About this series of articles
This article is the twelfth in a series about the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, often abbreviated to CC (ICAC). This law came into effect from 13 June 2014.
Unfortunately, like most European law, the Regulations are anything but clear and practical. We hope that our information makes understanding the implications for your business easier.
If your business already compliant with distance selling rules, the changes represent evolution rather than a revolution. However, there are some important changes.
How the Regulations apply to on-premises contracts
Under the Regulations, you provide services 'on-premises' if you see your clients on your business property rather than theirs. You may be a sole trader or practitioner, or you may work for or as a company. The Regulations affect you unless your business is listed as exempt or partially exempt.
What is an on-premises contract?
More specifically, 'on-premises' refers to some place from which you regularly work. The Regulations rather unhelpfully define an on-premises contract as 'a contract between a trader and a consumer which is neither a distance contract nor an off-premises contract'.
In practice, the definition will cover for example all work by anyone practising in what is generally known as a 'profession' and many other trades where the consumer visits a trader at his workplace.
It does not matter whether the trader provides the service at the time of the visit, like a dentist, or later, like an accountant, or in a different location, like a building surveyor. Nor (generally) does the type of service matter.
You can read about identifying how your contracts are classed.
The hospitality industry is covered in different ways, according to the different possible contracts. We have devoted a short article to how the Consumer Contracts Regulations affect the hospitality industry.
A drink at a pub or café is excluded from the Regulations, but the provision of accommodation is generally not. It is unlikely that a hotel will insist upon a casual caller reading their terms and conditions before agreeing to stay for the night, but we see no reason why such a contract should be excluded.
The requirement to provide certain information
One of the pillars of Regulations is the requirement for an on-premises trader to give a consumer specific information in a way that is clear, comprehensible and legible, before he enters into a contract with you. This information must be given on paper or, if the consumer agrees, on 'another durable medium'.
The actual information is listed in a summary of Schedule 1 of the Regulations. All this information is required for an on-premises contract.
Here are some pitfalls you should avoid:
Avoid giving information informally
You must provide the information to your client before they enter into any contract or becomes bound to pay your fees. That can cause problems. It is in the nature of personal service provision that the provider talks informally with their client. You may be used to handing to your client a contract in some form or other, and relying on that as what has been agreed.
You must, however, be sure that the contract is not already in place. If it is, then the information you supply in your document may not part of the contract and accordingly you may be in breach of that Regulation. (In effect of course, this merely adds an additional leg to basic contract law.)
The Regulations state that 'before the consumer is bound by an on-premises contract, the trader must give or make available to the consumer the information described in Schedule 1 in a clear and comprehensible manner, if that information is not already apparent from the context.'
Presumably this is an admission that some information, such as your name, need not be specifically given if your client obviously knows who you are.
Avoid small print – make the information clear
Such information as you give 'must be given on paper or, if the consumer agrees, on another durable medium and must be legible.' That rules out small print and wall mounted terms and warnings.
The Regulations also say that 'any information that the trader gives the consumer as required by this regulation is to be treated as included as a term of the contract.' Note that 'any information' is not specifically 'any written information'.
It appears that the specified information must be given in some form of writing but that any other information you provide could be by word of mouth, directly or by phone, and could be treated as a contract term. Of course this is also covered by the Misrepresentation Act and other statue and general law relating to the sale of goods and services. In a word, compliance with these regulations does not let you off any hooks relating to what else you say.
Make sure the information is correct when you give it – making changes is difficult
Finally, remember that 'a change to any of that information, made before entering into the contract or later, is not effective unless expressly agreed between the consumer and the trader.' In a word, you cannot impose a change.
Of course, you can ask for your client to agree the change you want. If your client cannot agree the change, then in most cases, they are likely to agree to treat the contract as void rather than insisting that you perform it.
How to provide information
The Regulations do not specify how information has to be made available.
The important thing is that the customer has this information given or available to them. It is likely that this will be achieved in several ways, such as by notices or by a fee schedule on display, or by making available a shorter version of the T&Cs on paper for a client to read before they agree to be bound by it.
The simple yard stick is that this information must be clear and comprehensible to the customer before they enter into the contract.
Cancellation and refund
The Regulations relating to cancellation do not apply to on-premises contracts. You can continue to set your own terms. Remember however, that we refer here only to on-premises contracts.
If you take orders for services, or even make preliminary arrangements, by phone or through your website, then the cancellation provisions do apply. You can either use different terms in each case or permit the same cancellation terms for all clients.
Unless you are exempt from the Regulations or are already compliant, you are likely to need to update your customer contract templates. These are likely to include your website terms and conditions of sale if you sell online and your offline customer contract if you sell offline.
If you have any questions about the Consumer Contract Regulations 2013, or would like help updating your contracts to comply, please ask us. We’d be delighted to help.