As the August Bank Holiday weekend approaches, many will be turning their hand to home improvements. For proficient DIY enthusiasts, there’s seldom thought given to legal mishaps, but there are several important factors to consider when planning a project to ensure that it goes to plan.
Consumer Rights - Goods rights and remedies
When planning a DIY project, goods are purchased rather than services; as the service elements will essentially be carried out by ‘yourself’. This means that consumers have rights in relations to goods that will need to meet certain quality requirements. The implied terms under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, mean that goods need to be fit for their purpose, as described and of satisfactory quality. If there are issues with goods, then consumers will have certain rights. Firstly, it’s important to note that the purchase must be made as a consumer, i.e. outside of trade, business, craft our profession, so a trade-account is used, then it’s unlikely to meet the criteria of a consumer and would therefore be outside of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, but subject to other rights elsewhere.
So, if there is an issue with the goods, in the first 30 days, consumers are entitled to reject the whole or part of the order and get a full refund. They’d have to prove the non-conformity and the Ombudsman’s advice is to make sure consumers contact the trader within 30 days, don’t use the goods in any way and take photographs or videos to evidence why they think it’s defective or otherwise doesn’t conform to the contract.
If they’re not seeking to reject and 30 days have passed, they’re entitled to a repair or a replacement; this may entail the trader sending replacement parts. This could have a knock-on effect on the time allowed for completion of the project. If the goods can’t be repaired or replaced and/or the trader has tried to repair on one occasion and that has failed or is otherwise not possible to complete in a timely manner, the trader will have to either collect the goods and pay a full or partial refund (a partial refund only kicking-in after 6 months have passed), or they can pay a price reduction to recognise the limitations with the goods they have supplied. The latter might be a good practical option if there are smaller, aesthetic issues that don’t really detriment the functionality of the end-product or which can be worked around.
If buying goods on a supply-only basis, the onus will be on the consumer to understand the nature of the product and what’s required before fitting or assembly takes place. For example, laying flooring can involve significant preparatory works, which may involve acclimatising wood, levelling sub-flooring and addressing any pre-existing issues such as damp. The trader has an obligation to supply information such as fitting instructions, but the consumer must adhere to these and remember the cost implications of taking it up and starting again can be significant and can often be more than the cost of the product in the first place. If in doubt, consumers should ask the trader and make a note of their answer; they in turn may have to talk to the manufacturer.
Losing the right to cancel
If a purchase is made online or off-premises (for example following a demo in their home), consumers may have the right to cancel within the 14-day cooling-off period contained in the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. There are certain conditions that need to be met to cancel, such as notifying the trader within the 14 days that they wish to return the goods for a full refund. Consumers should remember that actions can affect their right to cancel. For example, if they start to assemble flat-packed furniture and damage it, the business could make a deduction for the amount the damage has diminished the value. Similarly, customers would not be entitled to cancel if they have combined goods with other goods after delivery so that they become inseparable.
Services – when to get someone in
If goods are bought and a decision is made that someone else should install them, for example buying a kitchen and engaging the services of an installer separately, consumers will have different rights against the trader who sold the goods, than against the installer who installed them, if things go wrong. The installer will be providing services and must provide these with reasonable care and skill. If something goes wrong with the installation aspect (which could include the fitting or something arising that should have been picked up in a pre-fit survey), consumer rights will be for the installer to repeat the service to the extent necessary to complete the work in accordance with their contract, or, if this is impossible or can’t be done without causing significant inconvenience, there may be an entitlement to a price reduction. In practical terms, a price reduction is likely to be a recognition of the extent of the works that cannot be completed, although it could be up to 100%.
The Ombudsman’s advice in this scenario is to make sure consumers have all the information they need, a clearly defined scope of works and confirmation of every step in writing. If there are going to be any variations, agree it in writing, including any price adjustment. If a consumer has started a job and then wants someone to come in and finish it, agreeing the scope of works is even more important and taking photographs before the works start will help assess liability if issues do arise down the line.
Insurance - knowing the legal limits
Things can and do go wrong and even if no third parties are involved, if homeowners damage their own property whilst carrying out work, they may have to notify their insurers, even if it’s just a near-miss. Their insurance policy may cover the damage.
Negligence – property damage
When carrying out projects on their own property, homeowners will usually be accountable just to themselves. However, they also need to be careful to ensure they aren’t damaging property next door, for example, if pruning trees and a branch goes through a neighbour’s car window, they may have liability in negligence to that neighbour for the damage incurred. This means that the person carrying out the work, may have to pay some compensation so that the problem can be fixed and there may also be an obligation to notify their insurers as household insurance policies usually include cover for liability incurred to third parties.
Works that need to be certified
There are some works that can’t be undertaken solo, even for the most competent DIY-ers as some works require specialist sign-off or certification. For example, a ‘Part P’ certificate, otherwise known as a Building Control certificate, proves that a specific electrical task conducted within a domestic dwelling has been carried out safely and compliantly by a suitably qualified tradesperson. Similarly, there are other works covered by the Building Regulations that would need prior approval, such as insulation in a cavity wall, drains, some heating appliances and domestic, oil-fired heating or storage tanks, structural alterations, works affecting energy performance etc. Homeowners will also need to ensure they understand the requirements relating to any listing of properties and the limitations this may place on what they can do.
Judith Turner, Deputy Chief Ombudsman, Furniture and Home Improvement Ombudsman said, “When commencing any project, it’s vital that you understand your rights and what you may be entitled to, but also your obligations. We’ve tried to capture some of the considerations that you may need to be aware of and in all circumstances, if in doubt make sure you double-check the position before commencing work.
If you do need to engage an expert to carry out some or all of the works, ensure that you look for a trader who can offer alternative dispute resolution if things don’t go to plan. Including this in your pre-project planning, can ensure peace of mind that you have a free route to redress if things go wrong and you can make an informed choice about what work you can DIY and when to involve the services of an expert.”