The CPA has compiled a guide to surviving the Consumer Rights Act 2015, to help home improvement contractors understand this new legislation. This is intended as an explanatory guide only – please read the government guide for the full policy wording.
What is the Consumer Rights Act 2015?
2015’s Consumer Rights Act came into play on the 1st of October and affects the selling, terms and conditions, and supply of products and services, all of which are central to the construction and fenestration industries.
The new Act streamlined complicated law from 8 pieces of legislation into one place, to make consumers better informed and protected when buying goods and services. Consumers will know their rights, so it’s just as important for business owners and independent contractors to know their responsibilities to consumers.
What’s new in consumer rights?
For the most part, consumer rights will remain the same as pre-October 2015, but there are some clarifications and new rights present in this Act:
- Right to a refund within 30 days for faulty products
- Right to ask for substandard services to be redone, or receive a price reduction
- Right to challenge unfair, small-print terms, conditions and costs
A key change is that tradespeople now only have one chance to redo a service to the customer’s satisfaction – otherwise the right to reject comes back into play.
Tradespeople – know your rights and responsibilities
99.9% of tradespeople offer a reputable, above-board service, and most of these legislation changes shouldn’t impact your operations. Clear contracts, sticking to the terms of agreement, supplying quality products – these are a given for most installers, builders and contractors. However, if you’ve experienced consumer disputes before, it’s worth reading up on how consumer rights are changing and what is expected of you as a trader.
The Act differentiates between ‘goods’ (products), ‘services’ and ‘goods with services’, so whether you’re a double glazing installer or just offer general building repair works, it’s time to brush up on your knowledge and make sure you are compliant with the new Consumer Rights Act 2015.
Do I offer a product or a service?
Home improvement trades are probably the hardest to define – all trades offer a service, but most also install a product too. If you install a new product (such as fitting a new bathroom suite), replace an existing product (upgrading a drainage system) or use any materials to improve a home (paint, wallpaper), you have also installed a product.
If you provide a service without installing a product, such as fixing a plumbing system without replacing parts, you are still bound by the new Consumer Rights Act, but only under the ‘services’ section.
‘Goods with services’ (products)
- Double glazing (Window & Door Installers)
- Home improvements (Conservatory & Extension Installers)
- Roofs & guttering (Roofers)
- Timber home improvements (Joiners & Carpenters)
- Kitchens & bathrooms (Fitters)
- Painting & decorating
- Drive & patio installation (Paving)
- Plastering & rendering
‘Services’ (without ‘goods’)
- Building & repair work
- Roof repair work
Following on from the Sale of Goods Act, the Consumer Rights Act states that all products must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose, and as described.
30-day refund window
One of the biggest changes in legislation is the 30-day right to reject. This means that if a product is found to be faulty within 30 days after the product has been installed, the consumer has the right to reject the product and ask for a replacement or refund. If the tradesperson refuses, the consumer must prove that the ‘goods’ are not of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose, or as described.
This is the main concern for many in the domestic replacement glazing industry, as this may create problems when consumers try to reject windows, doors or roofs that have already been installed. The claim is with the retailer, not the manufacturer, so it is always the responsibility of the installer to make sure the product being installed is of satisfactory quality.
The law leaves this open to interpretation, so there is no guide on what is ‘satisfactory quality’ when it comes to home improvements. However, if you’re concerned about the quality of a product pre-installation, it may be best to either inform the homeowner first or bring up the issue with the manufacturer. This may save you time and money in the long run.
The ‘right to reject’ does not apply to incorrect installation of products, rather the product itself must be faulty. In any other case, the ‘Services’ section applies.
N.B. The 30-day right to reject is different from the 30-day ‘cooling off’ period that a consumer is also entitled to under the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013. Introduced to create a fair period of time for consumers to change their mind (and therefore stop pressure sales or foot-in-doorstep traders), the ‘cool off’ period can be an issue for installers of bespoke products who pride themselves on super-fast lead times.
Faulty goods & failed repairs
After 30 days, the consumer no longer has the ‘right to reject’ outright – instead the consumer can ask for a free repair or replacement, or a price reduction. After one failed attempt by the retailer to repair or replace a faulty item, the consumer is entitled to ask for a refund or price reduction.
A tradesperson can refuse a repair or refund if they feel the repair is impossible or disproportionate, such as a small fault on high value goods.
If a fault develops between 30 days to 6 months, it is assumed that the product was supplied with a pre-existing fault, and it is up to the tradesperson to prove that the product was fault-free at installation, or that the fault is due to consumer misuse.
After 6 months, the impetus is on the consumer to prove that the product was faulty at time of delivery.
Even if you provide a service without a product, there are still updated parts of the Consumer Rights Act which are relevant to you.
As a trader, you must perform the service with relevant care and skill, and within a reasonable time frame. Also, information said or written is binding, ‘where the consumer relies on it’. Always make sure that all your promotional materials are truthful and accurate, and relate to the product in hand.
If any of these parts of your service is below standard, the consumer is entitled to ask for you to either redo a part of the service or complete the whole service again for free. If the service cannot be performed within a reasonable amount of time, without causing inconvenience, the consumer is entitled to ask for a price reduction – in some cases up to 100%.
Should tradespeople be worrying?
The new rules come down heavily in favour of the consumer, which have created worries within the industry that consumers will take advantage of businesses. Tradespeople are understandably worried about consumers abusing this legislation to knock money off a service or even get a home improvement for free.
We hope that – rather than putting too much power in consumers’ hands – these new changes will make for a more fair and transparent industry, and improve relations between trade and their customers. But it’s also not a bad idea to take precautions to protect your business.
Safeguard your business and trade services
The wording of the new Act is deliberately vague in places to allow for interpretation on a case by case basis. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but this does mean that to protect your business against disputes, don’t leave any room for doubt.
Whatever service you provide, you have entered into a contract. Although not a legality, it’s best practice to set out the terms in writing and document any correspondence. Good organisation and clear communication will help to avoid any misunderstandings when it comes to consumers’ expectations of your products and services.
The right to replace ‘faulty digital content’ is also part of the new legislation, so it’s also important to make sure that your business’s website and social media pages are reflective of the services you offer.
Best practices to avoid consumer rights disputes
- Set out all terms of the contract in writing
- Brush up on the legalities of the services you offer
- Offer fair contracts, written in plain English, with no hidden clauses
- Give written quotations with an open-book breakdown of costs
- Agree a reasonable timescale of works
- Check product quality before installation and raise any issues with the manufacturer early
- You could also get the consumer to inspect the product quality pre-installation, to resolve any issues before installation
- Communicate any changes to project plans with the customer to avoid disagreements
- Upon completion of works, request a signed and dated customer installation checklist and satisfaction questionnaire
- Provide Insurance Backed Guarantees and make it easy for customers to apply and receive these
Find our more about how you can prevent consumer rights disputes.
What the CPA can do for you
One of the aims of this new legislation is to free up resources in small claims courts. By making contract terms and expectations of both parties clearer, the government hopes to reduce the number of disputes between consumers and retailers.
To help our members prepare, we’ve teamed up with the Retail Ombudsman to offer support and advice to our members in the case of a dispute. We can also offer free Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and mediation services to help you reach a resolution outside of the courts.