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Navigating Legal Landscapes on Bank Holiday DIY Dilemmas

With the approach of the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, numerous individuals will be embarking on home improvement endeavours. Whilst DIY enthusiasts often overlook the legal implications of mishaps, it's crucial to consider various key aspects to guarantee a seamless project execution.

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 you 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. Firstly then, it’s important to note that the purchase must be made as a consumer, i.e. outside of trade, business, craft our profession, so if a trade-account is used, then may not meet the criteria of a consumer and would therefore be outside of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, but subject to other rights elsewhere.

So, assuming you are a consumer and for example, a flat-packed shed has been bought and assembled, you are entitled to a remedy if it or any of its components are defective or not as per the contract. In the first 30 days, you are entitled to reject the whole or part of the order and get a full refund. To do so you have to prove the non-conformity and the Ombudsman’s advice is to make sure you contact the trader within 30 days, don’t use the goods and take photographs or videos to evidence why you think it’s defective or otherwise does not confirm to the contract.

If you’re not seeking to reject and 30 days have passed, you are 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, so if there are any special circumstances or a timeframe to meet, the trader would need to be told that it’s essential that goods are supplied within a certain time, outlining the implications if they are not; this could entitle you to end the contract or receive some financial compensation, for example if you’re left out of pocket by the delay. If the goods can’t be repaired or replaced and 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.

Preparatory Works

If buying goods on a supply-only basis, the you will need 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 include acclimatising wood, levelling sub-flooring and addressing any issues such as damp. The trader has an obligation to supply information such as fitting instructions, but you must comply with these and remember the cost implications of taking it up and starting again can be significant and can outweigh the cost of the product in the first place. If in doubt, you should ask the trader and make a note of their answer; they may have to talk to the manufacturer, so it might be best to delay starting work until you know what’s involved.

When you may lose the right to cancel

If a purchase is made online or off-premises (for example following a demo in their home), you 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 in order to be able to cancel, such as notifying the trader within the 14 days that you wish to return the goods for a full refund. Remember though, that actions can affect your to cancel. For example, if you start to assemble flat-packed furniture and damage it, the trader could make a deduction for the amount the damage has diminished the value. Similarly, you can’t cancel if you have combined goods with other goods after delivery so that they become inseparable.

Services – when to get someone in and where their duties start and stop

If goods are bought and a decision is made that someone else should install them, for example buying a kitchen and employing the services of an installer separately, you 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 has to 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 here is make sure you have all the information you need, a clearly defined scope of works and confirmation of every step in writing. If there are going to be any variations, agree these in writing, including any price adjustment. If you have started a job and then want someone to come in and finish it, agreeing on 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.

Negligence – property damage

When carrying out projects on their own property, homeowners will usually be accountable just to themselves. However, you need to be careful to ensure you aren’t damaging a neighbouring property, for example, if pruning trees and a branch goes through a neighbour’s car window, you may be liable 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.

Works which 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. DIY’ers will also need to ensure they understand the requirements relating to any listing of your property and the limitations this may place on what they can do.

Top Tips for DIY Projects this Easter

  • Understand what is involved – ask questions and follow instructions.
  • Get everything in writing – make sure you have a paper-trail.
  • Know your rights and your responsibilities – do your research before you begin!

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 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.”

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