A case concerning a contract between a man who ran a removal business and a house owner, which was made at the home of the latter and followed up by an email confirming the contractual terms, has provided confirmation that the court takes a very strict approach to the application of consumer protection law.
The homeowner wanted to move from Surrey to Devon and needed to schedule the move for five days hence. He found the removal man and the arrangements were put in place promptly.
One of the clauses in the removal man’s standard contract was that in the event of cancellation within five days of the scheduled date for the work to be done, 80 per cent of the contract price (which was nearly £7,600) would be payable. The man accepted the contract and later that day the removal man came back to his house and a deposit of £1,000 was paid.
At no point did the removal man point out that the homeowner had a legal right to a ‘cooling off’ period of seven days under legislation designed to protect householders from high pressure doorstep sales tactics.
The putative customer then obtained a better offer from another firm and, two days before the scheduled move, sought to cancel the contract. He negotiated with the removal man, who agreed to a cancellation fee of 50 per cent of the contract price less the £1,000 deposit paid.
In the event, the homeowner refused to pay the cancellation fee and when the removal man claimed against him, he counterclaimed to recover his deposit, arguing that it was not payable because of the ‘doorstep selling’ regulations and the fact that he was not told that he was entitled to a cooling off period.
The removal man argued that the sale was not covered by the regulations. It was not a ‘high pressure’ sale and the customer had sought him out rather than the other way round.
In the Court of Appeal, the judges had great sympathy for the removal man. However, his claim failed. The homeowner’s counterclaim also failed.
This case shows that the courts will apply consumer protection law strictly, even when doing so produces what seems to be a rather unfair result for the supplier. There are lessons to be learned from this decision for both customers and sellers.