Article for Progress Magazine by: Paul Jackson, ECA Commercial Adviser

In recent years there have been some changes to the laws governing how businesses trade with consumers, leading to the process becoming simplified.

In recent years there have been some changes to the laws governing how businesses trade with consumers, leading to the process becoming simplified. Notably, the following new rules have had an impact on the relationship between contractor and consumer:

  • The Consumer Rights Act 2016;
  • The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013; and
  • The Alternative Dispute Regulations (ADR) 2015.

One of the most significant changes has been the introduction of a 14-day ‘cooling-off’ period, and contractors must clearly notify consumers of its existence. During this period of time, consumers can cancel the contract, without giving any reason, by writing to the contractor.

Furthermore, if the consumer and contractor were to fall into dispute, the contractor is required to advise that a relatively low cost ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution’ (ADR) provider can resolve the issue. These ADR providers include bodies such as the Federation of Master Builders, Trustmark and the Property Ombudsman and can be found online. However, it is worth noting that ‘emergency works’ (e.g. urgent repairs or maintenance) are excluded from the impact of these legislative changes, but contractors should still advise the consumer when work of this nature has been completed.

In addition, traders must ensure that contractual terms are fair and lawful, seek to minimise costs, limit consumer exposure to risk, and provide a clear process for contracting with consumers. Here is a five-point plan for contractors to ensure both they and the consumer are adequately protected:

  • Issue a quotation to the consumer with an impartial factsheet on your legal obligations.
  • Issue a 14-day cancellation notice at the same time you issue your terms and conditions.
  • Avoid starting work within the cancellation period – unless the consumer provides a written guarantee that any work undertaken will be paid for, if the contract is cancelled within the 14-day period.
  • Issue works completion certificates to the consumer at the appropriate time. Contractors who are members of trade associations such as the ECA and BESA may be covered by a work guarantee scheme, and consumers can be advised of the availability of this.
  • Seek to resolve any dispute. Disputes that cannot be resolved must be identified by a formal notice of ADR, which should be sent to the consumer.

Overall, the outcome of these changes has been to make it easier for consumers to enforce the rules against traders. As consumer rights are protected by law, non-compliance is therefore a criminal offence. While this presents a challenge to contractors, they must grasp the nettle and ensure a level playing field for all.

The ECA offers a ‘Guarantee of Work’ scheme, which protects both contractors and consumers.

To find out more, please see www.eca.co.uk

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