Consumer guarantee for services

Firstly, apologies for the length of this post. I have followed every step to address the following costly failures of the service guarantee, but the response by the provider has not been adequate and I would like to take the matter further. I’d appreciate any suggestion that Choice Community members could offer. Thanks in advance!

A series of serious service failures from a major hardware retailer resulted in a very costly delay in completing a kitchen in my investment property resulting in significant financial loss. At each stage and following each service failure I communicated clearly and in writing in an attempt to remedy the problems as they arose. I hold detailed records of every communication.

The first service failure occurred when my contractor first received a quotation and then placed an order for materials on 28 Feb 2021. This was followed up with two calls to enquire about the progress of the order and he was told that someone would get back to him. No one did, so when he went to the store after four weeks he learned that the order had not even been placed. At that time the estimated time of delivery of the order was only one week after placing the order. This resulted in a four-week delay in receiving materials with flow-on consequences.

A more minor but still consequential failure of service was an unauthorised addition of carcasses to the value of $1595 despite the fact that the store attendant had been shown photos of the installed carcasses. This amount was later reimbursed but amidst other problems, it was a further inconvenience.

The second major failure was when upon delivery, the materials were roughly handled and carelessly thrown from the back of the truck resulting in damage to the materials. Also, there was also no docket accompanying the order so items could not be ticked off.

The materials were delivered on 1 May, and the building of the kitchen was held up until replacement materials arrived on 16 July. By that time the impact of Covid led to a lockdown of our LGA until mid-October.

There was a third major problem: Due to the small space, the plan was to purchase and install the large benchtop (special order) first and then purchase the other two standard pieces. This sequence was essential due to the lack of storage space for materials in the apartment.

By the time the benchtop was delivered after the initial delay, the store no longer sold this particular standard benchtop (Vic Ash).

The particular kitchen was specifically selected as it was readily available. When the order was placed, there was no mention that this product was going to be pulled. By the time the delayed order was delivered, the pieces needed to complete the kitchen were no longer available.

The installation of the large special order benchtop required tremendous workmanship (picture available) requiring a unique cut of the benchtop to fit the irregularities of the existing wall. However, because of the extended delay, as well as the failure to communicate that this standard product was to be no longer stocked, this benchtop needed to be pulled out and replaced with another product.

Attempts to resolve this matter were sometimes met with reasons that made no sense. For example, I was offered a small compensation because there was no rental agreement in place at the time of the installation. It is inconceivable that anyone would take on a rental agreement with no kitchen and obvious building works underway.

Again, I’m grateful for any advice about how to proceed with this matter.

Nice to see you back on the Community @barbarasakai6

That is a shocker of an experience. Feel free to name the company to forewarn others. You probably have read about consumer guarantees for services on the ACCC web site; if not that is your next step.

edit: As @phb noted in his subsequent post, your contractor is the responsible party and ‘owns’ the problem. Store → Contractor. But if you had directed your contractor where to order that could be a complicating factor.

Not having satisfaction the next step in the process is a well written, well documented ‘Letter of Complaint’ (tools and links available in many Community topics that can be found using the Community search tool). Include your evidence as attachments - assure it is sent and delivered to a senior management representative not just a store manager unless they are one and the same; noting it never hurts to cc the store manager. It has to be written as if you are a silk arguing in front of a magistrate who knows nothing about it. eg Very Complete and well organised.

Barring a resolution your next steps would be a formal complaint to your state fair trading office (expect little) and then to your state Civil Tribunal (VCAT, NCAT, etc) seeking damages. As a general statement Fair Trading will rarely look at a potential case unless a Letter of Complaint process failed to achieve a resolution. Do not include extraneous information or experiences that have been resolved that could confuse matters, unless linked as germane to the store’s lack of due diligence and competence in delivering the service.

If it is a large sum consider getting legal advice earlier than later.

Please keep your topic updated in how you go.

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What a terrible ordeal for something which possibly should have been straight forward.

This complicates the issue. It appears you have an agreement with your contractor for the installation of a kitchen, and the contractor was responsible for ordering the kitchen (through a hardware store).

