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Hiring a trader for a service: your rights and responsibilities

As consumers we sometimes need to hire a trader to perform a job for us, such as when we need someone to fix a broken appliance or to carry out some works at our house, like plumbing, plastering or tile laying.

Before engaging someone to perform a job or agree to pay a deposit, it is our responsibility to gather as much information as possible on the service we require and on who will be providing the service.

It is very important that before making any form of commitment or payment, consumers acquire the traders’ full contact details: their name or the name of the company they are representing, their postal address and telephone number. This is especially so if consumers decide to hire someone after coming across an advert in a magazine or flyer they received at home and not someone who has been recommended to them by a trusted person.

It is also important that consumers are provided in writing with a description of the works to be carried out, the agreed price and time frame when the service or works will be completed. All this should be provided in writing so that consumers have tangible proof of the original sales agreement.

It is in the consumers’ best interest that before concluding a sales agreement they first shop around for the best prices and compare quality standards and reputations.

When consumers ask someone to carry out works or a service, it is their legal right to expect that the works are carried out as agreed and are of a certain quality. The person doing the works must be adequately qualified and have the appropriate skills. Furthermore, any materials used while doing the work must be of good quality and fit for their purpose.

Consumers must ensure that they have the trader’s full details before paying any money

Even though these types of works and services do not usually carry a commercial guarantee, consumers can still ask for one. If the trader or supplier of the service agrees to guarantee his works, then such a guarantee should be given in writing.

Once the service is provided or works completed, consumers must make sure that they are given a receipt with details of the work done. This is necessary in case the service provided turns out to be unsatisfactory. If this happens consumers will need proof of who provided them with the shoddy work.

When consumers are not fully satisfied with the works carried out, such as the repairs are not done properly, the materials used were not of good quality or the service was not carried out within the agreed time, then consumers should complain immediately and request a solution.

It is important that consumers do not attempt to repair what went wrong or give it to someone else to repair. It is the supplier of the service who must first be given the opportunity to fix the problem. This obviously should be done free of charge.

Third parties should only be involved if the trader refuses liability or the case is an absolute emergency and cannot be avoided. In case of shoddy work, it is advisable to keep evidence of any damages by for example taking photographs. In case of home repairs and building works, it is always better to avoid problems at the end of the job, hence when possible consumers should raise any concerns that they might have as the work progresses.

If the problem is with the finishing date, before complaining consumers should ensure that on the contract they have a date when works should be completed. If they do not, they will need to sort this out before taking any further action. Consumers should write to the trader and give him a reasonsable time by when they want the works to be completed.

Should the trader refuse to meet the consumer’s 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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