Contracts and services
You have rights when you buy or use a service but every case is different and the solution to a problem will depend on the service.
We have information for you on some of the most common questions about services and contracts including:
- Gas and electricity
- Mobile phones
- TV services
- Joining a gym
- Concert or match tickets
Generally with any service, you have the right to expect that:
- The service you ordered is provided with proper care and attention
- The business providing it has the appropriate skills to do the job
- Any materials they use in the work are sound and fit for their purpose
- Any goods they supply to you as part of the service should be of acceptable quality too
Under the Consumer Rights Directive, your rights when you sign up to a service online are as follows:
The right to clear information
There should be no hidden fees and charges when you go to sign up to a service online. Pre-ticked boxes are now banned across the EU. Where a retailer offers additional extras (e.g. car hire, accommodation services) during the booking process, consumers must actively opt in by ticking the box to select that item. Retailers must show clearly the total cost of the service, including any additional taxes or fees, before the order is placed.
The retailer must also give you the following information in a clear manner before you make the order:
- The name and address of the supplier
- The main characteristics of the service
- How payment is to be made
- How the service will be performed
- That a right to cancel exists and how you can cancel
- The minimum duration of the contract
- How long it will be open to you to enter into the contract on these terms
- The cost of the communication between the parties if it is above a basic rate
- Any guarantees or after-sales services available
- The conditions for terminating the contract if it is of unlimited duration or for longer than one year
This information should be given to you in a document that you can keep. It is up to the business to prove that you have received the information.
The right to change your mind
The “cooling off” or cancellation period is 14 days from the date the contract started. You do not have to give any reason for cancelling, but bear in mind you may have to pay for the cost of returning any items to the business. If you cancel the service, the business by law has to refund you within 14 days. The refund also includes any delivery costs that you may have had to pay.
Some services are not covered by this cooling-off period, for example, hotel bookings, car rental and travel tickets are specifically excluded. Services that have already begun, with the consumer’s agreement, before the end of the 14 working day period are also excluded.
The right to refund for delayed or non-delivery
From the day you enter into the contract, the provider has 30 days to perform the service that you have ordered unless you agree otherwise with them.
- If the service is not carried out within the time agreed, you may contact the provider and ask for it at a later, convenient date. If it has still not been carried out during this extra period, you are then entitled to cancel the contract.
- If you didn’t receive the service during the 30 days and this was essential, you are entitled to cancel the contract after the 30 days is up, particularly if you informed them that you needed the service by this date.
- If the provider tells you that they can’t or won’t carry out the service, then you are entitled to cancel the contract.
Tips before you enter a contract online
Familiarise yourself with the business
- It is important to know who you are buying the service from. Make sure you have the name and full contact details, including postal address, of the online provider.
- Check online for reviews or any negative feedback before you purchase anything.
Read the terms and conditions
When you sign up to any contract there may be certain terms and conditions which apply. Examples of some common terms and conditions are a minimum contract time period (for example 12 months) and a fee if you want to end the contract early. When you sign up you agree to these terms and conditions so it is in your interest to read, understand and be happy with them.
- Print and save the terms and conditions before ordering
- Make screenshots during the purchase process in order to keep records of all steps that have been taken
- Keep copies of your order confirmation, e-receipts, letters and e-mails
- Make sure you use a secure website to enter credit card information – look for a closed padlock symbol in the browser window
You can enter into contracts for many kinds of services over the phone. This type of contract is as valid and binding as a written one. However, the supplier of the service must make it clear to you that you are forming a contract over the phone with them, and that they will keep a record that you agree to this.
The rules on how contracts are made over the phone are set out in the Consumer Rights Directive. These rules say that the supplier must give you certain information about the contract, including details about the provider, the costs and the minimum length of the contract, as well as any terms and conditions.
The supplier must give you this information either in writing, or have it available in another form, like a recording of the phone call. If they don’t, then the contract cannot be enforced. This is one of the reasons why some businesses tell you they may record your call with them. Some suppliers may send the information to you, either in writing or by email, but businesses are not obliged to send you the contract in writing. It is enough for them to keep a recording of the telephone conversation in case there is a dispute.
