New rules in force for service companies

Almost all UK businesses which provide services, including IT consultancy, testing and logistics, are being reminded of their new obligations brought in via an EU directive.

The Provision of Services Regulations, introduced in December 2009, cover self-employed service providers who are based in the UK, or in Europe and trade here remotely.

Their benefits include access to a 'point of single contact' in all euro zone states for relevant businesses seeking to expand their services on the Continent.

They also provide for a UK authority to pass documents it has to its counterpart authority in the country concerned, rather than the business having to do so itself.

But service companies, and their owners, must ensure they are fulfilling their new duties under the regulations, as enforcement bodies are entitled to hit non-compliance.

In fact, any business, consumer or regulatory body has the right to take action should the breach harm, or have the potential to harm, the consumer, says Anson solicitors.

Jas Singh, a partner at the Staffordshire-based firm, said: "The regulations require businesses to make certain information available to customers, and to deal with customer complaints promptly.

"They also prohibit discrimination against individual customers in the provision of services on the basis of their place of residence".

The information which needs to be provided by service companies, and their owners, includes;

o the name of your business
o its legal status
o its geographical address
o its contact details
o the price of the service
o if your service provision is subject to VAT
o the main features of the service
o your general terms and conditions
o any after-sales guarantee
o details of your professional liability insurance
o your complaints procedure
o if you work within a regulated profession
o if you are included in a trade or public register and if you are subject to an authorised scheme

All of this information should be made available either in documents which the service company provides, at the place where the service is provided, within a contract, or via electronic means such as on a public-facing website.

Seeming to recognise the potential burden of compliance, UK policymakers inserted a clause in the legislation that lets service companies provide the information by using their "own initiative."

"Check that the information you provide covers all the required elements," maintained Singh. "Ensure you have procedures in place to provide the relevant information [and] make sure you can deal with complaints efficiently".

To this end, service companies should have a complaints handling process in place which gives a telephone number, one or more postal addresses, fax number or email address where the complaint can be registered.

Also according to the regulations, service companies who enter into dispute resolution must disclose whether they are subject to a code of conduct or are a member of trade/professional body that grants access to a non-judicial resolution procedure.

Affected service companies should inform the customer; mention their membership in any information documents that describe their service in detail and specify how the customer can access details on the procedure.

Meanwhile, service companies in the recruitment sector providing full-time workers must adhere to the legislation, though the hiring out and placement of workers in temporary roles is not within its scope.

Similarly, the law grants an exclusion to the providers of electronic communications, networks, and associated equipment, including voice telephony and electronic mail services.