I went to a restaurant with a group of friends and the bill had a 15 per cent service charge, which added £52 to the total.

The restaurant said it was a ‘mandatory’ charge as we had more than ten people in our party, but at no time were we told this would be the case.

N. P., Newcastle.

Dean Dunham replies: If a restaurant wants to levy a ‘compulsory service charge’ on consumers it must clearly tell the customer this beforehand.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 makes clear that key terms (such as an obligation to pay a service charge) must be made prominent so that the consumer is aware of them before entering into the contract — meaning before committing to the restaurant booking.

Sour taste: A restaurant charged a reader and his friends what they called a 'mandatory' 15% service charge, which came to a hefty £52

Sour taste: A restaurant charged a reader and his friends what they called a 'mandatory' 15% service charge, which came to a hefty £52

Sour taste: A restaurant charged a reader and his friends what they called a ‘mandatory’ 15% service charge, which came to a hefty £52

This rule is particularly important where a specific term is not usually present — such as in your case.

Service charges are nearly always ‘discretionary’ in restaurants so, without express prior notification, a reasonable diner would believe this to be the case.

You should therefore ask the restaurant manager when this important information about the mandatory service charge was given to you and how it was made prominent.

If the response is that you were told at the time the bill was presented, this is not good enough.

This information must be provided before you commit to the restaurant booking.

In these circumstances my view is that the service charge will not have formed part of the contract between your party and the restaurant and, therefore, you should demand a refund.

Where a service charge is mandatory — and this has been clearly communicated — you can still query it and demand a reduction if you feel the service you received was below standard.

So, if your party was kept waiting for long periods of time by the waiting staff you could argue that the restaurant has breached the Consumer Rights Act, which says ‘services’ must be provided with ‘reasonable care and skill’.

Can I return a used mobility vehicle? 

I received a leaflet through my door about used mobility vehicles for sale. 

I telephoned the garage to make an inquiry and ended up agreeing to purchase one over the phone for £14,995. 

The first time I used it I knew I’d made a mistake but I believed I was stuck with it. Foolishly, I had not seen it in person before buying. 

However, I have now been told by friends that I had a 14-day cooling-off period and could have sent it back, but no one told me this.

L. W., Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex.

Dean Dunham replies: The good news is that, under the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013, consumers generally have the right to change their mind about goods purchased ‘at a distance’ if they notify the trader within 14 days of delivery and then send the goods back within 14 days after that.

‘At a distance’ means a purchase made from anywhere other than the trader’s usual physical place of business. These rules apply if you buy from a website, over the telephone, from a market stall or from a pop-up shop or exhibition.

There are some exceptions, such as bespoke goods, although these must have been bespoke to your specific needs and not simply be a manufacturer option. Other exceptions are perishable goods and items such as CDs if the seal has been broken.

Importantly, these regulations place a legal obligation on the trader to inform the consumer of their right to cancel within 14 days of delivery, otherwise known as the cooling-off period.

It sounds as if the trader here failed to give you this important information, which is common, hence why you had no idea that you had this right. However, the law does not only place this obligation on the trader but goes one step further and provides the consumer with a remedy if this obligation is not met.

Under Section 31 of the Regulations, where a trader fails to tell the consumer about the cooling-off period, the 14-day window is extended.

You should contact the dealer immediately, say you want to terminate the contract for the vehicle purchase and obtain a refund under the Consumer Contracts Regulations. If the garage says you are outside of the 14-day period, cite my advice to you.

  • Write to Dean Dunham, Money Mail, Scottish Daily Mail, 20 Waterloo Street, Glasgow G2 6DB or email [email protected]. No legal responsibility can be accepted by the Daily Mail for answers given. 
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