Buying a service
Many people offer services, these can be traders, tradesmen or professionals. Here we use the term service supplier to mean any person who supplies a service as a business or part of a business.
When you hire someone to perform a service, you are making a contract. As parties to the contract, you and the other party have certain legal rights and obligations. If the person you have hired does not do what they said they would under a contract, they are in breach of the contract.
Consumer contracts are protected by the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act, 1980. If you have a contract with a service supplier you can expect that:
- The supplier has the necessary skill to provide the service
- The service will be provided with proper care and diligence
- The materials used will be sound
- Any goods supplied with the service will be of merchantable quality
In a service contract, at the very least, you should make sure that you know the price of the service and the time that it will take to complete the agreed work.
This document covers some general guidelines that can help you to avoid problems when you buy a service.
Choosing a supplier
The following advice may be useful to you in choosing a service provider:
- Know what your budget is – you do not need to disclose what you can afford if you are negotiating on price.
- Be clear about what work you want carried out and put this down in writing. If you do not know what you want done the service supplier is not likely to know either.
- Choose a service supplier that specialises in the type and size of work you want carried out.
- Get several quotes detailing specifically what work needs to be done and the price you will have to pay. The cheapest quote may not provide the best quality work.
- If possible, try to get a personal recommendation from an informed, experienced person.
- If possible, view other work that has been done, this will help you make your decision.
- Ask for previous references and follow them up.
- Make sure you get a fully itemised receipt.
- Check if the trader belongs to a trade organisation. Some organisations have a consumer complaints service and may help with any problem that may arise. You can find out more about complaining about building or home improvements.
- Make sure that the service supplier can contact you while the work is carried out to discuss any potential problems.
- Service suppliers should be insured against damage to goods, other people’s property or themselves whilst carrying out a service. Check that any trader that you engage has appropriate insurance.
- Ask if completed work is guaranteed – you can read more about guarantees. A guarantee is additional to your rights mentioned above.
Do I need a written contract with the service provider?
Contracts can be written or verbal and are made up of terms; some of which can be implied terms. Implied terms are not mentioned but are automatically part of a contract because of protections under consumer legislation. Contracts differ in many ways and there are no hard and fast rules for what terms should be in a consumer contract. However, terms in consumer contracts must always be fair and made clear to you.
While a verbal agreement is as legally binding as a written contract, it is a good idea to have a written agreement in place before a service starts, to protect you and avoid disagreements later on.
At a minimum, the agreement should describe:
- What services will be supplied
- Timings to complete the work
- The price and the payment schedule
- Any other important aspects
When discussing the price, you should request a quote and not an estimate. An estimate will give you a rough idea of the cost but it is not legally binding and the price could go up during the job. A written quote is a legally binding agreement of the cost unless key features or specifics of the work change. You should ask that the quote includes a full breakdown of costs so you can see where the money is being allocated.
How should I make payments for the service?
Ideally, you should only have to pay the full amount when the work has been completed to your satisfaction.
In practice, some service suppliers look for part payment upfront to cover their costs (for example, materials that need to be bought before work starts). In this case, work out a payments schedule that is suitable for you and the service supplier. Consider leaving payment (or a large instalment of payment) until after the job is completed and you are happy with the work
You may have to pay a deposit to a service supplier to indicate that you intend to purchase their service. In general, any deposits paid to the contractor are non-refundable. If you pay a deposit and then change your mind about getting the work done, you may not be able to get your money back. Before you pay, check under what circumstances you can get a full refund on this deposit.
If you can, you should make payments by debit card or credit card. If you need to recover money you have lost from a service supplier (for example, the company goes out of business before the service is completed) you can contact your bank to see if charges can be reversed. This is known as chargeback.
If possible, avoid paying cash, as it cannot be traced. Always get a receipt for proof of all payments you make.
What are my rights if I am not happy with the service?
If things go wrong it is always the service supplier who should put things right. As a general rule, the service supplier can repair or replace the service. Alternatively they can refund the costs of the service to you.
Here are some general guidelines that may help you if you are having problems with a service supplier. You can get more advice in our document on complaining about building or home improvements.
I am not happy with the standard of work done
To avoid problems, you should raise any concerns that you have as the work progresses. Where possible, be available for the trader to contact you so that he or she can raise any issues that come up.
If you are not satisfied with the quality of goods or services you should:
- Act as soon as you can – a delay can indicate that you have accepted faulty services
- Do not attempt to repair what went wrong yourself or give it to anyone else to repair it
- Make sure that you have a proof of purchase (a receipt, cheque stub, credit card statement or invoice)
- Keep all evidence of damage caused by poor work, for example take photos
Some service suppliers offer a warranty or guarantee for the service they provide. This is their promise about the quality of their services and what they will do if there are problems. Check any warranty or guarantee to see if it covers the problem.
If you are in dispute with the service supplier about whether or not the work is of poor quality, you may have to seek the opinion of an independent third party.
I have been misled by the service provider
You have the right to receive accurate and truthful information about services. A service supplier is not allowed to mislead you to convince you to hire them. You may be able to cancel the contract if:
- You were misled or deceived by claims made by the service supplier
- The service supplier mislead you about an essential term or condition in the contract (including quotations and other promises about timescales or about the results to be achieved)
Some examples of misleading claims include:
- The service has uses or benefits that it does not have
- The service is of a particular standard or quality when it is not
- The service supplier has an approval, status or professional designation that they do not have
- You are getting a special price or benefit when they are really offering the same thing that you can get somewhere else
You can read more about rules banning misleading advertising.
Can I withhold money if I am not happy with the service?
It may be tempting to withhold money to help with negotiations where you are in dispute with a service supplier. However, withholding money could put you in breach of your contract.
A service supplier may:
Where to get more help
You may get advice and help from one of the trade and representative organisations listed here. However, there are many service suppliers who are not members of any trade or professional body.
If you have used the traders complaints procedure and the problem is still not resolved, you may need to consider using the small claims procedure (for jobs less than €2,000) or taking a civil case (for claims over €2,000).
Check your home insurance policy to see whether it covers you for legal expenses for contract disputes with service suppliers.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) can give you information on your rights if you have problems with a service or a service provider.
If you have a dispute with an Irish-based service supplier, you can contact the CCPC for advice and support.
Find out more about consumer protection organisations.