Home improvements: your top five questions answered

Business Companion supports you to achieve and maintain compliance with trading standards and consumer laws. How does it do this? It is designed by trading standards and consumer law professionals, in collaboration with business, to provide you with clear, accurate and practical advice.

It is this collaboration with business that enables Business Companion to focus on the questions that you want answers to.

Business Companion sees the bigger picture, not just from a business perspective but from a consumer's point of view too. That way, you get not just legal, but practical answers to your questions. If you run a home improvements business - from building work, kitchen and bathroom fitting to landscaping and anything in between - this Q&A is for you.

Q. A consumer signed a contract for my business to supply and install an off-the-shelf kitchen. The kitchen has been delivered to their home and I was about to sort a date for installation. I have now had an email from the consumer, three days after delivery, saying they want to cancel. Are they allowed to do this?

A. This depends on where the contract was made. For example, if it was made away from your business premises, such as in the consumer's home, then it is an off-premises contract. This means there are legal rules you must follow, which includes giving certain information to the consumer, providing confirmation or a copy of the contract, information about delivery arrangements and cancellation requirements (if they apply).

If you followed all the rules, the consumer has 14 days to cancel starting the day after they took delivery of the kitchen. If you didn't give the consumer the relevant information on their right to cancel, then the cancellation period can be extended to a maximum of 12 months. You may also have committed a criminal offence.

If the contract was made at your normal place of business, then the consumer does not have the right to cancel, unless your terms and conditions allow them to do so.

Q. I replaced a consumer's roof at a cost of £8,000 about five months ago. It was fine when I finished the work but the consumer is complaining that some of the roof tiles are cracked and the roof is leaking and wants me to carry out repairs. I did not give a guarantee. Do I have to do anything?

A. It doesn't matter whether or not you gave the consumer a guarantee, if you supplied the roof tiles and carried out the work then you are legally responsible if things go wrong. It is what is known as a mixed contract because it covers the supply of goods and a service under the same contract.

The law says that the roof tiles, in fact any materials you supply, must be of satisfactory quality, correctly described and fit for purpose. The work you do must be carried out with reasonable care and skill. If the tiles are faulty, you must replace them at no cost to the consumer and if your work is below standard you must carry it out again free of charge.

As the consumer complained about the faulty tiles within six months, the law assumes that the faults were present when you supplied them. It is for you, as the business, to prove otherwise. This is called the 'reversed burden of proof'.

If you discover that the tiles are damaged, perhaps caused by bad weather, you are of course entitled to charge for repairs.

Q. I run a landscaping business and state on my website and in my brochures that I use Portland stone. I have found a cheaper alternative and now use this instead. I still describe this alternative material on my website and in my brochures as Portland stone because it looks similar. A friend has told me this is illegal. Is this true?

A. You are responsible for making sure the products you offer and sell to consumers are accurately described. If it isn't Portland stone, don't describe it as such.

The law bans commercial practices that are unfair to consumers. If you mislead a consumer by giving them false or deceptive information and they go ahead with a contract on this basis, you'll have committed a criminal offence. Not only that, but the consumer has rights of redress against you.

Change your website and amend your brochures as well as any other business materials as soon as possible to keep on the right side of the law.

Q. A local business is displaying a trade association logo and advertising membership of that trade association when they are not members. I think this is unfair but is it against the law?

A. Yes. A trade association's logo can be used by a business to show they are a member of, and have been approved by, that trade association. There may be advantages to their business because it helps to demonstrate approval of a certain standard of service, that the staff have specific qualifications or training and that the business abides by a code of conduct.

A business can only use a logo belonging to a trade association if they have been accepted as a member of that trade association and been given authority to do so. If a business uses a logo without authorisation, not only does it mislead consumers, but it is an unfair trading practice and a criminal offence.

Fair trading and playing by the rules are the best routes to a successful business.

Q. I installed a bathroom suite and my customer is complaining about my work. They have threatened court action. I believe my work is up to standard and want to defend the case but I am worried about appearing in court. Is there another route I can take to deal with customer disputes?

A. If you are involved in a dispute, you and the consumer can agree to use alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to settle the matter out of court. Key advantages are that ADR procedures can often be completed more quickly than court action, the costs may be lower and the whole process may be less confrontational for you and the consumer.

For most trades, ADR is not compulsory but you are required to give details of an ADR provider to the consumer.

This information is intended for guidance, only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

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