The interaction between consumers and traders in business transactions goes beyond buying a variety of physical goods but also encompasses the provision of a diverse range of services.
Consumers may, for instance, engage a trader to fix a faulty product or to perform specific jobs in their homes, such as plastering, plumbing or tile laying. Consumers may also seek services from professionals, such as photographers, caterers, mechanics or architects.
When concluding such purchases, consumers have the right to expect that the services delivered are of a satisfactory level and in line with the agreed terms at the time of the sale. If this is not the case, the service provider is obliged to provide a fair and reasonable remedy.
To ensure these rights are safeguarded, consumers need to take on a number of responsibilities. The first of these is to conduct thorough research about various possible suppliers of the service and their reputation. It is also important to gather different quotes and compare them.
It is important to ensure that all the details of the purchased service are put down in writing in a sales contract
Once consumers select the trader who will provide the service, it is important to ensure that all the details of the purchased service are put down in writing in a sales contract. The contract should include the trader’s contact information, a comprehensive service description, the agreed-upon price, the method of payment and the time frame by when the service will be supplied or completed.
If the trader presents the consumer with a standard contract ready to be signed, the latter need to exercise caution by, first of all, thoroughly reading and understanding the contract’s terms and conditions, and clarifying any unclear terms before signing it.
If consumers do not agree with certain contract conditions, they should try to renegotiate them. Should the seller refuse the consumers’ request to change the terms and conditions of the sale, then consumers are advised to not proceed with the sale and consider taking their business elsewhere.
Once a sales contract is concluded, it is final and usually cannot be altered without potential consequences. Should consumers change their mind and decide to cancel the sale, there may be a financial penalty, such as the forfeiture of part of the deposit paid or the full deposit paid.
In situations involving fixed-term contracts, like telecommunication service contracts, the signed sales agreement may contain specific terms about the cancellation process and also stipulate penalties for terminating the contract prematurely.
Conversely, consumers have the legal right to terminate a sales contract if the seller either does not provide the service as agreed or the service provided is not of an acceptable quality and standard.
Services demanding specialised skills, such as repairs or construction-related work, must meet the standard expected of a reasonably skilled trader or professional. If not, then consumers have the legal right to seek redress. In such cases, initial communication with the trader is essential. The latter must be informed about the problem and given the possibility to rectify the issue.
Should the trader reject the consumer’s request for remedy, or proves to be incapable of delivering the agreed service, then consumers may opt to terminate the sales contract.
Where applicable, consumers may also seek financial compensation. This compensation should cover the expenses incurred in engaging another trader to rectify the situation, and also compensation for any damages endured as a result of the faulty service or inadequate workmanship.
Complaining immediately is crucial. Furthermore, in situations involving substandard work, it is recommended to collect evidence of any damages, by for instance, taking photographs or videos.
When complaining to the trader, it is important to do so in writing as this can be used as evidence that the trader was notified about the problem. Retaining copies of all written correspondence and other documents related to the case is equally important, as is keeping track of the individuals involved in the complaint process.
In the written complaint, consumers need to specify a reasonable time frame by when they are expecting the trader to resolve the issue. The definition of ‘reasonable’ varies based on the service type, its significance to the consumer and the nature of the problem.
If the trader rejects the consumers’ request for a remedy or compensation, then consumers can seek guidance from the Office for Consumer Affairs at the MCCAA for further information about their legal rights and also assistance in dealing with the trader.
Odette Vella is director, Information and Research Directorate, MCCAA.