Law on trader contracts must be clear

Under the Court’s interpretation of the law, it appeared that if a trader fails to tell a consumer about his or her rights, the consumer simply has none

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The Independent Online

When Dr Toby Robertson was planning a move from his Weybridge home he rang a removal firm for a price. The remover visited Dr Robertson and quoted a price of £6,000, telling him that the amount was standard for the job.

The two men signed an agreement but few days later Dr Robertson found a firm that could do the job for just£3,490, so he canceled the more highly-priced contract.

But that wasn’t the end of it. The remover pointed out cancellation charges included in the contract and said that they were normally 60 per cent but that he would accept 50 per cent.

Dr Robertson agreed but, after researching the subject more fully, realised he wasn’t liable for the charges under current law, which gives a consumer the right to cancel a contract made in their own home.

The next step was a long, drawn-out legal case with the remover chasing charges and Dr Robertson counter-suing for a £1,000 deposit he had handed over.

The case eventually went to the Court of Appeal which ruled that Dr Robertson had no right to the return of his deposit because the trader had not given him any notice of his legal right to cancel the contract, and so the right had not been triggered.

That’s mind-boggling. Under the Court’s interpretation of the law, it appeared that if a trader fails to tell a consumer about his or her rights, the consumer simply has none.

That’s a complete nonsense so it was pleasing to see the Supreme Court’s decision on the case published yesterday quashing the earlier ruling. 

Since 13 June anyone entering into a home contract has the right to cancel for up to 12 months. Yesterday’s ruling extends that right to home contracts made before that date.

Signing contracts at home can lead us into making the wrong decision, especially if we’re dealing with a pushy salesperson. So it’s essential we have the right to have time to think about things. Hopefully the law is clear now.

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