Should we pay for an estimate?
September 20, 2009 12:50 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone advise on the legality of a tradesman coming to give an estimate for a repair, then charging for his visit without forewarning, in the UK?
posted by BobAndJoy to Law & Government (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't, but a lawyer probably could.
posted by Solomon at 12:53 AM on September 20, 2009

I am not a lawyer, but I would expect that is completely legal if you requested they come out to do an estimate. You have engaged their service and as long as the bill is fair and reasonable I expect you would be obliged to pay it.

Unless they said they would do a free quote for you.

It is your responsibility when you engage the service of someone to enquire about fees.
posted by Sitegeist at 1:52 AM on September 20, 2009

Generally getting a written estimate for anything than the most trivial work can carry a charge for time spent; unless they specify that it will be a no-fee no-obligation estimate up front. Sometimes the estimate charge is refunded or waived if you then take them up for the work. If he spent some time drawing up that quote, then that's time he's spent not doing other work, and now you can take that quote and go shop around with other vendors.

On the other hand, given he didn't tell you his hourly rate or that getting an estimate would be chargable, he may struggle to collect it - there was no meeting of the minds prior to the work being carried out which is needed to form a valid contract, of him creating the estimate and you understanding that it was chargeable work.

I'd say it depends upon how much work he put into the estimate (5 minute visual survey and a quick verbal quote on the spot, or 2 hours going round making notes and presenting a written breakdown) and whether's he's prepared to persue the matter against you in small claims court.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:07 AM on September 20, 2009

Well, the convention here is most tradesmen charge for their visits.

Many will forgoe a call out charge if further engaged (e.g., a plumber called out for a leaky pipe, and after providing an estimate the home owner agrees the work should be carried out), but (from personal experience only) I've never heard of one who will visit your home and provide an estimate for free.

I'm in London and my experience is limited (as I try to do all work in our flat myself), but a visit from a plumber will cost you fifty quid, and two different guys charged sixty and sixty five quid to look at my boiler.

So I'd suspect it is legal, if for no other reason than its expected. Most will quote the charge on their web site, or mention it when you call to arrange a visit.

If you didn't ask about the charge I could see this coming as a surprise, but look at it from the tradesmen point of view; you're using some of their time. If you were the tradesmen, wouldn't you expect to get paid?
posted by Mutant at 2:11 AM on September 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Contacting the govt. funded Consumer Direct would be a better starting point than a 'lawyer'.
posted by i_cola at 2:39 AM on September 20, 2009

I've never heard of one who will visit your home and provide an estimate for free.

For what it's worth, I've never had a workman (or a representative from a larger company) who did charge for the initial inspection/estimate, and I'm talking electricians, plumbers, double glazing.. Even this week, we have the town's biggest electrical firm in to do some work tomorrow and they didn't charge for the initial visit. I'm also in the UK but in a rural location - with the horrible logistics in London, it wouldn't surprise me if it's different there.
posted by wackybrit at 3:50 AM on September 20, 2009

I have spent a year doing up my house and, as with wackybrit, never had one of the many tradesmen who have given estimates for work on the house charge for it. I'm in the depths of south-west London, rather than the centre, so again things might be different.
posted by greycap at 4:02 AM on September 20, 2009

Visiting your local Citizens' Advice Bureau will provide legal advice for free.
posted by BrokenEnglish at 4:13 AM on September 20, 2009

If it says they provide a free estimate on their website or advertising materials, and then they charged you, then that's false advertising. If, however, there was no explicit promise of a free estimate, then yes, you owe them money.

Check their materials, then get in touch with Citizen's Advice if you think you've been charged when they said they wouldn't.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:25 AM on September 20, 2009

Best answer: This is not legal advice. I am not your lawyer. You should seek independent legal advice from a solicitor or other competent adviser. It is impossible to give you a definitive answer to your question without further facts.

On the fact of it, this tradesman is going to have a rough time in small claims court, trying to enforce this ‘debt’.

According to the account you’ve given us, he’s failed to establish a contractual relationship.

Saying to you on the phone “fine, I’ll come and have a look but you’ll need to pay me £50 for my time” would do it (as would you signing something) but in the absence of both, he’s going to struggle to prove a contractual relationship. In the case of the former, he’s going to have evidential difficulties in trying to enforce the ‘debt’.

The tradesman has made no offer to you to be bound to provide a service for a particular price. Accordingly there has been no acceptance on your part. No contract; no liability.

Make sure however that you’re 100% certain that you have had no notice whatsoever of his intention to charge (e.g. marketing material, did he tell your partner, small print of previous correspondence, voicemail). If you’re sure, invite him (or his legal representative) to write to you (no more phone calls) setting out the basis on which he thinks a debt is owed.

By the way, welcome to MetaFilter. This is a great place and we hope that you'll get stuck in!
posted by dmt at 4:23 AM on September 21, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks to everybody for your answers. Great to get a broad view.
posted by BobAndJoy at 1:12 PM on September 21, 2009

Response by poster: We wanted to let you know how things turned out.
We contacted a few other companies - all said they would have given the estimate without charge. We also contacted the Citizens' Advice Bureau; they gave good advice, but it was not clear-cut. We wrote to the man who had sent us the bill emphasising that we had only asked for an estimate and saying that we thought his charge (£75) was unreasonably high. We told him that other companies had said they wouldn't have charged, but offered him £20 as a goodwill gesture. We have not received a reply.
In the meantime, we offered the Aga (which was the subject of the visit/estimate) free to a good home. When the person who wanted it dismantled it to take it away it was in such a bad state that it was beyond reconditioning. Since the tradesman's estimate was based on his opinion that it was salvageable, which was quite wrong, we have now given the person who came to collect it the £20, plus some extra to cover his wasted time.
Thanks again for your comments - they were very helpful in deciding what to do.
posted by BobAndJoy at 1:07 PM on November 7, 2009

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