Advice: My wedding dress was damaged while at the dry cleaner; what are my rights?

Jaclyn Glover, Deputy Manager, Citizens Advice Newtownabbey.
Jaclyn Glover, Deputy Manager, Citizens Advice Newtownabbey.

By Jaclyn Glover, Deputy Manager, Citizens Advice Newtownabbey

Q: I left my wedding dress into a dry cleaner as I wanted it cleaned before I sold it. When I got the dress back from the dry cleaner I noticed that the lace had been damaged which will affect the value of the dress. What are my rights?

A: Dry cleaners are legally required to take ‘reasonable’ care of anything left with them. You can claim compensation if your belongings are damaged or lost while in their care.

Even if the dry cleaning company has a sign or notice saying they aren’t responsible for items left with them, this isn’t necessarily true. They can’t opt out of this responsibility just by putting up a sign.

Make a Complaint - As soon as you realise there’s a problem, contact them and explain the situation. They might offer you compensation straight away. If they don’t, you should ask them to either:

• cover the cost of repairing the item

• pay to replace the item (if it can’t be repaired)

It might help to say that you’re aware that “traders have a responsibility of care under the Consumer Rights Act 2015”.

If they have to pay the cost of replacing the item, the maximum they’re obliged to offer you is the value of the belongings when they were left, not what they would cost to replace as new.

You’ll probably be asked to provide evidence of how much it originally cost - for example, a receipt. The dry cleaner can then offer you a reduced amount depending on the condition of the item - you’ll have to negotiate the cost with them.

If you’re unhappy with their response - If the dry cleaner refuses to compensate you or they offer you too little, try the following steps:

Complain to a trade association - If the dry cleaner is a member of a trade association such as the Textile Services Association (TSA), you can pass your complaint to them.

The TSA has a customer advice service and a conciliation scheme that can help sort out disputes. It also has a Code of Practice that means members agree to investigate complaints and pay fair compensation for loss or damage that’s their fault.

To find out if the dry cleaner is a member of a trade association, ask them or check their website if they have one.

Settle the problem out of court - You could ask the trader if they’re a member of an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme - it’s a way of solving disagreements without going to court.

If they don’t respond or won’t use an ADR scheme, keep a record of the fact that you asked them (and the date). You could also try choosing a Trading Standards-approved ADR scheme yourself to solve the problem informally. This will help you later if you end up going to court.

If you paid by credit or debit card, you could also consider complaining to the Financial Ombudsman Service to solve the problem. You can do this if you’re unhappy with how the dry cleaner responds to your complaint, or if they still haven’t responded after eight weeks.

Get an independent test and report - You could get an independent organisation to look at your issue and produce a report. It could be expensive (often around £100) but the report could persuade the dry cleaner to change their mind. It could be used in a court if the dry cleaner still doesn’t agree.

Go to court - If you’ve tried the options above and are still unhappy with the outcome, you could take your case to a small claims court.

• Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice – go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk/nireland or call at: Citizens Advice Newtownabbey, Dunanney Centre, Rathmullan Drive, Rathcoole, Newtownabbey, BT37 9DQ. Telephone advice is available 9am – 4pm each day on 028 9085 2271 (Lunch 1pm - 1:30pm), email advice is available at enewtownabbey@citizensadvice.co.uk