What Happens When You Get Bad Service?

The customer is always right.

There are actually three or four parts to this topic all revolving around great questions from John, thanks John! I'll post the questions as he put them to me and the responses that I made to each question over the next couple of weeks so that you can get a feel of the different kind of responses that are available depending upon the way you ask the question. Asking better questions will always give you better answers! Although I have answered this question in an Australia centric fashion, similar priniciples apply wherever you are in the World.

What do You do when contractors or suppliers give you terrible service, then demand payment on invoice?

Firstly, do you have anything in writing? Often you will receive the terms and conditions of supply on the back of a quote from a supplier. Sometimes they don’t have any at all. Contractors frequently don’t have terms of service. If you have received something in writing, have a look at that first and work out when you received as compared to when the work was done. If you received it after the work was done, it doesn’t necessarily apply. If before, it probably does.

Secondly, if you are an individual you are protected by consumer legislation relevant to your legal jurisdiction. There is an office of Fair Trading or Consumer Affairs in each state and territory of Australia and they all have websites, some are more useful than others. There is Fair Trading legislation that applies to the supply of goods and services to individual consumers. You can find a copy of the Australian legislation through http://www.austlii.edu.au/* by going to the tabs on the left hand side of that page, picking your state, then looking for “consolidated acts” for that jurisdiction, “F” and find “Fair Trading Act” in the list. Fair Trading Acts are full of fascinating rights and entitlements for consumers!

Did you know that a contractor or supplier is required by law to complete their work in a “proper, workmanlike manner”? If you have contractors who are demanding payment and have failed to provide an adequate service you can let them know that you are prepared to make a complaint to Consumer Affairs if they don’t have a chat with you to work out something more reasonable.

In Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and ACT the governments have created Civil and Administrative Tribunals which deal with these kinds of complaints. Again, they all have websites, some better than others. There similar tribunals in other states, just look for them through the Consumer Affairs websites. These tribunals are less formal than courts and, whether they admit it or not, biased to the consumer. Complaints are usually pretty cheap (less than $100 for a complaint with a value of up to $10,000) to lodge with the tribunal; can be paid by credit card and forms are usually available to download from the website and can be submitted online, post or fax.

You do need to be prepared if you are going to lodge a formal complaint with a tribunal. Collect everything you have in writing and any notes you have of telephone conversations. The law is not about right or wrong, its about who can put forward the most believable “proof”. You also can’t leave anything out. When you put forward the “facts” you need to put forward all of the facts, not just the ones you like or that make you look good. Also, don’t make things up! Tribunal Members, Magistrates, Judges are not fools and they are used to having people present cases to them. When they prepare a decision they will tell you whether or not they found your story believable!

If you are planning to make a complaint, be organised. Collate the information about what was requested, what was expected, the exchange of quotes and information, telephone calls etc into a timeline of events with supporting documentation, then you are prepared to argue the point in a tribunal or a court. You will also be confident in your position and know what you are doing. If being that organized sounds like too much trouble, then pay the disputed invoice and move on! It’s not worth letting a dispute suck your time and energy. Take it as a lesson well learnt and money you don’t need to spend again to learn the same lessons.

What have you learnt about consumer law lately?

*www.austlii.edu.au has links to international Legal Information Institutes around the World at the bottom of their homepage.

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