Supply of services
Here we look at the laws covering anyone who's supplying a service that you pay for. Find out when you're entitled to have goods repaired, replaced or to have an appropriate price reduction.
The Supply of Goods & Services Act 1982
The most important law covering services is the Supply of Goods & Services Act 1982. This covers the work done and products supplied by tradesmen and professionals. It applies not only to builders and plumbers but to dentists, restaurants, hairdressers, in fact anybody who's supplying a service you pay for.
Like the Sale of Goods Acts, this law also imposes strict liability on any materials used.
If an electrician puts in a faulty light switch, it's irrelevant whether he knew the switch wasn't right.
Repairs or replacements
If any goods supplied don't conform to the contract, you're entitled to have them repaired or replaced or to have an appropriate price reduction. Only in limited circumstances will you be entitled to end the contract.
Where installation of goods forms part of the contract and it's not carried out with reasonable care and skill, it'll be taken that the goods don't conform with the contract and your remedies will be as set out above. In addition you'll be entitled to compensation to cover any additional cost of getting replacement goods reinstalled properly.
When it comes to work itself, the act states that a tradesman or professional has a 'duty of care' towards you and your property. Any standard or price you agree must be honoured. But if it isn't agreed in advance the work must be done to a reasonable standard, at a reasonable cost, and within a reasonable time.
So if you haven't fixed a price, you don't have to pay a ridiculously high bill. All you have to pay is what you consider 'reasonable' and invite them to sue you for the rest. Be careful though, in some circumstances when you are withholding payment you may have a claim made against you by a supplier if you are in breach of contract. What's a reasonable amount would be what similar tradesmen would have charged for the job. So get a few quotations.
If it's important to you that a job is completed by a certain date, fix a date for completion and state that 'time is of the essence'. This means that if there's a delay you can legitimately end the contract - unless you're dealing with a real cowboy. However, don't stop any cheque.
If you don't make 'time of the essence' the only remedy you'll have for a delay is compensation. If you don't fix a time for the job then it must be done within a reasonable time. What is a reasonable time will depend on all the circumstances, so it's better to agree a timescale.
Duty of care
When it comes to the work carried out, the act doesn't, in fact, give you any more rights than you have in common law, but it does lay them out clearly. It states that a tradesman or professional has a 'duty of care' towards you and your property; that any price or standard you agree must be honoured, and that, if not agreed in advance, the work must be done to a reasonable standard, at a reasonable cost.
This means that when you haven't agreed a price, you don't have to accept a ridiculously large bill. All you have to do is pay what you consider is 'reasonable' and invite them to sue you for the rest.
Sometimes it's better to pay the disputed bill, especially if they have some property of yours on which they can exercise a 'lien' (the right to hold another's property until a debt is paid). If they threaten this, let them know that you're 'paying under protest', and will be taking action against them.
It's always better to shut the stable door to stop the horse bolting in the first place. Fix the supplier with clear obligations to help prevent any later legal dispute. You might:
•Agree staged payments, payable on the basis of how much has been completed, or alternatively on clear dates- take the initiative, and decide in advance which approach favours you;
•Agree in advance in writing what work the contractor is obliged to do. Give this some thought in advance; and
•Get a written quote. Make sure this is not an estimate, to prevent those inevitable add-ons and escalations.
•Consumer Direct provide information for schemes available on finding a reliable trader and doing business with them. You can contact Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06 or go to their website at www.consumerdirect.gov.uk.
The contents of this website are not intended to be a substitute for individual professional advice. The content of this section is based on the law applying on 30 November 2012.