The advice sheets below have the lastest information on problems with services. If you need more advice, please call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06.
In the guide
This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 gives you important rights when you make a contract with a trader for the supply of goods, services and digital content.
Some of the rights you have when a trader supplies you with a service may be familiar - they formed part of the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 - but this new law replaces and updates most of the rights you had under the old law.
This guide helps you navigate your way through the law. It offers a clear explanation of the rights you have when a trader supplies a service to you and the remedies you have if the service you receive is below the standard you are entitled to expect.
When the Consumer Rights Act 2015 first came into force, the rail, sea and air sectors were exempt from the rules on the supply of services. From 1 October 2016 this exemption no longer applies so the law applies in full. These sectors continue to operate schemes, which work alongside the law, that allow passengers to claim compensation for delay or cancellation.
The law only applies to contracts between a consumer and a trader.
A contract is a legally binding agreement between you and the trader. A contract is formed when you make an offer to buy, the trader accepts your offer, the price is agreed between you and you both intend to make the contract legally binding. The rules of the contract are called 'terms', such as the price of the service or the type of service to be supplied and those that are imposed by the law, referred to as your 'statutory rights'. Contracts can be written, spoken and even implied by conduct (so-called silent contracts because no words are spoken and there's nothing written down). The 'Unfair terms in consumer contracts & notices' guide gives more information on how a contract is formed and when the terms of a contract may be unfair to you.
The law covers contracts where a trader supplies you with a service (such as hairdressing, building work or car repairs) but contracts of employment or apprenticeship are specifically excluded.
If a trader sub-contracts all or part of the service to another trader, they are still legally responsible to you for the entire contract in the same way that they were under the old law. For example, if you make a contract with a kitchen company to supply and install a new kitchen and this contract includes electrical work, the company is legally responsible to you for the work carried out by the electrician. This is because you did not make a contract directly with the electrician, you made it with the kitchen company.
Some contracts may involve a trader supplying you with goods and/or digital content as well as providing you with a service. These are called 'mixed contracts' and examples include contracts where a trader supplies you with double glazing and installs it for you and where a trader provides you with a computer set-up service that includes the installation of internet security software. The 'Sale & supply of goods - your consumer rights' and 'Supply of digital content - your consumer rights' guides give more information on the rights and remedies you have for the other parts of a mixed contract.
There are some service contracts - for example, financial services, estate agency and holidays - where additional rules and regulations apply and where you may have extra rights.
The law sets out what you are entitled to expect from every contract that involves the supply a service. These are commonly referred to as your 'statutory rights'. The key rights are highlighted in bold in this section.
The service must be carried out with reasonable care and skill. What does this mean in practice? It means that a trader must carry out the work to the same or similar standard to that which is considered acceptable within their trade or profession. Industry standards within a particular service sector, relevant codes of practice and even the law (such as building regulations and credit legislation) are useful benchmarks to consider when deciding if a trader has carried out the service with reasonable care and skill.
Information about the trader or service is legally binding. This means that anything said or written down by a trader (or someone acting on their behalf) about their business or the service forms part of the contract, if you take the information into consideration before you agree the contract or if you make a decision about the service after the contract is made. For example, if a gardener told you that they would use a certain type of high quality wood preserver to paint your fence, and you relied on this statement when you decided to go ahead, then it forms part of the contract.
It is an important element in a contract for the supply of a service that a trader must give you specific pre-contract information, as set out in the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. The 'Buying from business premises - on-premises contracts explained', 'Buying by internet, phone & mail order - distance contracts explained' and 'Buying at home - off-premises contracts explained' guides explain what these pre-contract requirements are.
Reasonable price to be paid for a service. You are only required to pay a 'reasonable price' for the service that a trader provides unless the price of the service (or the way in which the price is worked out) is fixed as part of the contract. So if you haven't agreed a price upfront, what you're asked to pay must be reasonable. What is a reasonable price? This depends on the facts of each contract, but as a guide it may be the average price charged by other traders providing the same type of service in the area.
You should note that many contracts, including contracts for the supply of a service, are also covered by the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 which means that you must be given the total price (or the way in which the price is worked out) before the contract is made.
The service must be carried out within a reasonable time. Sometimes a contract will fix the time that a service must be completed by. If the time has not been fixed then the service must be completed 'within a reasonable time'. What is reasonable usually depends on the facts of the contract.
This Act does not give you the right to change your mind about a service after you have made the contract. However, check with the trader to see if they have a policy that allows for cancellation.
There are some contracts that you do have the legal right to change your mind about, depending on where they were agreed. The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 cover 'distance' contracts, such as those made via the internet, phone and mail order, and 'off-premises' contracts, such as those made on your doorstep. You have the right to cancel most 'distance' and 'off-premises' contracts and the cancellation period is 14 days. The 'Buying by internet, phone & mail order - distance contracts explained' and 'Buying at home - off-premises contracts explained' guides give more information.
If a service is not carried out with reasonable care and skill, at a reasonable price, within a reasonable time or is not carried out in line with information said or written down, then the trader is in breach of contract. This means that you are entitled to seek a legal remedy. This section explains what remedies are available to you.
Where a service is not carried out with reasonable care and skill or where a trader fails to provide a service in line with information they gave you beforehand, then they must perform the service again so that it 'conforms with the contract' (is completed as the contract states it should be). You are entitled to have this repeat performance carried out within a reasonable time, without significant inconvenience and at no cost to you. 'Reasonable time' and 'significant inconvenience' will depend on the facts of each contract. You cannot insist that a trader performs the service again if it is impossible, but you have another legal remedy - the right to a price reduction - that you can use instead.
