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Supply of Goods and Services Act

"Services" are defined under the law as when people are doing something for us rather than simply supplying a product, and are covered by consumer rights just as goods are.

“Services” covers a whole host of situations that we all come across every day, including having your milk delivered, getting a tap fixed, and your car repaired – basically any situation where someone is doing something for you, rather than just handing over a product.

Cowboy builders fall under this category and are successful in ripping off thousands of people for their shoddy work.

As with buying goods, the law has decreed that consumers need some extra protection from unscrupulous traders, whether it be a one-man band or a multi-national company.  This is now covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

This act states that if work is carried out by a trader that you can expect it to be done

  • With reasonable care and skill
  • In a reasonable time (if there is no specific time agreed)
  • For a reasonable charge (if no fixed price was set in advance)

If it does not meet these standards then you may be entitled to sue for compensation.

It also says that if any goods or parts are fitted as part of the contract then they must be:

  • of satisfactory quality
  • fit for their purpose

What to do if the service you have received does not meet these standards

If you believe some work has not been carried out with reasonable care and skill, then you will usually have to give the trader a chance to put things right at his own expense. If you don’t allow him this chance then the amount of compensation you can claim for slipshod work could be reduced. As soon as you become aware of any problems you must tell the trader.

You need to make sure that you detail the specific problem; this should preferably be confirmed in writing, with a list of the specific problems to be sorted out and a description of any work that the trader has agreed to do to fix the problem. If the trader refuses to accept that there is a problem, you should seek advice from a RICS-accredited building surveyor or a structural engineer. They will be able to establish whether the work was carried out with reasonable care and skill, and also should be able to calculate the level of financial loss, if any, you will suffer if you should withdraw from your contract with the trader at this point.

If you have secured this type of professional evidence regarding the poor-quality work, but the trader is still unable or unwilling to fix it, or if they acknowledge that the work is substandard but refuse to help, you can enlist someone else to sort it out for you and then seek to reclaim the cost of the necessary work in court.

Another problem which can arise is the time it takes for work to be done. If there is no specific completion (or even start) date for a project, then the trader only has to deal with it within a reasonable time. What is or is not reasonable will depend on the type and complexity of the job involved.

If you want to be more certain that your job will actually get done, then you need to pin your trader down and make time "of the essence". This means that you set a specific date for the work to be finished. If it is subsequently not then you can consider the trader to be in breach of contract.

Whenever possible, try to get a trader to agree a price for the job, or at least set the basis of charging, before he starts work. That way you know what you are letting yourself in for. Be clear whether any sum stated is an estimate i.e. just an approximate idea of what the job will cost, or a quotation, which is usually regarded as a confirmed price.

If you are not happy with the work then you may also want to consider holding back some of the agreed payment. This keeps you in a stronger bargaining position when trying to get things sorted out. You must tell the trader what you are doing and why, and any retention needs to be reasonable. If not, you may find yourself summoned to court.  Also keep your wits about you if the trader proposes additional work on top of what was already agreed – make sure the cost of this work is agree before it starts.

Rogue traders

Unfortunately there are many reprobates out there who are out to exploit their customers and have no intention of providing them with a satisfactory service. Alerting these scoundrels to a fault is futile as they will most likely have scarpered in the knowledge that their work was appallingly inadequate, and will not have any intention of putting it right.

If you have been the victim of such degenerates then complaining to the police or your local Trading Standards Office is likely to be more fruitful than attempting to complain directly. Make sure you give them as much information about the cowboy builder as possible.

If you are able to track them down then you can try for compensation through the Small Claims Court if the job was relatively small (costing less than £50,000). With more extensive jobs the legal fees may be considerably more. Alternatively, you may be able to get your money back through Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 if you made a single payment of between £100 and £30,000 for the work.