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Building disputes and how to deal with them

Building disputes and how to deal with them

Building disputes and how to deal with them

Getting the builders in to upgrade your home can be a source of mess and stress while the work is going on. Investing into major home improvement, whether you’re converting the loft, building an extension or replacing your kitchen, should deliver a beautiful renovation and give you many years’ enjoyment of the new facilities – but what if you’re not happy with the end result?

When you enter into a contract under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, you have a right for goods and services to be provided to you with reasonable care. This applies to all contractor work and overrides the length of any traders’ own guarantees. So, if the standard of building work carried out seems to be slipping or what the builders have delivered is downright shoddy workmanship, there is a recommended process you should follow to resolve the situation.

Speak to your building contractor and set completion deadlines

In the first instance, you need to speak to your builder direct, and as soon as you spot a problem. Spell out exactly what you are unhappy about and get agreement on the nature of the problem, how it will be resolved and the date when it will be fixed. Make sure that any telephone contact or face-to-face conversation is followed up by email or letter so that you have a record of what’s been agreed that you can refer back to at a later date if necessary. With any luck, your contractor will turn up as agreed and complete the works to your satisfaction. 

However, if your builder doesn’t turn up or fails to complete the job properly, you need to make contact again and agree on a final date of expected completion – one last chance to put things right, as it were. If the works have not been carried out as agreed, for whatever reason, the builder is in breach of contract and should make it a priority to remedy the situation.

At this point, and particularly if you sense that you may not get the outcome you desire, get quotes from three other builders to finish the job. Then let your current contractor know that you will be hiring another professional to complete the works, and claim the costs back from him if he doesn’t perform. Present him with real cost estimates to show that you are serious, and what the exact costs involved would be.

Take steps to escalate your claim

If you’re still not getting anywhere, your next step is to check your builder’s professional memberships of a trade association such as the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), the Guild of Master Craftsmen and vetted directories including Checkatrade, Rated People and MyBuilder. These bodies may have designated dispute resolution schemes to help their members and customers negotiate satisfactory solutions. Of course, the prospect of receiving a bad online review may also motivate your builder to be more accommodating…

If you choose to have the works completed by a third party, keep a receipt of the materials and labour and send it to your original contractor. In the event that they refuse to pay up, take your grievance to the small claims court to recoup your money up to a maximum of £10,000 in England and Wales.

If your claim for damages is higher, you will have to instruct a solicitor and threaten court action via the County Court. For this, you will need evidence of poor workmanship (e.g. photographs) and preferably a professional report carried out by an independent builder or a building surveyor. The court may also appoint a surveyor to act as an Expert Witness to provide statements of facts and opinions impartially on matters of dispute. 

That said, as one surveyor explains, it doesn’t necessarily have to end up in court. “If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, they can either independently or jointly appoint an expert to prepare a report for arbitration, mediation or litigation, often reaching a resolution before legal proceedings are commenced,” Foundation Surveyors.

How to guard against building disputes in the first place

Legal action is not something anyone is ever keen on. Taking your builder to court can be a lengthy, stressful and expensive experience where the right outcome is never guaranteed. Much better to not have ended up there in the first place.

Steps to minimise the risk of a building dispute arising include the following common-sense measures:

Ensure you have a clear, professional contract drawn up between yourself and the building contractor.
Major building firms should do this as a matter of course. If you’re dealing with a small trader, you could ask a solicitor, architect or other building professionals to help you do this. The contract should cover the agreed price and specifications, stating everything that is included and anything that may be added as an extra. It should also give an exact timetable with interim deadlines and stage payment dates.

Keep all documentation relating to your build in a dedicated project file. From building plans to invoice receipts, all emails and letters that document agreed changes, and a site diary including notes about work being done and any issues that arose.

Keep a close eye on how things are going during the project. If anything seems to be veering away from the agreed timetable, cost or materials, refer back to the contract to help you flag up these issues straight away. Early effective intervention is always the best policy.



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