As you have the relationship with the contractor, they are responsible for the delivery of services you engaged them for. They are also responsible for any subcontractors they use, such as the supply of materials from the suppliers they use - including the hardware store. Your ‘beef’ is with this contractor and not the hardware store.

This raises a second point. It is possible that the contractor may be giving you their ‘view’ of things to shift blame to another party - the hardware. Your contractor is ultimately responsible for the services they provide and if they were having challenges with their supplier, they should have looked at alternatives to ensure timely service delivery.

The last issue is Covid. As you outlined, the services occurred during periods of lockdowns which significantly restricted the ability to deliver services. Mandated Covid restrictions affected ability to carry out works/services and obtain materials. Such impacts aren’t the fault of your contractor nor their subcontractors. One would hope that during this time your contractor was regularly liaising with you and its subcontractors to keep all informed of the status of the works to allow timely completion when Covid restrictions were removed.

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In response to the contractor issue, the contractor is my neighbour and trusted friend who was doing this as a favour to me. I was fully aware of what was happening each step of the way so he was directly acting on my behalf. I was aware that he received a quote, placed an order, followed up on the order with two calls, and finally returned to the store to find that the order was never placed.

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As noted, that is a complicating factor. If there was no contractual relationship between you and ‘your neighbour and trusted friend’ there may be no liability. If ‘your neighbour and trusted friend’ placed the orders there may be a contractual relationship between ‘your neighbour and trusted friend’ and the store, possibly making you legally a ‘disinterested 3rd party’. Doing so at your direction may or may not be germane toward resolution.

We Community members cannot offer legal advice nor is anything posted intended to be more than best effort opinion.

Considering the opportunities to damage relationships I strongly recommend you seek legal advice to obtain the best possible outcome, although you might not like the advice you receive.

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In response to the Covid issue, yes I understand your points. There is no blame intended here, though, of course, it was costly to me.
The order was placed on 28 Feb. On the first quote received but not accepted, the expected delivery time was one week. This is just to give an idea of expected timeframes. My contractor expected to finish the work within three weeks. Allowing some space on both of these estimates, the work should have been finished by around the end of April or even early May. But by the end of July, we had only just received replacement materials. This was the direct result of the flow on consequences of firstly failing to place the order, and secondly mishandling of materials leading to the need for replacement. (thanks for staying with me on this!)

My first letter of complaint was written the day following my learning of the order not being placed. I used the guidelines on the ACCC website and information provided in the Choice article on Service Guarantees. As things continued to go wrong, I later wrote a letter of demand with evidence as attachments. The store manager and area manager were cc’d. I believe with a few adjustments, this letter would be suitable for a magistrate who knew nothing of the matter.
I was mainly dealing with a ‘customer relations coordinator’ and from some of the responses, such as the one cited earlier about there being no rental agreement in place at the time of my losses, I was not confident that my concerns were reaching a sufficiently senior level.

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That is good that he let you know where he was at.

Even though you directed him, he placed the order/made the purchase and has the relationship with the hardware store…and ultimately he is responsible for the situation which arose. He is the one providing the services (supply and install) to you, he is the responsible party.

As the hardware store has no relationship with you, they would be in their rights to dismiss any letter of complaint they receive. They also don’t have to provide you with any resolution under the Australian Consumer Law to you as you aren’t their buyer/service engager. They also have the right to ask you to seek redress through your contractor, should you chose.

If you wish to seek a resolution, understanding that the contractor is your neighbour and trusted friend, you will need to take it up with your neighbour. Doing such may however have unintended consequences to your relationship with him. If you do, it is his responsibility to address any of the issues with his engaged subcontractors and provide you with a resolution, where a resolution is required.

Edit: I see that that your neighbour was doing the work as a ‘favour’. I suspect that as @PhilT has indicated, that you may not have may formal contract with the neighbour for doing the work. Favours are great when all works out well, but can become a diabolical nightmare when they don’t. If you don’t have a formal contract with your neighbour, then it becomes very much ‘he said - she said’ type situation between all the parties involved (you, your neighbour and your neighbours hardware store). In such situations the small saving to get the work does as a favour will not out way the costs to resolve. This article sums up why there is advice you should never do business with friends or family.

