to provide you with what’s often called a ‘letter of deadlock’, essentially, a letter confirming that the seller has not been able to resolve your complaint and you remain dissatisfied. This is a key piece of evidence, in your favour, that supports you seeking assistance from the above solution providers, proving that you have reasonably tried to reach a resolution on your own and been unable to do so.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you have 6 years to bring a faulty goods claim in the courts. Scotland has a 5 year time limit. That doesn’t mean that the goods you bought need to last 6 (or 5 years), simply that you won’t be able to bring claim about these faulty goods once these time periods have expired.
Help now and later
If you’d like help with your complaint and/or considering your options, you can use our Speak To An Adviser service, where a qualified expert can talk you through your options, and help you to decide the right next steps for you. Our guide: how to bring a consumer complaint against a business, contains more background and instructions on the wider context of consumer complaints and what to expect.