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Our consumer responsibilities when paying for a service

As consumers we often also need to purchase services. We may, for example, need to have a faulty ap­pli­ance fixed or to carry out works at our house. Before engaging some­one to carry out a service for us, it is our consumer responsibility to gather as much information as possible on the actual service and on who will be providing it.

It is not sufficient to have the mobile number of the person we engage to do a job for us. We should make sure that we have their name, or the name of the company they represent, and also their postal address. Regarding the service we are going to pay for, it is in our best interest to make sure that the price agreed is clearly written down and signed for by the supplier of the service. All information about the works to be carried out should also be clearly written on the quotation.

To ensure that we always get the best value for our money, we should try and gather at least three quotations. When asking for a quotation we should remember that there are traders who charge a fee to issue one. Such fees are not illegal as long as we consumers are properly informed about these charges. Once a quote is agreed on and accepted by both parties, then the trader cannot charge more than the agreed price. We should also make sure that the quotation includes the date or period within which the service will be provided. If the quote has an expiry date, we should be aware that if we do not confirm the quote before it expires,  it is possible that the price quoted may change after the quote expires.

When requesting a quote for a service, we should also ask if there are any terms and conditions. These may include, for instance, whether we need to pay a deposit upon confirming the quote and how payment is to be carried out.

The trader who supplied the service should always be given the possibility to put things right

When negotiating the price for a service we can also ask for a commercial guarantee on the works carried out. If the supplier of the service agrees to give us such a guarantee, it should be given in writing. Even though such guarantees are given out voluntarily, once given they become legally binding.

Once the service is provided, we must ensure that we are given a receipt with details of the work done. This receipt is necessary just in case the service provided turns out to be unsatisfactory. If this happens, we will need proof of who provided us with the shoddy work. It is also our consumer responsibi­lity to check the works carried out and to complain immediately if we are not satisfied or if the works were not carried out as agreed. It is also important that we do not attempt to repair what went wrong or give it to someone else to repair. In case of unsatisfactory work, it is advisable to keep evidence of any shortcomings by, for example, taking photographs.

The trader who supplied the service should always be given the possibility to put things right. Any repairs or replacements should obviously be carried out at no additional cost to us. Third parties should only be involved if the supplier of the service refuses liability or if it is an absolute emergency.

If the problem is with the date when the service or works will be finished, before complaining we should ensure that on the contract we have a date when works should have been completed. If we do not, we will need to sort this out before taking any further action. We should write to the trader and give him a reasonable time by when we want the works to be completed. What is reasonable will depend on the circumstances. We should take into consideration the type of ser­vice being provided, the conditions of the trader and whether the delay of the service is due to circumstance beyond the trader’s control.

If the trader refuses our request for a remedy or compensation, the next step is to seek the assistance of the Office for Consumer Affairs by lodging a complaint.

Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

odette.vella@mccaa.org.mt

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