Yes you can, under certain circumstances. If you can show you’ve suffered financial loss as a result. It’s up to you to decide whether to accept a fair and reasonable explanation though, these things do happen and we can’t be all suing each other for compensation each time.
Most of the time it is the engineers who turn up as arranged, and it’s the customer who is not in and they don’t always charge. However, if they threatened to charge you if you aren’t in when their engineer arrives – then surely the same rule should apply to them?
If I take time off work and their engineer doesn’t turn up can I claim compensation?
You should ideally inform the company when booking the call that you are taking time off work. In written contracts there is a legal clause, which uses the phrase, "time is of the essence", when used, it’s considered a breach of the contract if tasks aren’t completed by the stated dates. Although booking a washing machine repair engineer is rarely done in writing, the law still considers such an arrangement by telephone as a verbal contract and if the engineer fails to turn up they have broken that contract. If, as a result, you have lost out financially or been substantially inconvenienced you may be able to claim compensation.
Some large companies may even have customer pledge policies promising to pay compensation under certain circumstances if they let them down. It may be worth checking if such a policy or customer service pledge exists although the amounts are relatively paltry. Ultimately all repair companies will refuse to offer any compensation otherwise they’d be paying out every day. If you want to pursue it you should contact Citizens Advice to seek their advice. You may need to take the company to the small claims court if you are determined.
I’ve found this (pdf) leaflet Problems with Goods and Services: Your legal rights.pdf which covers this very topic. It says –
"What if someone breaks an appointment to come to my home?
If a service provider misses an appointment for a certain day, they have broken their agreement with you. You may be able to claim compensation if you had to take a day off work, for example. However, this would depend on whether you told the trader this when you made the appointment."
This statement confirms you can only claim compensation if you told them you would be taking time off work when making the appointment, but how can you prove you told them? You have to rely on whoever took the call to have written this down, and for whoever deals with your complaint to admit it was the case.
It seems ridiculous that you should only be entitled to compensation for genuine losses if you happened to have researched and found out this obscure caveat. Common sense should mean that all you should need to be able to show is that you did take time off work to be able to claim compensation. However, as we all know common sense doesn’t always figure in rules.
To be fair though, if something happens which causes an engineer to be unable to make the appointment the company should have the knowledge that you have taken time off work into account so they can make a judgement as to whether they can somehow still get someone out to you if possible or not. You might expect they should do that anyway, but if it’s a sole trader it won’t be possible. For bigger firms if an engineer called in sick it can leave them potentially unable to make all his appointments without severe action, which for many customers is quite unnecessary if they are at home most days anyway and can reschedule with only minor inconvenience.
You need to take advice from consumer groups to sort this out if you want to pursue a claim. If you didn’t tell them when making the appointment that you will be taking time off work you may find it too hard to win compensation. Proper advice needs to be taken from places like Citizens Advice before fighting a claim as you are unlikely to get a repair company to willingly compensate you – even the ones that have the cheek to try and charge you if you break the appointment.
Common sense and fairness should prevail
There are many good reasons why an appointment may be broken by an engineer. As an engineer myself I know of the many occasions it happened to me. I once sliced my finger open repairing someone’s dishwasher mid morning and ended up in hospital having stitches. Of course I couldn’t make all the other appointments in that day but each one was rung and apologies made. Would it be fair to claim compensation from a sole trader who couldn’t make their appointment in those circumstances? There are multiple possible reasons an appointment can be broken including of course incompetence and cock-ups. You just need to use your own judgement depending on how they handle it.
An example of a successful claim
Here’s an example of a customer who won compensation from British Gas although this was after a catalogue of errors. It does show that our time does have some value though, and businesses should respect that. In 2010 consumer successfully sued British Gas, which was reported in the press as, “opening the door to sue energy firms if they waste your time”. This certainly established a precedent that a company can be sued for compensation if they waste your time through incompetence or poor procedures. However, the truth is that in most cases it is probably not worth the stress and effort. But if it is, the above case shows it can be done.