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What to do if a service is poorly done, unfinished, takes too long, or doesn't work the way you expect.

If you pay a business to provide a service and it's sub-standard, you can ask them to fix the problem under the Consumer Guarantees Act.

If they have not completed the work, they might be in breach of contract and you have rights under both the Consumer Guarantees Act and the Contract and Commercial Law Act. But they might not liable if the reason they couldn't finish was something out of their control.

The Consumer Guarantees Act covers services usually bought for personal or household use.

How to complain

Your rights

When a business supplies you with consumer services there are four guarantees that apply under the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA).

1. Services will be provided with reasonable care and skill

Any work done must be at least as good as the work of a competent person with average skills and experience for that type of work.

Reasonable skill is about applying technical know-how. Reasonable care is how much care is taken to do the job properly.

2. Services will be fit for purpose

When you have told the service provider what work you want them to do and they accept the job, they must make sure you get what you want.

If the service provider can’t guarantee the work will give you the result you want, they have to tell you before they start the job. But they can’t get out of their responsibilities by warning you that the job may not be satisfactory if they are inexperienced in that trade.

However, if you are not clear about what you want, the service provider might not be responsible if you don't get it.

3. Services will be done within a reasonable time, if no timeframe is agreed

If you and the service provider have not agreed on a time to finish a job, the provider must do so within a reasonable time. Reasonable time is judged on the time it takes a competent person who works in that type of job to complete the task.

4. Services will be a reasonable price, if no price is agreed

If you and the service provider have not agreed a price for the job, you only have to pay a reasonable price. You can work out what a reasonable price is by finding out what other providers in your area are charging for similar services.

These guarantees apply automatically whether or not you sign a contract.

icon building trades reasonable price

Did you know?

You can expect to pay a reasonable price for building or trade service even if it hasn’t been agreed or provided in the contract. You can work out what’s reasonable by comparing prices for similar services from other providers.

The work should also be completed in a reasonable timeframe but make allowances for things like weather.

If work is not completed

You have two sets of legal rights for work that’s not completed:

  1. The guarantees listed above under the Consumer Guarantees Act.
  2. Remedies for a breach of contract under the Contract and Commercial Law Act (CCLA).

If the contract includes a completion date and a fixed price, then not meeting either or both terms could be a breach of contract.

You can use the CCLA when the CGA doesn’t apply, eg a breach of contract involving commercial services or private sales.

Unexpected major events

Suppliers may not be liable if work can't be completed because of events beyond their control, also called "force majuere". Examples include:

  • major natural disasters, eg flood or earthquake
  • unavoidable accidents.

Your next steps depend on what's set out in your contract with the supplier, eg they will:

  • continue to do parts of the service not affected by the event
  • do what they can to overcome such an event
  • restart work as soon as possible.

If things go wrong

Start by contacting the person who provided you with the service. Explain the problem and what you would like done about it.

How to complain

If a problem is minor, the business can choose to either fix the problem or refund your money.

You can ask the service provider who did the job to fix it for free. If they refuse or take longer than a reasonable time to fix it, or don't fix it at all, you can:

  • get someone else to fix it and claim the cost from the service provider
  • cancel the contract for service and:
    • refuse to pay for any work already done, or
    • get a partial refund if some of the work or materials are suitable.

A reasonable time depends on the nature of the problem. Sometimes a reasonable time will be a few hours, or it may be a few days.

You can cancel the contract for the service and refuse to pay for any work already done. You can also:

  • pay less than the agreed price, or
  • seek compensation for the value of the service that is less than what you've already paid.

Services are different to products in that you can’t return the service. So there are additional remedies that you can seek from the Disputes Tribunal or District Court.

Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, a problem with services is serious if:

  • a reasonable consumer would not have bought the service if they were fully aware of the problem
  • the result of the service is substantially unfit for its usual purpose, and can’t be easily fixed within a reasonable time
  • the result of the service is unfit for a particular purpose that you told the service provider you wanted to use it for, and can’t easily be fixed within a reasonable time, eg you ask to have your tree trimmed to let in more light and the arborist trims it to improve the shape
  • the service output can’t be expected to achieve a particular result that you told the service provider you wanted, and can’t be easily fixed within a reasonable period of time
  • the result of the service is unsafe.

It is not always easy to decide if a fault is minor or serious. It is up to the business to assess it. If the problem can't be easily fixed, they have to provide enough information for you to make an informed choice about what you want them to do.

If the business disagrees with you, you may have to get a technical opinion from someone who knows about that type of service. This can help support your view that the fault is serious.

If a faulty service has caused damage to your property or belongings, you can claim compensation. But, there’s a limit to what you can claim. The loss must be ‘reasonably foreseeable’ and you must minimise or avoid any extra loss if possible.

Sometimes it’s hard to put an amount on the loss suffered because the damage leads to extra problems. For example, if a roofer damages your work car while putting up ladders, compensation might cover car repairs and loss of business as you can't drive. You might need to seek legal advice on this.

Next steps

If you can't agree a solution with the service provider, you can take your complaint to a disputes scheme. You could also report the business to their industry regulator.

Some industries have their own schemes. If the service you're complaining about does not, take your complaint to the Disputes Tribunal.

We have industry-specific guidance, eg for car repairs and home renovations, in our Help by product and service section.

Help by product and service 

More help

Get support at any point from:

  • Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) — a free, independent service, run by volunteers. CAB can advise you on your consumer rights and obligations, in person, by phone, or online.
  • Community Law Centre — offers free one-on-one legal advice to people with limited finances. The organisation has 24 community law centres throughout the country. You can find legal information and other resources on its website.

Find a CAB(external link) — Citizens Advice Bureau

Our law centres(external link) — Community Law Centres


Example — Fixing poor quality work

The brakes on Xiu's car need replacing. After he collects it from the garage, the brakes still don't seem right — and then he has a near-miss at a pedestrian crossing. He goes back to the garage to complain. It turns out the new brake pads are slightly loose. Xiu asks for the brakes to be fixed for free. He can do this under the CGA guarantee of services being carried out with reasonable skill and care.

Fixing your car

Example — Refuses to fix it

Hemi's new roof leaks. He can see gaps where the guttering isn't properly attached. He emails the roofers to complain, but they say they are too busy to fix it — maybe in a few months' time. That's not good enough. The roofers didn't complete the job with reasonable skill, so they should either do the repairs promptly or pay for repairs done by another tradie. If they refuse to pay, Hemi can make a claim in the Disputes Tribunal.

Issues after your building work has finished

Example — Wrong insurance

Balaji wants insurance for his rental property. He wants to cover loss of rent if tenants damage the property and he has to keep it empty during repairs. The insurance adviser wrongly sells him house and contents insurance instead of landlord insurance. When his tenants leave the house in a bad state, Balaji finds out he can't claim for loss of rent. He can complain to the insurance company as their adviser did not provide fit-for-purpose advice under the CGA.

Example — Quake disrupts work

Cindy runs a catering service. But after an earthquake damages her kitchen, she’s unable to make food for her customers a few months. Cindy is not liable for the failure to deliver meals or cater functions already booked during that time. As the quake was an event beyond her control, she can rely on the force majeure exception under the CGA, or the force majeure clause in her catering contracts with businesses.

Example — Contract out of the CGA

Mandy employs a cleaning company to clean her business premises. She is not happy with the standard of cleaning after a month. Mandy is not covered by the CGA — the service contract specifically excludes it, as the contract is for commercial premises. Mandy will have to rely on other terms and conditions of the contract to decide if there is a breach of contract. She should contact the cleaning company and make a complaint.