Dentists Beware – Legal Changes from October 2015
DENTAL BULLETIN, ISSUE 7
From 1st October 2015 the following legal changes will come into force:
– The National Minimum Wage: this will increase from £6.50 to £6.70 for those over 21 years of age; for employees who are aged 18 to 21 the rate will increase from £5.13 to £5.50; Employees under 18 will see an increase in their hourly rate from £3.79 to £3.87; and finally the apprentice rate will increase from £2.73 to £3.30. In relation to apprentices, please note that this rate only applies if the apprentice is under 19 years of age or in their first year of apprenticeship. This means that salaries and all other associated benefits, such as holiday and sick pay must be amended from this date. Failure to do so could result in a claim by an employee for unauthorised deduction from wages;
– The Consumer Rights Act 2015: the Act aims to consolidate existing UK consumer legislation but will also introduce new provisions relating to statutory remedies for defective goods and services. See below for our full analysis on how the changes will effect dentists;
– Businesses, including Partnerships, with a turnover of £36 million or more will be required to publish a slavery and human trafficking statement every year. Whilst this will not directly affect small to medium sizes businesses, we consider there may be an indirect effect on them.
– The right for Sikhs to wear a turban instead of a safety helmet will be extended to all work places, with some exceptions applying in relation to military and emergency services. Prior to these changes, Sikhs were exempt from wearing head protection in the construction industry but, because of legal loophole, they were not in less dangerous occupations such as factories. This meant Sikhs could face disciplinary action or dismissal for refusing to wear a safety helmet. In terms of medical treatments, there is no reason why a turban cannot be worn, if covered by a surgical head cover in the normal way it poses no health and safety risk.
Consumer Rights Act 2015; How will it affect Dentists?
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA) aims to consolidate existing legislation in relation to consumer rights, whilst introducing new provisions which will come into force from 1st October 2015. The key reforms are to improve consumer rights and remedies in respect of goods, services and consumer notices, but also to stop the inclusion of unfair terms in consumer contracts.
Under new consumer rights legislation a “trader” is defined as a person acting for purposes relating to their trade, business or profession; whether personally or through others acting in their name. This will include dentists, and their support staff, who provide treatments to a patient. Patients will therefore be deemed “consumers”. As such, patients have ‘consumer rights’ when they enter into an agreement with their dentist.
The following terms are implied into that contract:
1. That the services will be provided with reasonable skill and care;
2. The services will be performed in line with the information provided about the service and in line with information provided about the dentist;
3. That a reasonable price will be paid for the services;
4. That the services will be performed in a reasonable time.
This is broadly similar to the position on consumer rights prior to the CRA.
Provision of information to consumers
However, important changes relate to the provision of information to consumers. Any information said to or written down for the patient, and which the patient relies on when entering into the contract, will be contractually binding; even if it is not in any contract signed by the parties.
Dentists will therefore need to be increasingly careful when a) agreeing timescales to provide treatment, and b) in how they express the likely outcomes of any treatment. Of course it is always advisable to prepare a clear written treatment plan for all patients, but dentists also now need to ensure that conversations had between reception staff, practice managers and treatment coordinators are all properly recorded and documented. If in doubt, make a note and follow up sales consultations with an email or letter summarising what has been said as these discussions are likely to form part of any contract if patients rely upon them.
JFH Law will keep these changes under review and will endeavour to advice on how these changes will work in practice in both the dental and medical professions.
The CRA also has a number of controls on excluding and restricting liability. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a term that excludes the trader’s liability for failure to perform a service with reasonable care and skill will not be binding. But also it will not be possible to attempt to restrict liability when time frames are not met. Indeed the CRA makes provision for a reduction in price where work is not done within a reasonable time.
The CRA also provides new statutory remedies, namely the right to repeat performance and the right to a reduced price where work is not done to the correct standard or the agreed time frame. The patient may also have remedies for breach of contract in the normal way, such as damages or specific performance.
Much of these changes will not dramatically alter the way in which dentists operate, as most already have in place excellent record keeping and policies in accordance with the requirements of their professional regulations. This is however another level of bureaucracy that dentists and their teams should be aware of to avoid unnecessary litigation.
If you would like to discuss anything in this article or need a review of your current consumer contracts then please do not hesitate to contact Julia Furley on 0207 388 1658 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that the information contained in this article was correct at the time of writing. There may have been updates to the law since the article was written, which may affect the information and advice given therein.