Your rights when you buy a service
Services can range from getting a hair cut to having a house built. As a consumer you have rights when you purchase a service but there are no hard and fast rules. Every case is different and the solution to a problem with a service will depend on the circumstances of the case. Many people offer services, these can be traders, tradesmen or professionals, here we use the term service supplier to indicate any person who supplies a service as a business or part of a business. Here are some general guidelines that may help you to avoid problems when you purchase a service.
What is a contract?
When you engage a service supplier you create a contract between you, as a consumer, and the service supplier. A contract is an agreement between two or more people that is enforceable by law. Contracts may be written or oral and are made up of terms; some of which can be implied terms. Contracts may differ in many ways and there are no hard and fast rules governing what terms should be in a consumer contract. Terms in consumer contracts, however, must always be fair and clear to the consumer. Anyone involved in the contract should be clear about what their obligations are under the terms 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 and that goods supplied with the service will be of merchantable quality
In a service contract, at the very least, you should ensure that you know the price of the service and the time that it will take to complete the agreed work.
Consumers, when they buy goods and services are protected by unfair terms in consumer contract regulations. This means that any term or implied term in a consumer contract that is found to be unfair to the consumer is null and void.
Choosing your supplier of services
When you choose a service supplier what you need to take into account will depend on the service being provided. The following general advice may be useful to you in choosing a service provider.
- Know what your budget is – you don’t 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 don’t 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
- If possible, have a written contract or agreement in place to spell out what work is being done, timings, costs and any other important aspects
- 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
- Make sure you get a fully itemised receipt
- If there is a representative organisation for the particular trade that you are engaging ask if the trader is a member. Some organisations have a consumer complaints service and may help with any problem that may arise. You can find out more about complaining about home improvements here.
- Make sure that you are contactable while the work is carried out so that the service supplier can contact you and 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.
- You may have to pay a deposit to a service supplier to indicate that you intend to purchase their service. You should be clear about your and the service suppliers obligations if you pay a deposit. Specifically see under what circumstances you can get a full refund on this deposit.
- Ask if completed work is guaranteed – you can read more about guarantees here. A guarantee is additional to your rights mentioned above.
What to do if things go wrong
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 the consumer. 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 shoddy work – take photos etc
It is obviously better to avoid problems so raise any concerns that you may have as the work progresses. Where possible, make yourself available for the trader to contact you so that he or she can raise any issues that come up.
If you need to make a complaint read this advice on making a complaint in advance. You may get advice and help from one of the trade and representative organisations listed here.
If you have exhausted the traders complaints mechanism you can take your claim to the Small Claims Court.
There is a small fee to take a case to the Small Claims Court which is non refundable. The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission will give advice for free but you should check with any other organisation if they charge for their services.
How to apply
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission can give you information on your rights if you have problems with a service or a service provider.
Where to apply