Making a simple contract
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Making a simple contract
Three things are needed to make a contract. An offer, an acceptance and consideration. Consideration is the benefit (usually money) that the person making the offer will receive for carrying out his part of the contract. In home improvement terms, a quotation from a builder to build a conservatory would be the offer, approval to go ahead would be the acceptance and the price quoted to do the work would be the consideration.
The contract is in place when the acceptance is made - the consideration does not need to have taken place, only the intention to do so. Although most contracts are in a written format, a verbal form is just as binding but much more difficult to prove if a dispute ends up in the courts. An offer can be withdrawn at any time before the acceptance is made but the offer cannot be revoked afterwards. Acceptance is deemed to have taken place on posting but the withdrawal of an offer is not effective until it has been received.
If a counter offer is made, the first offer becomes invalid. For example, you receive a quotation to build a conservatory for £8,000 but think it is too high. You tell the builder that he can go ahead with the work for £7,500 but the builder rejects it. You approach other contractors but receive quotes of £9,000 and £10,000 for the work.
You then approach the first contractor and tell him that you will accept his offer of £8,000 after all but he is not obliged to accept it because you made a counter offer of £7,500. Any offer is deemed to valid for a reasonable period of time. Lawyers enjoy exotic holidays on the proceeds of defining the meaning of the word ‘reasonable'!
Disputing a Tradesman Contract
If a party breaks the terms of the contract, the other party is entitled to receive damages for any losses incurred caused by the event. The damages are intended to restore the offended party to the position he was in before the terms of the contract were broken. They are not intended to punish the contract breaker.
Assessing the value of the damages can be complicated because it may involve matters of inconvenience and mental suffering but common sense should prevail and settlements are usually reached without recourse to the courts. If you have been let down by a builder - slow working or poor workmanship, for example - your case can be strengthened by asking the builder to put the matter right himself.
When things are moving towards a dispute, keep notes of all conversations and telephone calls. Photographs should also be taken if relevant to the dispute. Claims for less than £5,000 can be taken to the Small Claims Court without the need to employ a solicitor. Although many solicitors offer a ‘no-win no-fee' arrangement these days, their deductible expenses and fees can reduce any damages awarded to a level far below the sum awarded.
If you decide to use the Small Claims Court service, obtain a leaflet from a Citizens Advice Bureau. Quite often the threat of taking someone to court will have the desired effect.
Example Contract Dispue Letter
2 July 2011
I wrote to you on 17 May and 3 June about the leak in my conservatory roof that appeared two weeks after you completed your work but you have not replied to either letter. In the letter dated 3 June I advised you that unless you carried out the repair within 14 days I would have the work carried out by another firm and send you the bill.
Again, you didn't reply so I have had the work done. I enclose a copy of the bill, £247.43 plus VAT, and I expect to receive your cheque for this amount within the next 7 days. Failing this, I will issue a county court claim against you.
Before making a claim, you should make sure that the person you are claiming from has the funds to pay if you win the case. You may have to pay a fee to start your claim depending upon the amount you are claiming and there may be further fees if the claim is defended although these costs are added to the sum you are claiming if you win your case. If you are receiving income support you can apply to be exempt from paying these fees.
The hearings are generally low key affairs and the judge usually tries to create an informal atmosphere to put those people who are not used to court hearings at their ease. You may appeal if your claim is unsuccessful although it must be based on proper legal grounds and not just because you believe the judge made the wrong decision.
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