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If either your name was on the order making you the ‘interested party’ and ‘your neighbour and trusted friend’ was demonstrably acting as your agent rather than as a contractor you would have standing. If not the previous comments on contractual relationships apply and unfortunately ‘your trusted friend and neighbour’ would need to be put in the middle.

Assuming you are the ‘interested party’ note that a ‘cc’ is not as powerful as a ‘dealing with’. A ‘customer service coordinator’ would not likely have much discretion or less authority in your case as cited. Those cc’d are likely to step back unless/until your problem became their personal problem to resolve. I suggest you identify the managing director or a senior executive since it appears to be a large company, and engage at that level with your clear intent your next stop will be FT and your CAT or seeking legal redress, if that is the case. It often needs to come from the top down, not the bottom or middle up.

While legal advice on your options could be gratis or at cost, it would be valuable to ascertain where you stand and your further options.

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Thanks for this comment, but honestly I have no regrets whatsoever. The final product was all I could hope for, and I was present for the service failures of Bunnings…failure to place an order, and careless handling upon delivery. Still thanks, I take your point.

My neighbour was definitely acting as my agent. I used the term contractor because I was not aware of the legal distinction between these terms, and I thought that this was the language they would understand. When he learned that the order had not been placed he requested that they ring me directly (as their customer) to explain their failure. They didn’t call, but they were clearly dealing with me as the customer throughout this lengthy process.
They have offered some compensation, and I am now ready to accept it even though it is far from covering my loss.

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Every now and then, in the sixty years since I left school, I have found myself in a similar situation to this. Fortunately, none of them were further distorted by COVID.

Much good advice has already been provided about means of redress. My advice is to buy your friend a nice dinner and put it behind you as a bad experience. It is simply not worth the stress which will only prolong the pain. It is already an expensive lesson, don’t risk making it more so.

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Thank you timetaxi, good advice.

Fortunately, I had been dealing with this situation with Bunnings ever since the first costly mishap.
To their credit, they listened, and while it still ended up being rather costly, they offered a goodwill gesture which I have now accepted. I will definitely buy a nice dinner for my neighbour/friend, and yes put it behind me.

I’m very grateful for the advice from the Community members/elders, and will definitely bring my future gripes (and there are sure to be more!) here.

All best, Barbara

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I can see why it can be attractive to someone who is a tradie friend or family member to buy things for a DYI or for work being done as a favour. Often tradies get trade discounts and can sometimes have access to items which are unavailable to a layperson (such as some plumbing and electrical outlets which only deal with licenced tradies due to restrictions of DIYers to install their purchases).

But, as outlined above, when a friend or family member do this, the purchase will be in their name making any warranty claim direct with the retailer challenging. The friend or family member becomes the supplier of the product which means they might ultimately be responsible for providing resolution under the Australian Consumer Law.

The way to get around this is to find a retailer which will sell items to a layperson for a licenced tradie to install (Bunnings does this and has signage in store about installation requirements by a licenced tradie). This might mean the purchases are more expensive (no trade discount available), but means one is in control of the warranty claim process with the retailer… reducing likelihood of relationships with friends or family being impacted. The disadvantage is one might need to provide proof that it was installed be a licenced tradie for a warranty claim to be accepted. Manufacturer warranties often have T&Cs stating particular items must be installed by a licenced tradie (electrical, plumbing and gas appliances, fittings etc are examples) otherwise warranty will be voided.

The other option is see if the tradie can purchase the item and the retailer is willing to put someone else’s name on the proof of purchase. I suspect many won’t, but possible some may be willing to do so.

You are very lucky as they could have refused to deal with you as you weren’t their customer (your friendly neighbour was). Hopefully you are satisfied with the outcome and take lessons into the future with you.

I learned a long time ago that a contract is essential, and you shouldn’t expect freebies from friends and family, unless it’s of minor value.

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