Many traders choose to issue their customers with standard sets of terms and conditions, perhaps as a way to protect themselves should a customer issue a complaint or change their mind about the services they’ve purchased.
However, there are a lot of things to bear in mind - not least making sure the document you’ve issued is actually legal - so we’ve come up with six things to think about before using your T&Cs professionally.
1. You don’t necessarily need them at all
There’s not actually a requirement for traders to have terms and conditions, as most things are already covered under contract law and the Consumer Rights Act 2015. This protects a trader’s customers if they receive a service that does not fulfil the minimum standards, and gives them the right to request that the service is redone or to be issued a price reduction or refund. The law also covers unfair terms in consumer contracts, which unfair terms and conditions could breach.
2. Watch out for these common mistakes
If you decide you still want terms and conditions, make sure you don’t fall into the trap of common T&Cs mistakes. These include things like omitting your cancellation policy, including unreasonably short timeframes for the customer to take action if they aren’t happy with work, and demanding full payment on the completion of the work.
Our Which? Trusted Trader assessors also warn against capping liability for services that aren’t provided with ‘reasonable’ skill and care, or deny the customer’s right to seek remedy under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
In fact the main things you’ll need to include are simply what you need the customer to do in order to be able to carry out the work, and how the customer should pay you or your business for that work.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has lots of information for businesses about how to write fair contracts; it suggests putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and not expecting them to sign into any agreements that you wouldn’t be happy to enter into yourself.
3. Online terms and conditions generators aren’t always reliable
By typing ‘how to write terms and conditions’ into a search engine, it’s likely you’ll be met with several results of sites that offer templates and even document generator tools to write your terms for you.
While the speed and convenience of these services might be tempting, it’s not a good idea to trust a generic set of Ts&Cs that could have serious implications for your business if they turn out to be unfair.
4. Seek legal advice if possible
Consumer law can be tricky, so it’s best practice to seek legal advice on your terms and conditions before you go ahead and start issuing them to customers. Even if you’ve made sure you’ve avoided the common mistakes mentioned above, there may still be a term that would be deemed ‘unfair’ if a customer were to make a claim under the Consumer Right Act 2015.
A legal professional who is an expert in this area would soon be able to tell you if any terms need changing, so you know that your terms and conditions can better serve you and your customers.
5. If you do have T&Cs, you must provide them before work starts
It’s not just what’s contained in your terms and conditions that’s important, you also need to take care over the timing when issuing them to your customers. If the T&Cs are not issued to the customer before a contract is entered into, a trader cannot rely on them as they cannot be applied retrospectively.
Note that a term doesn’t just apply to those set out in T&Cs, but also any issued on quotes, on a notice in your shop or car park (if you have them).
6. Our Which? Trusted Traders account managers can help
One of the benefits of signing up to Which? Trusted Traders is having a dedicated account manager who can advise on the operational and compliance side of your business. In addition to helping with things like terms and conditions, your account manager can also help if you receive any customer complaints.