While you may like what an interior designer did for your home or office, you could nonetheless be in a dispute with them. These kinds of disputes can easily escalate and become costly legal problems, a predicament to avoid if at all possible. This article sets out ways to resolve a dispute with an interior designer as cost efficiently as possible.

Consumer Law

As a service provider, interior designers fall under the auspices of the Australian Consumer Law (Cth) (‘ACL’). As such, they are obliged to meet all the consumer guarantees that apply to services and provide the appropriate statutory remedy if they do not. There are certain standards they must uphold in delivering the service as an interior designer.

Depending on the nature of your dispute, you may have a statutory remedy. It is a good idea to speak with your designer and explain to them your concerns. It is also important to listen to their response.

Discuss it with your Interior Designer

Regardless of how a customer understands the nature of their dispute with their interior designer, they should always try in the first instance to resolve it by discussing it with them. A calm conversation where both parties express their concerns and listen to the other may enable them to come to a mutually agreeable solution. Such an outcome is preferable above all others, not least because it is the most cost effective.

Read the Client Agreement

Before a consumer and designer agree to work together, a designer typically forwards their client agreement to the customer. This agreement details the services they provide as well as their terms and conditions for providing their services. It will also include information on matters such as payment, liability and intellectual property.

If you have a dispute with a designer, read the agreement carefully. The agreement will likely include a clause that details a process for dealing with disputes such as alternative dispute resolution. Alternative dispute resolution includes methods such as mediation or conciliation. A provision outlining how disputes must formally proceed means that both parties to the agreement must partake in that process before they instigate any other kind of action to resolve the conflict.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

In the unlikely event that a designer’s client agreement does not specify a procedure for the settlement of disputes, it is advisable for both parties to undertake alternate dispute resolution on their own initiative to resolve the matter. It is a good idea to do so because alternative dispute resolution on average costs less than instigating formal action. It is also more likely to preserve a cordial relationship between the parties. Finally, many courts and tribunals ask the parties to a dispute to undertake a form of alternative dispute resolution. If the parties partake in it before they commence any other action, they may save the expense of instigating such action.

Alternative dispute resolution processes can be facilitative, advisory or determinative. In a facilitative process, an independent practitioner assists the parties to identify issues, develop options and reach an agreement. For example, mediation is a facilitative process. Conversely, during an advisory process such as conciliation a dispute resolution practitioner appraises the dispute and advises the parties on the facts, the applicable law and potential outcomes. Finally, determinative processes involve a practitioner evaluating a dispute and making a determination. Examples include arbitration.

The parties to a dispute need to choose a form of alternative dispute resolution suitable for them. To reduce costs parties can use the reasonably priced services of their respective state or territory government. For example, in NSW the Small Business Commissioner and NSW Fair Trading provide mediation services.

Apply to a Tribunal

If the dispute remains unresolved, it is open to either party to make an application to their relevant state or territory administrative tribunal. In NSW, the appropriate body is the Commercial and Consumer Division of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Applications require the payment of a fee. Claims are only permissible within three years of a particular cause of action or ten years of the supply of a good or service. The Tribunal can typically only make orders amounting to a total of $40,000. The Tribunal hears matters usually within six weeks of an application.

When the parties arrive for hearing, they may be asked to engage in conciliation. NCAT conciliators usually assist more than one set of parties at any one time and may not always be in the room. If a customer and their interior designer resolve their dispute in conciliation, a Tribunal Member makes their agreement into a binding Consent Order.

However, if the matter remains unresolved, the parties will proceed to a hearing. Each side presents their facts and evidence to the Tribunal Member. The Member evaluates this and comes to a decision. Their subsequent orders are legally binding and enforceable. The parties both receive a copy of the orders and reasons for the Member’s decision. A party can represent themselves at the hearing, and the general rule is that each party pays its costs.

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Carole Hemingway

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