When having building works carried out there are occasions when disagreements will occur. There are steps that can be taken when hiring a tradesman and throughout the building process to try and prevent these issues, but they can still arise. Our NimbleFins Builder Insurance Guide lists the insurances available for builders including professional indemnity cover. This can protect a builder in the event of being sued due to a client claiming a financial loss because the builder was professionally negligent.
But before getting to the point of suing there are several steps to take first if you have a dispute with your contractor. If a client is unhappy with work that has been carried out, then the initial move is to talk to the trader. While conversations can be had over the phone, it is best to have a written record of this which can be on email.
If these discussions don’t work, the client can ask for the company’s complaints procedure to take the matter forward more formally. Though, depending on the size of the building firm there may not be a complaints procedure. In this case, it is appropriate to first find out if they are part of a trade association as this may have a dispute resolution service available. But it is important to note that to use such a scheme, there must be evidence that efforts have been made to resolve the issue amicably between the client and the builder initially. Any available complaints procedure must also have been used.
Consumer rights advice service Which? offers a template for a letter of deadlock, which must have been sent before action is taken to the ombudsman.
Alternative dispute resolution schemes, ADR, are available but there is no legal requirement for a builder or contractor to use one, only to point the disgruntled client in the direction of a suitable accredited scheme and to say whether or not they will use it.
The different types of ADR are:
- Conciliation and mediation, which try to find an amicable solution by using a free, voluntary service available to either the client or builder.
- Adjudication and arbitration, which features an independent expert looking through paper evidence from both parties. There is likely to be a charge for the service and any decision would be legally binding and therefore it is not possible to take the matter to court afterwards.
- Ombudsman, a service which is free for users but not for the trader. An important note is that while the finding can be legally binding for the trader, but only if they are part of the scheme. If the client is unhappy with the decision, then they can still take the issue to court.
Home maintenance complaints or those about home improvements can be dealt with by the Consumer Ombudsman or by searching on the Ombudsman Association.
If a builder or trader is not willing to use an ADR service, there is another way to try and recover any financial losses. These include:
- Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, which could help recover the cost if a credit card was used for the payments. For payments under £100 or more than £30,000 the credit company is jointly liable.
- A chargeback claim, which can help if the amount is outside the limits of a credit card, or payment was made using a debit card or prepaid card.
- If payment was made using PayPal or a financial agreement, it may be possible to get the money back by contacting the Financial Ombudsman.
If the complaint about a builder is due to the client believing they are acting unlawfully, a complaint can be made to Trading Standards though normally reports have to be made through the Citizens Advice Service. Local Trading Standard offices sometimes have a conciliation service but reporting a dispute does not always mean action is taken and sometimes it can just be logged for reference.
If all other attempts to resolve the issue have failed, the next step available is legal action. Steps have to be taken before going to court, which are set out by the Ministry of Justice Practice Direction on Pre-action Conduct. These include:
- Considering the evidence available such as photographs of the work.
- Possibly having an independent report on the work, which ideally is carried out by an individual agreed by both the builder and client.
The client can take the matter to small claims court if the issue is unresolved and there is still dispute over costs. Small claims courts can deal with issues up to £10,000 in England and Wales, or £5,000 in Scotland and up to £3,000 in Northern Ireland.
There is a Small Claims Mediation Service, which can be used before going to court and is free.
When looking to get work carried out, finding a trusted trader is always important. Not only does finding a reputable trader help elevate any fears of what could go wrong, it also means they are more likely to be happy to set in place all the appropriate agreements before work commences.
Which? Trusted Traders have all been vetted by former Trading Standard officers, checked and assessed.