If repeat performance of a service is impossible or it cannot be carried out within a reasonable time or without causing you significant inconvenience, then you are entitled to price reduction. This can be as much as a full refund, for example, where you have had no benefit from the service and it will need to be started again. A price reduction can be calculated by comparing the difference between the contract price and the value of the service actually performed. For example, if you contracted a jeweller to repair several pieces of jewellery and some pieces were repaired satisfactorily but some were not repaired at all because the jeweller's specialist tools were faulty, then the contract price would be reduced. You would only be required to pay for the jewellery repairs actually completed.
You are also entitled to a price reduction if the service is not carried out within a reasonable time and where the trader is in breach of his obligations relating to information they gave you that is deemed to be part of the contract.
The trader must give you a refund without undue delay and in any event within 14 days from the time they agreed you were entitled to it. This must be by the same means of payment you used to make the purchase. However an alternative can be used if you expressly agree to this.
Your statutory rights are automatically included in the contract you have with the trader. If they are not met then the trader is in breach of contract. This means that you can seek one of the legal remedies described in the 'What if your statutory rights are not met' section. However, you might decide to take a different route to seek redress.
You can make a claim for breach of contract under 'common law' - this is case law that has been decided by judges in a court - as well as or instead of using your legal remedies. You might be able to seek damages (financial compensation) or specific performance (the court requires the trader to carry out the contract) or to decline payment because of the breach of contract.
If you enter a contract because a trader misled you or because a trader used an aggressive commercial practice, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 give you rights to redress - the right to unwind the contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. The 'Misleading & aggressive practices - your rights to redress' guide gives more information. You can report complaints about unfair trading practices to the Citizens Advice consumer service for referral to trading standards.
If you paid for a service on finance arranged by a trader or if you paid for a service using your credit card and it cost more than £100 but less than £30,000, you have rights under the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Section 75 of the Act makes the finance / card provider as responsible as the trader for a breach of contract or misrepresentation. This could include supplying a sub-standard service or making a false claim about a service. You are entitled to take action against the trader, the finance / card provider or both. If you are unhappy with the finance / card provider's response then you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service (opens in a new window).
Under the Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012 traders are banned from charging fees that are excessive for using payment methods such as credit and debit cards. The fees charged must reflect the actual cost to the trader of using that particular payment process. The Regulations apply to most sales and service contracts. A contract term relating to the requirement to pay a fee is unenforceable against you to the extent of the excess charged. If you have paid an excessive fee, the excess must be repaid to you. If you believe a trader's fees are excessive, report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service for referral to trading standards.
In England and Wales you have a limit of six years from the date of the breach of contract (when the poor service was performed) in which to make a claim against the trader. This works a little differently in Scotland where you have a limit of five years to make a claim, starting from the time you discovered there was a problem with the service.
This does not mean that the service has to last the five or six years; it depends on what is reasonable for the type of service performed.
A trader is not allowed to exclude or restrict your legal rights in any way. If you inadvertently agree to a term in a contract that excludes or restricts your rights, you are not bound by it because it is considered an 'unfair term'. The 'Unfair terms in consumer contracts & notices' guide gives more information. If a trader tries to restrict or exclude your rights report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service.
If a trader had a 'no refunds' policy, it is likely to be an unfair trading practice. The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 prohibits unfair trading practices. If you think a trader is trading unfairly report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service for referral to trading standards.
Research the service you require before you enter into a contract with a trader. Compare prices and, depending on the nature of the service, obtain at least three written quotations from traders rather than estimates. An estimate may vary as it gives a general outline of the work and a guide price, but a quotation is a fixed and binding price for specific work. The total price must include VAT as you are buying as a consumer. Make sure the price you have been quoted includes all costs and that there are no hidden 'extras' that will be added in later.
Consider using a trader who is a member of a scheme such as the Buy with Confidence scheme. All businesses that appear on the Buy with Confidence website have been approved to help ensure you receive a quality service and to maintain the integrity of the scheme. Visit the Buy with Confidence (opens in a new window) website for more information.
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) operates the Consumer Codes Approval Scheme (CCAS). CTSI approves and promotes codes of practice, sets out the principles of effective customer service and requires traders to have robust alternative dispute resolution schemes. For more information on the Consumer Codes Approval Scheme and to find an approved codes member, visit the CCAS (opens in a new window) section of the CTSI website.
There are some traders that are legally required to hold specific qualifications that relate to their business. They may also be a member of a relevant trade or professional body. Any claims about qualifications and membership must be accurate. You should check claims of membership of trade associations or approval by official bodies. The 'Trade associations & regulatory bodies' guide gives more information. Anyone working with gas must register by law with Gas Safe. Part P of the Building Regulations requires most electrical work in the home to be carried out by an electrician registered with a government-approved scheme. You must be given safety and compliance certificates to show that the work meets the requirements of the Building Regulations.
Try to avoid paying cash in advance unless you have to but if you do, pay as little as possible. You could lose money paid in advance.
This leaflet gives you all the information you need on the rights you have and the remedies you are entitled to. The 'Supply of services - what to do if things go wrong' guide explains the practical steps you can take when complaining to a trader about a service.
Last reviewed / updated: October 2016
This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.
The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.
For further information please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service, which provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Visit the Citizens Advice website (opens in a new window) or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.