How to take action over low-quality building work

What action can you take when you have a building dispute with a rogue trader? DAS Law’s Bethan Mack takes a look at some important basics.

23rd October 2019

Problems can arise at any time when you’re having work done on your home. While it should not be too difficult to set things right if you are dealing with an honest builder – see our section on home improvement complaints for more on this – there are some who seem to be only out there to extract money from hardworking homeowners and do not care about the quality of their work. These are often referred to as rogue traders or cowboy builders.

Spotting a rogue trader

The best way to deal with rogue traders is not to get involved with them in the first place. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but there are a number of warning signs that could tip you off to the fact that a builder should not be trusted.

Be wary of a builder who:

1. Refuses to give you their details, or gives false details

If they won’t tell you anything about their business or provide you with contact details, they may be intentionally making it difficult to get in touch with them. Also, if they refuse to provide any references, they could be hiding something.

Another warning sign is if they claim to be working for a particular company or belong to a particular trade association when this is not the case. For this reason, it is worth checking up on this if they claim to be associated with a company or organisation – many people will just take rogue traders at their word when they make such claims.

2. Doesn’t set out or follow plans

Any builder who refuses to offer or sign a contract should be avoided, as this could be a clear attempt to avoid the obligations that come with a legally binding contract. Also, if they won’t give you a written quote or estimate, it could mean that they plan to charge far more than originally suggested, or claim that they never agreed to do certain work.

3. Has questionable financial practices

Whilst it may go against your desire to get a good deal, beware of builders who offer quotes or estimates which are a lot lower than those of other builders. This may be because they have no intention of sticking to these numbers or even doing the work, or they may be extremely inexperienced and not even know how much the work would normally cost.

The same is true of builders who only accept cash or do not charge VAT when they should. While they may insist that you are both getting a good deal by doing this, you should consider that if they are unwilling to comply with their legal obligations to offer cheaper estimates to customers, they may just as happily rip you off if they get the opportunity.

4. Seems in a rush to begin the work.

Some rogue traders will sign up to do a lot of work in a particular area, start the jobs or complete them to a poor standard, then go somewhere else to avoid being tracked down by their victims.

Whilst it’s great to find a builder who can begin the work promptly, if you feel like they are hurrying you to agree to the work or desperate to start on it very quickly, this might be a hint that something is wrong.

Problems with a rogue trader

If you are in the unfortunate situation of having paid a rogue trader or an incompetent builder to do work on your home, it will likely reach a point where you realise that they are not doing things properly and their building work is far from satisfactory.

Once you notice this, you need to point out the poor quality of the work and ask them to do what is necessary to improve it. It is important that you highlight your concerns in writing so you have a paper trail of the discussions that have taken place.

If the builder hasn’t carried out work with reasonable care and skill, they may be in breach of their statutory obligations under Consumer Rights Act 2015. There is a requirement to give them an opportunity to rectify the issues in the first instance; if this cannot be done, or cannot be done in a reasonable time, you may be able to hold them liable for the reasonable cost of a different builder coming to fix the problem.

Even if you have lost confidence in the builder, you are expected to give a builder at least one chance to fix their errors, so telling them that you will not let them back should only be done in extremely serious circumstances

If such circumstances do arise, once you have told the builder that you will no longer be using their services, you can ask them for a refund for the parts of the work that were unsatisfactory, as well as claiming for any additional costs that you may have to pay to get another builder to fix their mistakes. You may also be entitled to receive compensation for any other financial loss as a result of their poor-quality work.

If they refuse to pay you the money they owe, you can take them to court to try and claim it back.

Getting your money back

Our section on home improvement complaints gives you advice you need to make a complaint to legitimate traders after they have finished their work, but unfortunately with your complaints will likely fall on deaf ears, if you are able to contact them at all.

You may have to go to court to claim any additional costs back that you may have incurred as a result of the unsatisfactory work, however this should be done as a last option. It is important that you initially try to resolve the matter with the builders directly and look at potential alternative dispute resolution/mediation if necessary.

If you paid the builder with a credit card, you may be able to reclaim your money from the credit card company under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. If the building work was insured, you could try to make a claim on your insurance policy.

Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created. Note that the information was accurate at the time of publication but laws may have since changed.

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