Consumer Rights: 'My kitchen units will be a month late, but firm refuses to cancel my contract'

Patience may be the best option for delayed cupboards and a driver will have to accept trackers on his work car

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The Independent Online

Q: I planned to rebuild our kitchen over Easter. The plans were drawn up just after Christmas. We paid a hefty deposit for bespoke units and were promised delivery by the end of March at the latest. All other equipment and materials have been bought and paid for and work is to start on Easter Monday. However, I was told yesterday that the kitchen units won't be ready until the end of April.

I can go ahead with the wiring, plumbing, tiling and so on but the carpenter will have to be stood down. We won't be able to use the kitchen because there won't be any units. I've booked four days holiday which I can't unbook and we'll have the expense of living on takeaways or eating out for two weeks longer than expected. I have pleaded and explained but to no avail – the units are being built but won't be ready and the firm won't cancel the order and give me the deposit back so I can go elsewhere to buy ready-made units. What are my rights? Can I demand compensation?

FJ, London


A: Easter is a popular time for sprucing up houses and it sounds like the kitchen company over estimated its production capacity and took on too many orders.

If you had an agreement which very clearly specified that you needed the units by the end of March they have broken that contract. Go back to the order form and see what it says. Think back to the conversation you had with the sales person in the showroom. Did you have anyone with you who can witness what was said?

It's too late to get the units off the production line in time but think carefully about what you really want. If you do persuade the company to cancel your order and refund your deposit (which you could do if they're in breach of their contract but which they will resist because bespoke units won't easily fit another kitchen) you can probably order units today and have them delivered for Friday. But I suspect, given the planning that's gone into this, readymade units won't ever fit the bill and you won't ever be happy with the resulting kitchen.

Make a list of what you want by way of compensation – any money lost, extra costs because of the delay etc – but be reasonable. It's still possible to eat at home if you have a fridge and a microwave. Put your case to the firm, in writing (emails are fine as long as you don't delete them) and tell them what it will take to make you a happy customer. It's not so much the reason for the complaint that makes us cross with companies but their reluctance to solve problems quickly. If they pull out all the stops, get the units to you as quickly as possible, well made and looking wonderful, and you get a discount to cover your losses you will be glad you waited because you'll have the kitchen of your dreams.

If, however, the units don't arrive as promised by the end of April there's a bigger problem and you may have to threaten legal action (and to name them in this column) if you don't get your money back. If it comes to that call Consumer Direct on 08454 040506.


Q: I have been working for my boss for five years. My sales job involves a lot of driving and I have a company car which I also have the use of outside working hours. Last week we all had an email saying that our company cars are going to have trackers fitted. Basically during working hours the company will know where we are and even the speed we're driving at. Can they do this without our agreement?

MM, West Midlands


A: This is fairly common. A lot of companies are bringing in these tracking systems but some are really bad at managing change: imposing new rules at a few days notice and alerting people by email really isn't smart. I have heard from someone who didn't know a tracker had been fitted to his lorry until he wasn't where he should have been and got caught out by his manager.

However, there's not a lot you can do. The firm isn't doing anything illegal – it is bringing its policies up to date and arguably should have done it sooner. It isn't likely to be in breach of contract, the boss can argue that the change is for your health and safety and you don't seem to be losing out financially.

By adding tracking devices drivers are encouraged to stick to the speed limits, employers can check that they don't drive for too many hours in the day, colleagues can locate drivers if they breakdown, and someone will know where they are if they're driving alone. All of that is reasonable. If a firm neglects its Duty of Care to its employees and doesn't take all reasonable steps to reduce work-related accidents, and you or a colleague is involved in an accident, the company might find itself facing a claim for any resulting injury or death.

It's the lack of consultation that's really the bone of contention here, I suspect, but that's just bad practice by poor management which will result in impaired morale and reduced productivity. When will managers ever learn?

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