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Services and contracts

You have rights when you buy or use a service but every case is different and the solution to a problem with a service will depend on the individual case.

We have information for you on some of the most common questions about services and contracts, including utilities (such as gas and electricity), mobile phones, landlines, broadband, and TV services. We also have information on entering a contract over the phone.

You can also get information on contracts, including joining a gym or buying a concert or match ticket.

Generally, 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

These are your basic rights and they can only be excluded in a consumer transaction when it is fair and reasonable to do so, and only if the exclusion is brought to your attention.

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 penalty 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.

Entering into a contract over the phone

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 Distance Selling Regulations. These laws 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 companies tell you they may record your call with them. you are also entitled to access to this recording in case of a dispute.

Some suppliers may send the information to you, either in writing or by email. But companies 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 company must make you aware of. However, it might not be practical to do this over the phone. In this case, many companies 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.

Cancelling a service

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, a 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.

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