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Know your contract and what you are getting into

We’re all guilty of entering into a contract without having actually read or understood the contents. In fact, we enter into contracts daily probably without it even occurring to us that we are entering into a legally binding agreement.

Contracts come in all shapes and sizes from buying a pint of milk from your local convenience store (where nothing signed), to making a purchase online and ticking a box to confirm you have read and understood the terms (which you haven’t), to more complex contracts such as purchasing a house or business (where I hope you will have read the contract).

A common misconception is that contracts must be in writing and signed.  That is not the case.  A contract is formed where there is what is known as a ‘meeting of the minds’.  That is where one person makes an offer and the other person accepts the offer.  Importantly, acceptance of the offer must be communicated to the person accepting the offer and there must be some form of consideration.  By consideration I mean something of value in exchange.

I will give you an example:  You go into your local convenience store to purchase your pint of milk.  The shopkeeper invites you to make an offer to buy the milk.  You make an offer to buy the milk for the price.  You hand over the money and at that point you have entered into a contract.  The contract is pretty much concluded at that point - you’ve got your milk and the shopkeeper has your money in exchange.

However, what if you get home, take a sip of the milk and find out to your disgust that the milk is sour – it’s gone off!  What if you take more than a sip and become ill with sickness, or even worse, food poisoning.  That is when the existence of a contract becomes important, as without a contract you may not have any redress.  It is the existence of a contract and the terms of a contract that we lawyers argue about all the time.

I am not suggesting that you should take legal advice each and every time you buy a pint of milk.  Just be aware of the basic rules for the creation of a contract and exercise caution when you are making larger purchases or when you being asked to tick a box or sign a document to confirm your acceptance of the seller’s terms and conditions.

If you have any doubt as to the terms of an agreement or if you believe that the terms of an agreement you have entered into have been breached then you should consider taking legal advice.

Gian Floris is a Solicitor with QualitySolicitors Gould & Swayne based in Wells.

Legal advice may vary with the circumstances of each case - be sure to take your solicitor’s advice.

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