Three FAQs between customers and suppliers in consumer agreements (that is to say, agreements where the customer is buying as an ordinary a member of the public).

Q  I paid a deposit for some goods that I now do not want. The supplier says I cannot have a refund because his terms and conditions do not allow this. What can I do?

A  A deposit is a payment made by a customer to reserve goods or services. If the customer cancels the contract though no fault of the supplier, the latter might be entitled to keep all or part of the deposit. The way the law works is fact dependant but generally the supplier can only keep an amount that represents his true loss. The amount kept must not be excessive.

A term in the contract that tries to exclude a refund in any circumstances is likely to be an unfair and unenforceable term, but that is not to say that it will always be so.

Q  I entered into an agreement with my supplier but he now wishes to change it. Can he do so? He says that the contract entitles him to do so.

A  The purpose of having a written contract is to enable each side to know where it stands. A clause which seeks to allow one side arbitrarily to change that contract is unlikely to be upheld. If you ordered a car on one make and model, the supplier cannot simply foist a different model upon you. A clause which seeks to allow the supplier to vary the terms of the contract substantively is not likely to be enforceable by the supplier either. That said, terms might be capable of being varied if the reason for the possibility of variation is explained before the contract is made and if the customer is given reasonable notice and the right to cancel.

Q I bought a new …………………. but it has broken down. What can I do? The supplier says I cannot do anything because that is what the contract says.

A  A customer is entitled to some basic rights. These include that the goods must match the description given to them, must be of satisfactory quality and fit for their intended purpose and services must be supplied with reasonable skill and care. Any clause that seeks to reduce these rights are almost certainly unfair and unenforceable in a consumer contract. Generally a supplier cannot reduce or replace these rights. They are ‘statutory’, that is to say contained in a law that is binding on the supplier.

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