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Alex J.
Alex J., Solicitor
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Experience:  Solicitors 2 years plus PQE
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I own a therapy business. I have a cancellation policy where

Customer Question

I own a therapy business. I have a cancellation policy where I either email details of the cancellation fee structure, or discuss it with the client over the phone.
The cancellation fee structure is: If you cancel within two days, the full price of the session needs to be paid, if two days or more, there is no fee.
I have had a client that chose to pay in advance, but decided to text a couple of hours before the session that he had to go look after his sister's daughter because she wanted to go to work. I am now being asked to return the session fee. Am I legally obliged to do this? Is this fair?
With this particular client, the sessions have already been reduced to half price in order to help. Also, the fee I currently charge (before offering half price deals) is exceptionally good value, less than you can get elsewhere for a Reiki session or a massage, etc.
In this particular instance, the cancellation policy was spoken about (and noted in my client notes that I'd had the conversation). However the client in question claims the conversation never took place.
I am not overly concerned about the fee, and will not be booking this client in again. I just want to know where I stand legally, out of curiosity.
Submitted: 7 months ago.
Category: Law
Expert:  Alex J. replied 7 months ago.
Hi, Thank you for your question and welcome. My name is ***** ***** I will assist you. Legally, if you had confirmed in writing that the fee is non refundable within 2 days of the appointment, then you would have no issues retaining the fee. The issue you have is you confirmed this verbally, if the matter went to court it would be your word against his, in theory though as long as you told him of this condition before he paid you are entitled to retain the deposit. You would have to provide a detail transcript of the conversation, date, time, what was said etc - if this ever went to court. If you could also show this was standard policy and practice for all your customers that would help. Do you have any written terms and conditions?
Customer: replied 7 months ago.
I don't have any written terms and conditions as such, but many emails sent to a variety of clients where the cancellation fee structure is explained, so there has been written documentation for years in the form of emails going out to other clients.What concerns me is, having just spoken to the CAB, they say that ANY service offered over the phone (i.e. not on the business premises) is classed as a "service" and as such the law in England is that there is a 14 day cooling off period which negates ANY verbal OR WRITTEN cancellation fee structure.The webpage also states the same:https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/changed-your-mind/cancelling-a-service-youve-arranged/What also concerns me is the person in question works for the HMRC as an assistant director and I am concerned his stance (which has always been avoidant in paying for sessions, and even the person that referred him to me said same) may be used to damage my business. I've even had "you had these gifts given to you to be of service to others" thrown at me as an attempt to make me feel guilty.This is where I am getting confused. If I understand what you are telling me, you're saying that (if in writing) the cancellation fee is stipulated, there there's no problem legally, but the CAB are saying otherwise. Which is correct? Again, to be clear, the session was booked over the phone and from the time of booking to the booked session date, only 7 days passed (which is a normal kind of time between calling and booking in). It's pretty much always less than 14 days.
Expert:  Alex J. replied 7 months ago.
Hi, Thank you. Yes that is correct there is a 14 day cooling off period. If he cancelled with hours to go - had the cooling off period not expired? Also if you have a policy on cancellations, this can apply where the service has been commissioned by the client and is due to start before the end of the cooling off period.
Customer: replied 7 months ago.
Ok.. the way it is explained to me is as follows:Service not on premises. Booked over phone.Call to arrange on Monday 1st January. Want session on following Monday (8th)That is just 7 (seven) days.The cooling off period is 14 days from the day of booking - thus the cooling off period would be AFTER the session date.Unless I ensure no client ever gets a session booked without a minimum of a 15 day wait, there will ALWAYS be around 7 or so days left of the cooling off period stated by the CAB.This kind of invalidates any cancellation policy because, according to the CAB, that law (cooling off period) overrules anything the business owner (myself) says regarding cancellation policy. That basically implies any client can simply not turn up, or cancel last minute and legally, they don't have to pay, and then, if they are demanding the money back, it has to be returned.So I'm still confused - are you saying that the cancellation policy DOES overwrite the cooling off period?Again, to be clear, we are talking about NOT booked on premises - this makes a difference (apparently).
Customer: replied 7 months ago.
Hi - I'm not sure if you're collecting further information and are going to get back to me, or if you feel you've answered the question? If the latter, please could you clarify my original question: I just want to know where I stand legally - is the CAB correct and the 14 day period invalidates all cancellation policies (written or otherwise), or is the CAB wrong and a cancellation policy does override the cooling off period (based on a "not-on-the premises" booking)? Many thanks!
Expert:  Alex J. replied 7 months ago.
Hi, Thank you. The cooling off period applies to what is know as distance selling - i.e over the phone internet etc. You can have a cancellation policy because the buyer has requested the service before the end of the cancellation period. Technically if you are comply with your cooling off obligations then you have to wait 14 days before providing the service - you did not do this at the buyers request. It is contained in regulation 36 of the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013. The only issue you will have is proving that he requested the services before the expiry of 14 days from the telephone order.

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