Whether it concerns a plumber, electrician or another kind of tradesperson, disputes with tradies are often aggravating. They can also spiral out of control quickly, a fact that can result in significant legal expense. However, there are some things that consumers can do to resolve these kinds of disputes as cost efficiently as possible. This article outlines what actions they are and how they can work.

Consumer Law Obligations

As a service provider to consumers and businesses (who are considered consumers in this kind of situation), tradespersons have legal obligations under the Australian Consumer Law (Cth) (ACL). They must meet all the consumer guarantees in relation to the provision of services. These guarantees provide that a tradesperson:

  • Will perform their service with all due care and skill and that he or she has all relevant technical knowledge;
  • Will take all appropriate measures to avoid loss or damage;
  • Their service will be fit for purpose or give the result agreed between the parties;
  • Will provide their service within a reasonable time in the absence of a particular date.

If a tradesperson breaches any of these obligations, they must provide the appropriate remedy. Remedies can include compensation or a refund for a consumer if they cancel a service contract.

Depending on the nature of a dispute, a consumer may have a right to a statutory remedy. If they believe so, they should speak with their tradesperson calmly as soon as possible. They need to explain their concerns and why they warrant a remedy under the ACL. They should also listen to their tradesperson’s response. The tradesperson may be willing to provide a solution acceptable to the consumer.

Discussion with Tradesperson

Regardless of the nature of the dispute, consumers should always try in the first instance to resolve their dispute through discussion. A meeting can allow each party to outline their concerns. The discussion itself needs to be fair and involve active listening on all sides. It could be that the conversation results in a negotiated agreement acceptable to all parties.

Service Agreement

In all likelihood, a tradesperson would have given a client their service agreement before they did any work for them. These agreements typically outline, among other things, the services that a tradesperson will or will not do, the terms and conditions upon which they provide their services and specify the price to carry out the task.

The agreement might also have a clause dealing with the resolution of disputes. These provisions require the parties to undertake a prescribed dispute resolution process before initiating any other kind of action. The particular process will likely be a form of alternative dispute resolution. If a tradesperson’s agreement contains this kind of clause, consumers need to participate in that process as a first port of call in resolving a dispute. If they do so with more rather than less urgency, it is possible that the parties can resolve their dispute earlier rather than later.

If the agreement does stipulate a form of alternative dispute resolution, the parties can and should undertake it of their own initiative. The process also allows parties to express their concerns openly. This characteristic of the process may help the parties find a resolution. There are various kinds of alternative dispute resolution including mediation, conciliation and arbitration. Not all processes are suitable for every kind of dispute. In this kind of disagreement, mediation or conciliation is likely a good option.

Tribunal

If dispute resolution processes are unable to help the parties negotiate an agreement, either party can make an application to their appropriate state or territory administrative tribunal. These provide a means of resolving the dispute in a less expensive manner than court proceedings. For example, in Victoria, the appropriate body is likely the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. However, the making of an application does require the payment of a fee. Also, time limits apply, and tribunals have limits as to the total amount of money their orders can reach.

A tribunal might ask or require parties to a dispute to undergo a form of dispute resolution before they proceed to a hearing. If they do not reach an agreement, they move to a hearing. At the hearing, all parties present their facts and evidence to a Tribunal Member. The Member evaluates the evidence and makes a decision. Their orders are binding and legally enforceable. An applicant can speak for themselves.

***

Resolving a dispute with a tradesperson can be tricky. We have assisted many individuals and small businesses with their legal needs. Contact us today on 1300 544 755 or fill in the below form.

Carole Hemingway

Next Steps

If you would like further information on any of the topics mentioned in this article, please get in touch using the form on this page.