With spring upon us, many will be turning to garden upgrades and make-overs as the weather improves and lockdown restrictions begin to ease to allow meeting in private gardens and outdoor spaces. Hard and soft landscaping will add texture, character, and structure to outside spaces, with rewards to be reaped by summer once the grounds are in full bloom.
There may however be instances in which landscaping projects don’t go to plan, leaving traders unable to reinstate gardens back to what they originally were. Consumers often expect a full refund if things go wrong, however, what would be the law of the land or a reasonable solution in these circumstances?
It’s not uncommon for garden remodelling projects to contain aspects of the supply of goods, provision of services, and a combination of both, overseen by a project manager. This can further be complicated if sub-contractors are used for different aspects of the work, for example, a specialist tree-surgeon might be required for preparatory works, while an electrician might be needed with finishing touches such as lighting effects. Therefore, even without the unreliable nature of the weather, such projects can be notoriously difficult.
Supply of goods
A consumer’s rights in relation to goods are straightforward where goods are supplied in isolation, but this will rarely be the case in landscape gardening. That said, a free-standing outdoor piece of furniture (i.e. a bench) that does not conform to the contract would be subject to a short-term right to reject, allowing customers to seek a full refund. Following the expiry of that 30-day period, consumers may be entitled to either a repair or replacement. The trader has one opportunity to carry this out and if the matter is still not resolved, a full or partial refund may be awarded.
Supply of services
Where services are not carried out with reasonable care and skill within a reasonable time, consumers are entitled to a repeat performance at no extra cost. This must also be carried out within a reasonable time and without significant inconvenience to them, failing which they may be entitled to a price reduction which could be up to 100%.
Goods and services
But what about a scenario where a trader has carried out a design, lifted lawns and removed trees (service); supplied plants, or products such as weed control and furniture (goods), built a summer house (a combination of goods and services) and in doing so has literally changed the landscape, so that to put the outdoor area back in the condition before the work began would be very difficult?
In such cases, customers may be able to treat this as a breach of the requirement for services as well as for goods and can therefore choose to use either the route of services remedies or goods remedies.
If the works specified originally become impossible, while a price reduction or full refund might be the legal remedy, the business could work with the customer to agree to a variation from the contract which would allow for the works to be completed, with whatever amendments are required to finish the job. Any such variations should be in writing; give the customer the option to walk away and ensure any price reduction is reflective of the revised specification.
At the outset of any project, having the right paperwork at the right time is not only a legal requirement but can also reduce complaints and aftercare issues. A checklist to ensure best practice etiquette and to evidence, sign-offs can also be useful to have in advance. If a trader engages a sub-contractor, they are also responsible for their work being completed with reasonable care and skill and for any remedy arising if they are not.
Kevin Grix, CEO and chief ombudsman, Furniture and Home Improvement Ombudsman said: ‘Gardens are seen as an extension of the home, and our not-for-profit, government-approved Ombudsman scheme, provides consumers with additional peace of mind and supports businesses and their customers in finding solutions when disputes occur, without the need for costly and lengthy litigation.’
‘We offer training to traders to help our members get it the right first time for their consumers and our insight from the cases that we investigate provides invaluable advice to businesses who are committed to promoting fair trade and inspiring consumer confidence.’