Consumer Contract Regulations - How important is cancellation paperwork?
This article is intended to help protect tradespeople who work in peoples homes or customers who have entered into those contracts and want to cancel them.
I recently completed a case for a sole trader landscape gardener who was unfamiliar with the legislation above and got himself into a great deal of trouble.
In August 2017 he was invited to a client's home and asked to provide a quotation for an extensive landscape gardening project worth approximately £10,000.00.
He provided a quotation which formed the basis of the contract, though unfortunately it wasn't a particularly detailed document. There was no further documentation other than the email correspondence that followed after their falling out.
Crucially, whilst the quotation outlined all of the work that the parties agreed he would do, the document failed to include a commencement date for the works that would take place; an expected date of completion or the consumers right to cancel.
It was agreed in the quotation that he would receive a 50% deposit of approximately £5,000.00 that would allow him to purchase materials and begin the project.
Having not agreed a commencement date, the landscaper assumed that he could begin the consumer's project following the completion of another separate job that he was conducting for another customer. He intended to begin the clients project two weeks after the quotation was signed.
Unfortunately, it was assumed by the consumer that the work would begin immediately after the signing of the quotation and would be completed relatively swiftly. Neither party put their expectations in writing.
Naturally the contract did not get off to the best start. The relationship further deteriorated following the delay of materials being delivered on site by suppliers.
One week from the when the works were due to finish, the customer fired the landscaper stating that the project was taking too long and that she wasn't satisfied with the quality of the work. The landscaper repeatedly offered to complete the work insisting that the quality issues were simply 'snagging' jobs and would be fixed to the consumer's satisfaction.
Unfortunately the relationship for the consumer had broken beyond repair and she insisted on cancelling the contract. She had paid approximately £5,000.00 and received 90% of a £10,000.00 newly landscaped garden. She brought an action for £10,000.00 which included the cost of finishing the work and a return of all of the money that she had paid.
Fortunately we were able to settle the dispute before it went to court but I was struck by the landscaper telling me that this was how everyone in the trade worked.
The landscaper was equally shocked when he was told that by failing to provide cancellation information to his client, her cancellation period could be extended to when he had almost completed the works.
The importance of the cancellation document
There are two rights for consumers who decide that they do not wish to proceed with a contract. They are able to:
withdraw their offer if it has not been accepted by the trader. This is an open-ended right, which will end when the contract is made, after which they can move to their right to cancel if appropriate.
cancel a contract. Within a specified period of time, the Regulations give consumers the right to pull out of a contract that they would otherwise be bound by.
For sales of goods and services, the cancellation period is 14 days. This starts the day after the day on which the goods come into the physical possession of the consumer or the person that they ask you to deliver the goods to. If it’s a contract for services only, the cancelation period is 14 days starting the day after the day on which the contract was made.
If the tradesperson does not provide consumers with information about their right to cancel, their cancellation period is extended to 14 days starting the day after the day that the information is provided. The longest that this period can be extended to is 12 months from the day after the normal cancellation period would have ended.
A consumer can withdraw from the contract, or cancel within the cancellation period, by informing the tradesperson that they wish to do so. There is no requirement for how this should be done but in the event of a dispute the burden falls upon the consumer to prove that they did cancel within the cancellation period. If you cancel a contract it’s therefore advisable to keep proof of your cancellation.
If a consumer withdraws from a contract or exercises their right to cancel, both the tradesperson and their obligations under the contract are ended. In addition the tradesperson must reimburse the consumer all that they have paid them, including any original delivery costs of any goods.
As you can see, failing to provide a notice of cancellation can put the tradesperson at significant risk. It may be possible for the customer to cancel the contract mid way through or near the end of your agreed project.
This can be quite a technical area to navigate and if you’re having these difficulties I would urge you to take advice. It can be expensive getting it wrong.
I’m happy to speak to both consumers and tradespeople experiencing these issues. I’m also happy to provide preemptive written advice or draft cancellation documents for tradespeople who want to avoid getting into these difficulties.