There may be many different terms and conditions in the contract which the businesses must make you aware of. However, it might not be practical to do this over the phone. In this case, many businesses will send these terms and conditions to you in writing or by email. To make sure both you and the supplier are agreeing to the same thing in a contract, you should ask for a copy of your terms and conditions and read them when they arrive.
A ‘doorstep sale’ is when you sign up to a service at your home, someone else’s home or your place of work, such as gas, electricity, telephone or internet services.
You have the same rights when you buy something at your doorstep as you do when buying in a shop. The salesperson should give you the full and correct information about the service being sold. What you buy must be as described to you, fit for the intended purpose, and of merchantable quality. If something you bought is faulty, you have a right to a refund, repair or replacement.
You also have some additional rights that are set out in law when you buy something on the doorstep:
- If a salesperson calls to your home (or workplace) and the goods you buy will cost you €50 or more, then you must be given a written cancellation form and a cancellation notice.
- You have the right to cancel the contract within 14 days. This is known as the “cooling-off” period. There are some exceptions when the cooling-off period does not apply. For example, if you have asked for the service to begin immediately you waive the right to the cooling-off period.
- The cancellation notice must:
- Be clear and easy to read, and not hidden away in small print
- Include the name of the business
- Give the name and address of a person that the cancellation form should be sent to
- Give a reference number or other details that makes the contract or offer easily identifiable
- Indicate that you have the right to cancel the contract, and that you can do so by delivering or sending a written cancellation form to the person named within 14 days of making the contract
- State the date that the notice was given to you
If the salesperson is not clear about how to cancel, do not agree to buy or sign up with them until you are satisfied about how and when you can cancel.
Take your time before you commit to buying anything. Salespeople may encourage you to sign up now with “one-day only offers” or offering you a “special discount if you sign today”. Don’t be pressurised into making a decision unless you’re absolutely sure. If you’re not sure whether or not you want to sign up, ask for some written material you can read later and don’t sign anything until you have had time to read over the offer and understand it. Also, make sure you are aware of the total cost, the length of any contract you are signing and the other terms and conditions of the contract.
How you cancel a service will generally be set out in the terms and conditions of any written contract and you may need to give written notice of cancellation. If you don’t have a copy, it may be available on the service provider’s website, or you can request a copy from them. Certain factors are important when you want to cancel a contract:
- Whether it is an ongoing service, for example, a mobile phone contract or gym membership, or a one-off service with a clear beginning and end, for example, renovations on your home
- Whether you are still in a “cooling-off” period during which you may be allowed to cancel
Some services charge cancellation fees. For example, a dentist might charge for appointments cancelled at short notice. And remember, if you made the appointment over the phone, you have an oral contract – so your dentist is within their rights to charge you a cancellation fee.
Some cancellation fees can be considerable, for example, cancellation fees to end a TV or broadband contract early, so make sure you are aware of what you are signing up to.
A service is faulty if it does not comply with the given description of the service or if it cannot be used for the specific purposes given by you to the provider. The service is also faulty if it does not show the normal quality and performance that can be reasonably expected.
- Act quickly- don’t delay in making your complaint. If you do, the provider may take this as a sign that you accept the service, and this may weaken your case if you take legal action against them. There may also be a time limit on making certain types of complaints.
- Contact the person in the business you originally dealt with, or the business’s customer service department, if it has one. A good business will have its own proper internal complaints procedures, and complaints are often resolved using these.
- Give the business the opportunity to put things right. This may help to solve your problem more quickly and will stand to you if you need to take legal action.
If your problem has gone on for some time and you are still getting nowhere, you should make a more formal complaint in writing, either in a letter or by email. You can use our sample complaint letters to help you put your complaint in writing.
Most complaints are settled without needing to take legal action. But if you are not satisfied after making your complaint, you may want to take it further. If your complaint involves an amount up to €2,000, you may be able to take your case to court yourself through the Small Claims procedure.
Last updated on 16 September 2020