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?

Thanks 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.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    It's hard to win this argument with a service person. Telco's are especially guilty of this. They always have you waive your issues before even sending someone out. Telstra uses the old "Due to the possibility of high workloads in the area, we may need to cancel at short notice." You're supposed to give them at least 24hrs notice, so they can re-use the appointment time,but they only need to give 1hrs notice to say "Hey, we're not coming after all"

    My best suggestion is after the first failed attempt, demand weekend appointments.

    Post them an invoice; might get paid, might not.

    It would be nice if someone took something like this to court - telcos (and others, e.g. doctors) charge you for lateness, why shouldn't you charge them?

      Will never get paid, Telstra/Optus do not pay invoices they aren't expecting. Furthermore they don't have the facilities in place to even process payments to customers who have invoiced "Wasting my precious consumer time sitting around" invoices. Seriously if you lose a day deal with it, onsite technicians work 10 hour days and deal with assholes at every site who bitch and complain about the company and use the technicians as a way of venting. Sit on your ass and deal with it, the guy will show up when he shows up, if you don't like it then fuck off and find another provider.

    Of course there isn't a law about this in Australia. That would require some kind of consumer protection to exist.

    This happened to me but with a slight difference. It wasn't just one day, it was four days and it was Optus hooking up a land line. I called them after the first day of not showing and the "blah blah sorry blah blah we'll get someone there today" excuse was used, I was very polite and said I understand that shit happens (not those words though) but on the 3rd day of not showing up, I contacted Optus (hold for 40minutes) abused them and said I'm going elsewhere now and reporting you to whoever will listen (ACCC), they asured me that someone will be there on the day to connect, activate and leave with everything working.

    To cut a long story short, after abusing them, I got six months free line rental, free installation (I think it's free anyway) and a credit of $200 for phone calls. Basically a free phone for six months.

    If its a telco you could ask for a goodwill credit on your account for them stuffing you around. When I worked at a telco I would agree to give people a credit for this type of thing. Even though the contractor was not employed by us customers rarely care if thats the case. Dont expect it though, many will just say no it was in the T's and C's. And if you do get one it wont be that much.

    Just had my internet connected. Technician to come 12-5pm. Who works so imprecisely. Came at 2:30, took an hour. How come if I book anything in, it has to be precise and I have to arrive exactly on time or they give away my booking, but a technician can have a 5 hour window to turn up. ??

    ...This isn’t invariably the case (pay TV is an obvious example)...

    According to the ACCC, PayTV isn't an example. Let's not forget the whole reason why the ACCC were against Foxtel buying out AuStar was because they both service a mere handful of locations across the country, and a buy out would result in a monopoly.

      I never understood that argument... they already hold monoplies!
      Austar has an agreement to not service Foxtel serviced areas! ie there's no competition at any one location.
      There are 2 companies with a mutual agreement to not tread on each other's turf. Each has a monopoly on the areas they service (arguably being slowly diluted by IPTV)

        You may have missed the sarcasm in my tone, it tends to get lost in text. :)

    We had something similar happen when getting a line hooked up so that we could move from TransACT to Internode (Naked ADSL2).

    It took 4 appointments (Telstra contractor) before we had success. That included one where they couldn't find the lead-in cable (a Telstra 10-pair cable was found on a second visit), one where is was too windy to finish the job and one where no-one turned up (or called to cancel). That was two days of my time spent waiting for Godot (or the Telstra equivalent). No compensation offered - I wasn't moving to Telstra - why would I after that experience?

    I had something similar when Optus were putting on my home phone. There is compensation involved - might be worth looking at the TIO site or giving them a call.
    I remember getting a fair chunk of 'credit' applied to my account because they kept not showing up (3 times or more) and it worked on the number of days that is required for them to hook up a homeline.

      After Telstra failed to show three days in a row to connect my house, I went to the TIO and got assigned a Telstra case person. I refused to settle with their person till I got compensation for lost income. Because the fine on Telstra for failing to settle kept going up they had to give in.

    When I book these types of things I always tell them that they can come anytime, but they must ring when they are leaving their previous job or 20 minutes prior to their arrival at my house.

    It doesn't always work, occasionally they won't ring until they arrive and they get the shits. But I just remind them that I gave them an instruction, and they get on with it.

    Not everyone has the luxury of living only 5min drive from work though, if you have a long commute this won't help you.

    My father used to work for Telstra and things like that were outside of his control. For a number of reasons including:

    1) The people who gave him the jobs at the call centre weren't local so they gave him small amounts of time to do big jobs "because our map shows a road that cuts through that mountain" (not realising the road was a 4WD track) or "It's just installing 10 points in a building. If one point takes 10 minutes, 10 points should take 2 hours at the most". It's not entirely their fault, as mapping software would probably find the 4WD track too or not know about the badly damaged cables in the building.

    2) Some jobs were trickier than others. If there was a cut cable, he'd have to dig it up and replace it. If the ground was hard, it'd take longer than the allocated time. You can't just leave exposed wires to go and replace a telephone for someone. Like you can't say "The mole on your back is getting bigger? Can't talk now, got another patient waiting"

    There have been times when the repairman doesn't show up at all, ever. It happened when we were getting our heater in the rental place fixed. He called up and said "I'll see you tomorrow at 9am" but never showed up. 4 months on we're putting in a formal complaint. That kind of behaviour is not tolerated but if they're late, I can understand that.

    I had this happen to me 5 times in a row, with my new office, I was given times up to 9pm at night, and an out of hours on a public holiday, Telstra ended up connecting my phone line to the Lift??!?! no idea how, after i complained they connected me, however not my physcial address, so the person across the road ended up with my number and Debt collectors chasing him.. I ended up terminating the lease in the building and moved to another building.. the guy across the road is still battling away on my behalf.. look up " welcome to the family " on Whirlpool..

    It's not just the time off work, but the time sitting around the house going "Oh, damn, I'd love to run across the road to the shops, but what if he comes then!"

    "Oh man, I really need to take a dump, but what if he comes then!"

    We've got GPSs - and hell, we've got taxi systems that can signal when a job has been claimed by a taxi driver, why can't we have something that calls my phone with an automated message/ETA?

      You know as soon as you get the turtle head you'll hear the door knock. It's a cosmic law.

      I find fasting while waiting for service people is the best way to go.

    I hope "Keep Me Waiting" realised that Telstra are responsible for hooking up the lines - not Optus...

    my wife told me last year about a special needs kid who carved out a niche for himself as a "professional waiter". his parents figured out that one thing he was really good at was waiting. so he offered his services to wait for maintenance guys and deliveries for a fee. presumably costs less than your days wage forfeited.

      What a fantastic idea! Good on him.

    Actually pay TV is suprising competitive in Australia, as Foxtel competes feverishly against the forthcoming insolvency, neighbours of ours recently moved state and phoned foxtel to cancel the service.

    Instead they renewed it at a reduced rate and got a free upgrade to IQ.

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