Ask LH: Can I Get Compensation When A Service Person Is Late?

Dear Lifehacker, Recently I waited for Optus to come and set up the internet at home and they never showed up or even phoned me to say they weren’t coming. As I had to be at home instead of work this meant a loss of time and money for me, not to mention the frustration.

I was reading the 1990 year book of Encyclopedia Britannica and it described a new law passed in California: “Consumers in California would no longer have to worry about losing a whole day waiting for deliveries or repairmen. A new law required businesses to arrive at a customer’s house within a specified four-hour period or be liable for monetary damages.”

Is there a law like this in Australia, so that next time it happens I can demand some compensation?

Keep Me Waiting

Picture by John Starnes

Dear KMW,

Waiting in for service people and deliveries is an unfortunate reality of modern life. Often you’re lucky to even get a commitment to a four-hour window. While it’s understandable that exact times can be tricky — it’s hard to predict how long a given job will take — it does seem slack that we can’t at least get updated about probable times, given the almost universal ownership of mobile phones. How hard is to send a quick text?

Unfortunately, there is no equivalent law to this in Australia. While our national consumer protection laws were updated earlier this year, there’s nothing in them that specifies anything about waiting times or compensation. Consumer protection law has also been harmonised between the states, so I’d be surprised if there were state-specific variants.

In somewhat oversimplified terms, the view taken is that competition is the best protection against this kind of problem: if someone fails to show up and connect your internet promptly, you have other alternatives you can consider. This isn’t invariably the case (pay TV is an obvious example), and it doesn’t allow for the fact that alternative providers might be more expensive.

So what can you do? There’s rarely any point in yelling at the service person if they do show up late: they’re often a contractor not directly employed by the company concerned, and their influence over scheduling is usually pretty minimal. If someone doesn’t show at all, hit the phone immediately and ask for information. Be polite but firm, and seek an appointment time that suits you. You can also point out that you’ll go elsewhere (if that’s an option); keeping a customer is cheaper than acquiring a new one, so some providers will work hard to keep you happy. But some won’t. If anyone wants to share additional strategies for avoiding this problem, we’re all ears in the comments.


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