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Home improvements - Case studies

Which? member Patrick Heather and his wife Kathryn commissioned an architect to manage a project on their home. They had specifically wanted a professional architect to handle the stress of the project, but found constant errors in the drawings and administration of the work. The Architects Registration Board later confirmed that the person they had hired was not in fact an architect, and that to describe themselves as such would potentially be a criminal offence. The dispute escalated to the small claims court, where the trader claimed for unpaid bills. The Heathers counterclaimed with advice from Which? Legal.

Our advice

We advised Patrick of his rights in accordance with the Consumer Rights Act 2015, as the trader he’d hired did not demonstrate ‘reasonable care and skill’ as required by the Act. Furthermore, she was in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, as she failed to clarify her professional status. When the trader issued proceedings against Patrick, Which? Legal advised him on how to respond to the court documents and to issue a counterclaim for breach of contract. The trader did not attend the final hearing, and the judge decided in favour of Patrick and Kathryn for their claim of £4,864.05.

The law

The Consumer Rights Act states that a trader must provide their service with reasonable care and skill. In addition, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 states that it is an offence to mislead a consumer or use aggressive selling practices. Furthermore it can lead to criminal sanctions.

The law states that it’s always unfair for a trader to untruthfully claim or even imply that they are approved, endorsed or authorised by a public or private body. These laws allowed the Heathers to claim their losses. The court used its discretion to strike out the trader’s claim, as she failed to attend the final hearing and did not give appropriate notice to the court. 

Which? Legal member Peter Hill placed an order with RubberDuck Bathrooms, based in Cleveland, in August 2017. When the ceiling panels arrived, he found that some of them were dented. He contacted RubberDuck Bathrooms, which said it would not accept responsibility as he had not reported the matter within 24 hours. It even suggested that the items could have been damaged while in his care. Peter informed the company of his consumer rights and asked for a replacement, but it still refused to take responsibility. At this point he contacted Which? Legal.

Our advice

We advised Peter that taking court action would be his next step, and talked him through the process. Once he received a court date, we advised him to consider accepting the offer of a free arbitration option through the Small Claims Mediation Service, as it would go in his favour. He accepted this, but RubberDuck Bathrooms did not. The matter went to court, and the judge decided in Peter’s favour. He was awarded a refund of the cost of the goods, his two court fees and costs for his witness, as well as recompense for taking time off work. 

The law

Contracts entered into on 1 October 2015 or after are covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. The Act implies certain terms into the contract, including that goods supplied should be of satisfactory quality. If they are not, for the first 30 days after delivery you have a right to reject, or after that to request a repair or a replacement. The retailer can choose which of these to give you, but it must do so within a reasonable time, without causing significant inconvenience to you, and bearing any costs incurred. RubberDuck Bathrooms’ attempt to avoid liability by saying Peter should have raised a complaint within 24 hours would have been invalid in accordance with the unfair terms provisions of the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Also, section 29 of the Act provides that the seller would be liable for damage to goods until they came into the physical possession of either Peter, or a person nominated by him.

When Mrs Rudra's conservatory roof started leaking, she wasn’t expecting a catalogue of delays in trying to get it fixed. 

As the conservatory was 18 years old, the guarantee had run out but Mrs Rudra phoned the original supplier for a quote for the repair work. Although it initially denied fitting the conservatory, the company agreed to a visit at a cost of £99.60.

A fitter said that two of the seven roof panels had cracked. Mrs Rudra asked for two quotes – one for replacing all seven panels and one for just the two broken panels.

Three weeks later, a quote arrived for only the two panels. When the second quote arrived shortly after, it was for glass rather than the polycarbonate panels that were required.

The correct quote for £3,392.81 to replace all the panels then arrived a few days later. Mrs Rudra accepted and paid using her credit card.

The home improvement company confirmed the order and said an installation date would be arranged by the end of the week – but it wasn't. 

When Mrs Rudra called them a couple of weeks later, she was told that the order had not been placed. A week later she was told that the job had been marked urgent, but by the following month Mrs Rudra was no further forward, so she phoned Which? Legal for advice.

Which? Legal advice

We explained that, under the Supply of Goods and Services Act, the work on Mrs Rudra’s conservatory should be done within a reasonable time – and, if she could show that the supplier had gone beyond that, she could hold the company in breach of contract. 

