OFTEC urges heating businesses to protect themselves against liability

Matthew Northcott
Matthew Northcott
Matthew Northcott
Matthew Northcott

OFTEC is urging technicians to make sure they fully understand UK regulations covering contracts made with customers and to put measures in place to protect their business from liability – and potential financial loss.

The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 came into force on June 13, 2014 and involve contracts made between a trader and a consumer. All technicians who provide quotes, estimates and contracts of work on a householder’s property will be affected. However, the regulations do not cover trader to trader contracts, or those with a value under £35.

A key requirement of the regulations is that technicians must provide consumers with certain information in straightforward language. This includes the main characteristics of the goods/ services provided; total price; payment arrangements; the time frame of the job and the complaints procedure. The amount of information required is reduced for any repair or maintenance work, which is requested immediately, and the price of the work is no more than £170.

Under the regulations, technicians must also let the customer know in writing they have the right to cancel the contract within 14 days. This ‘notice of the right to cancellation’ applies whether the contract is agreed verbally or in writing. However, this doesn’t apply if the customer has ordered something to be made up to their own specification, or if they have requested urgent repair or maintenance work.

It is sufficient for a consumer to clearly state they wish to cancel the contract and providing this is done, customers are entitled to a full refund, whether that’s a deposit or the full balance paid. If a technician fails to notify the consumer about their cancellation rights, they run the risk of the cancellation period being extended from 14 days to 12 months.

For contracts where work or services start within 14 days, technicians must get written authorisation from the customer to start. The notice should also state that the customer must pay a reasonable amount for goods and services provided before any cancellation.

Although the subject of customer contracts is outside OFTEC’s usual remit, OFTEC is keen to raise awareness of this important issue to prevent technicians falling foul of the rules which are designed to protect consumers.

OFTEC technical manager, Matthew Northcott, said: “OFTEC regularly hears cases of technicians purchasing equipment or even starting work on the basis of a verbal agreement, only for the customer to back out, leaving them significantly out of pocket. Unfortunately, it is often only after getting their fingers burnt as a result of not agreeing an effective contract of work, that technicians realise the importance of this area.

“Providing written quotes with clear terms and conditions should be a basic requirement for a professional heating business. However, due to a mixture of ignorance of the law and complacency, some heating businesses still operate in a casual and unprofessional way.

“OFTEC has recently produced a guide for registered technicians covering contracts of work which outlines their key legal responsibilities. However, this shouldn’t be used as an authoritative statement on consumer and business law, or used as a substitute for businesses properly familiarising themselves with the details of all legislation applicable to products and services provided.

“If technicians are in any doubt over their responsibilities, we urge them to contact their local trading standards service for further information.”

OFTEC’s ‘Contracts of Work’ Technical Notice 015 can be found at: www.oftec.org.uk. Additional useful guidance can be found by visiting Trading Standards’ website: www.businesscompanion.info.