Each week former trading standards officer Richard Thomson answers your questions.
Q My house was damp-proofed about four years ago and the contractor gave me a 10-year guarantee. Damp patches have reappeared in the kitchen and hall. The firm that did the work went bust and was taken over. The new firm was happy to count me as a customer, but says it will only remedy the defects if I pay. It’s ignoring my guarantee – is this right?
A It may seem unfair, but your legal right to compensation for defective workmanship can only be enforced against the original company.
The new firm is not doing anything wrong by turning its back on the guarantee. It is, after all, a completely different outfit, and can’t be expected to pick up the tab.
You didn’t say, but if you paid for the defective damp proofing with finance or by credit card, there may still be light at the end of the tunnel. The lender may have an on-going responsibility to sort out the matter out and compensate you.
The law may hold the finance or card company jointly liable for the cost of rectifying work in circumstances where the original firm has literally gone to the wall. Alternatively, if the guarantee was backed by an insurance company, you should be able to put in a claim with them.
Firms make a sales virtue out of offering a guarantee. But you’ll do well to remember a guarantee is only good for as long as the firm remains in business. If they go bust, it’ll be just waste paper.
Q You frequently advise when buying goods costing more than £100 to use a credit card as you get extra protection. I did just that but when I told the bank it had to pay up for a faulty sofa, its obstructive, patronising response was worse than the store management. In view of my experience, I question whether this sort of advice has any practical use.
A Anyone who is in the consumer advice business knows that the theory and practicality of any specific piece of advice to help sort out a problem can be different sides of the same coin. Many people write to me with only their side of the story. Others have obviously rubbed the other side up the wrong way and made a rod for their own back.
As for the joint liability provisions of section 75 of the 1974 Consumer Credit Act, the banks are not exactly ecstatic about them. They resent being made jointly liable for faulty goods, and shoddy services. It gets in the way of their pursuit of profit.
If you’ve been lumbered with a bad buy, and you’re entitled to make a claim against a lender for a refund or compensation they won’t exactly roll over like pussy cats and refund your money. Quite the reverse, the chances are they’ll be as difficult as possible.
So why, I hear you saying, do consumer buffs keep giving this advice? The answer is simple. However much lenders continue to be part of the awkward squad when it comes to coughing up for shoddy sofas – or anything else for that matter – it’s still the law. When the chips are down, it’s the law that compels them to do the decent thing if the supplier won’t play ball.
Richard Thomson is a former trading standards officer with many years experience. If you have a question, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and wherever possible he will try to provide practical assistance. Unfortunately he cannot guarantee to respond to every letter or e-mail. Richard Thomson welcomes letters from readers on consumer issues. Replies are intended to give general help or advice, not a complete statement of law.