If a hairdresser messes up, don't just pay up and wait for your locks to grow back - complain, says Sandy Bisp

The image in the mirror resembling a panicked porcupine was mine. The shock of finding myself the recipient of a semi-Mohican - despite my clear request for a "soft, medium-length, casual style" - was total. Telling myself my hair would grow, I paid and scuttled off. But what should I have done? What rights do customers have?

Few, apparently, without recourse to law. Britain's hairdressing industry, employing 100,000 people, is unregulated, unlike most of Europe. Anyone can set up in business here without training or qualifications. Mobile hairdressers don't need shops.

According to the Office of Fair Trading, a haircut constitutes a "service" and anybody paying for one is entitled to certain standards. A service should be carried out with reasonable care and skill, in a reasonable time at a reasonable charge, if no price has been fixed in advance.

Before going to a hairdresser, you should be reasonably clear about what you want. But if you consider that too little skill has been displayed - or that the process has taken far too long - pay what you consider the service to be worth and ask for things to be put right.

If totally dissatisfied, don't pay. Leave your name and address in case an establishment wants to sue, and complain to your local trading standards office. If you want compensation, put it in writing, setting a time limit for the hairdressing company to reply. If no satisfaction is forthcoming, take your claim to a small claims court with photographic evidence showing the state of your hair. Maximum damages of about pounds 200 apply for a bad haircut. Your county court will help with this.

More serious injury from bleaching, tinting, perming or straightening can be grounds for claims, with damages of up to pounds 5,000 - above the pounds 1,000 small-claims ceiling. If a salon refuses to redress damage, your Citizen's Advice Bureau can advise. If damaged hair is cut, take along an independent witness, bag the hair, sealing and dating it for use as evidence.

The Hairdressing Council receives 3,000 complaints a year, almost invariably about non-members. The registrar, John Byre, says: "I fear it's the tip of an iceberg. We have made representations to government about regulating what is a pounds 2bn industry. I advise people to go to one of the 15,000 state- registered hairdressers."

Hairdressing Council 0891 517317.

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