We also advised that, as she'd paid by credit card, her provider would be jointly liable for the breach under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act and could be asked to pay.

Mrs Rudra decided it would be easiest to claim under section 75 so contacted her credit card supplier.

Outcome

The credit card supplier credited £3,492.41 back to Mrs Rudra's account but warned that the supplier could then challenge her. It did not.

When Joan Miller decided to have double-glazed windows and a door installed in her home, she quickly found a firm that offered to do the work for a price she was happy with.

SEHBAC Limited gave Joan an estimate for the job, which she accepted. The subsequent contract stated that SEHBAC would provide her with 'A'-rated windows and a door for £6,563.

Following a visit by its surveyor, the company attempted to increase the price, saying that security grilles attached to the existing windows needed to be removed. Joan argued that this work had been included in the contract price already agreed. SEHBAC then accepted this.

SEHBAC's sales rep then called Joan to say it could not fit 'A'-rated windows because the gap between the glass panels was too great and SEHBAC would supply 'B'-rated windows instead. Joan replied that this was unacceptable. She confirmed in writing that she wanted to cancel the contract.

Five days later, SEHBAC left a message on Joan’s answer phone saying it had now found that 'A'-rated windows could be fitted after all.

What Joan did next

Joan responded in writing, advising SEHBAC that she had already indicated that she did not wish to proceed further with SEHBAC for the installation of doubling glazing, whether 'B' rated or otherwise.

SEHBAC wrote back to Joan stating it intended to press ahead with the contract and if she wished to cancel it would be unable to refund her deposit of £657 as costs had already been incurred.

Which? Legal advice

Joan contacted our lawyers for advice. She said she had lost confidence in SEHBAC and wanted her deposit refunded.

We advised Joan that she was within her rights to treat SEHBAC's attempt to vary the contract from 'A' to 'B'-rated windows as an 'anticipatory breach of contract' on the part of SEHBAC, which would allow her to bring the contract to an end.

As she had not received any benefit from the contract at the time she told SEHBAC she didn't wish to proceed with the double glazing, she could seek a full refund of her deposit and she was under no obligation to accept SEHBAC's subsequent offer to install 'A'-rated windows as it had originally agreed.

Outcome

Joan quoted this advice to SEHBAC and it refunded her deposit.

Legal points

The Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 states that goods supplied as part of a contract for services, such as double-glazing installations, should match any description given to you by the trader. If the trader indicates it doesn't intend to provide you with a significant part of what it said it would, you may be able treat this as a breach of the contract and therefore bring the contract to an end.

If you have not received any benefit from the contract at this time, you’re likely to be able to claim a refund of money or deposit you have already paid to the other party.

If you’re able to end the contract on the basis of an 'anticipatory breach of contract', you’ll be discharged of obligations you had under the contract – and the party in breach could not insist at a later date that it is allowed to remedy the breach by performing the contract in the manner originally agreed.

D-Day veteran Mr Gibson spotted an advertisement for a walk-in bath in his local newspaper. 

Looking for an easier way to bathe, Mr Gibson got in touch with the bathroom company mentioned in the ad. It offered to send a brochure and price list, as well as someone to visit his home.

In the brochure, Mr Gibson saw a shower and walk-in bath that he thought would be ideal for his bathroom. He showed this to the salesman who came to visit.

The salesman drew up a contract there and then for £4,850. As Mr Gibson felt comfortable with the representative and was confident he'd get what he wanted, he signed and handed over his card for the deposit. But when the salesman had left, Mr Gibson read the contract and saw that the positioning of the bath and shower weren't as he had expected.

He explained to the company that the brochure had shown the bath in a different position, while the contract drawing meant he would not be able to look out of the bathroom window. Also, the picture showed a wall-mounted shower, but the drawing had it fixed to the taps.

The company responded saying this had been discussed and accepted, but Mr Gibson disagreed, saying they had only discussed money. He then contacted Which? Legal Service for advice.

Which? Legal advice

We explained that to succeed with a claim, he would have to show that the verbal agreement was for the bath as it appeared in the brochure. Mr Gibson believed that he'd made this clear to the salesman.

Outcome

While still disagreeing, the company said Mr Gibson's wishes could be met as a gesture of goodwill. He is pleased with the work completed in his new bathroom.

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