Poor service is one of the biggest gripes for most people and the building trade is not exempt from blame. Many people have had problems due poor workmanship that often end in dispute and require legal assistance or the intervention of some authority.

Although the immediate response is to take legal action, going to court isn't the only way to resolve these disputes. There are a number of alternative routes that you can take and many are cheaper and sometimes quicker than court cases.

Common problems

How To Deal With A Problem

Basic Statutory Rights

What is 'reasonable'?

Additional/Alternative Rights

Cancellation of Agreements

Claim Assistance

Common problems

The reasons behind most disputes and disagreements are usually the same. the following section lists the most common ones.

Broken Appointments

How often have you taken time off work and sat there waiting for a builder to turn up? Nine times out of ten, it's just a major inconvenience that you could do without, but sometimes it does result in a financial loss.

If you are out of pocket because a builder has failed to turn up you could be entitled to compensation.

Once again, you have to have had an agreed appointment and it must have been made clear that you would lose money if the appointment was broken. If the builder persistently fails to turn up, you could be able to cancel the contract.

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Estimates and Quotations

Estimates and Quotations cause a lot of dispute and it is important to understand the difference.

Usually an Estimate is an approximation of the work required, based on past experiences. The builder will place a provisional price on the work, but has not carried out a thorough assessment of the actual job.

A Quotation on the other hand is a detailed assessment of the work to be done, including the time and materials required to complete the work. A quotation will normally provide an exact, firm fixed price.

The builder is entitled to change the price on an Estimate as he wishes. It should be noted though that the estimated price should be reasonable and the quoted price should not be much greater than the estimate. If the price is going to be much greater, the builder should contact you to inform you of this and the reasons for the change.

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Agreed Dates Not Achieved

Sometimes it is essential that building work is started/completed at a specific date as another project may depend upon it. If you have agreed a start/completion date with the builder and this has not been met, you may be able to claim compensation. This is only feasible if you had made it clear that that it was essential that the work was started/completed on time and there was an actual agreement in place.

If you had not made it clear that the work was essential, you can still write to the builder stating that:

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Amount of Work Done

These disputes often occur when you have instructed a builder to repair the fault and have not supplied specific instructions to the builder. The builder may quote a £1000 and complete the work in less than a day. You will obviously feel that the amount payable is unreasonable.

If you explain to the builder that you are only willing to pay up to a maximum amount you are not obliged to pay any more. If you do not stipulate a maximum amount, the builder is able to charge more if the cost of the repair was greater than expected. You may have the ability to argue that the builder was unreasonable in his assessment when providing the estimate.

Please note that you should only pay a 'reasonable' amount for the work and that you are not entitled to pay for any work that was not identified on the contract.

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Unauthorised Building Work

In contrast to not enough work being done, you sometimes find that the builder has done more than is requested. It is extremely rare for a building project to run smoothly and it is often the case that additional work is required in order to ensure that your extension or garage is built correctly. If the builder carries out work without your prior agreement, you do not have to pay for this work. If the builder is demanding that you pay, please consult an expert advisor.

However, on occasion the builder may have to make an essential amendment which could not be agreed in advance and may have stopped work for the entire day.

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Price Disputes

Another common problem is when you and the builder cannot agree on the fees due. This often occurs when:

If you had agreed a price for the building work, then that is the price that you pay, unless the work has not been completed to your satisfaction.

An agreed price is binding and forms part of the terms of your agreement with the builder. This price should be clearly stated on your contractual agreement and it must be clear that this is the total firm and fixed payable amount. Prices agreed as fixed, firm or exact cannot be varied without the agreement of both sides. The builder cannot alter a fixed price, even if the job takes longer than the builder expects or requires extra materials. As with everything else, you need to be reasonable, should any unforeseen situations arise.

Take note however that a price on an estimate is not an agreed price. If no price has been agreed, you have to pay a reasonable fee for the work carried out, but only if it is satisfactory.

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Quality of the Work Done

Your consumer rights for satisfaction, depend on whether there is a binding agreement between you and the builder.

If you have an agreement, the builder must use reasonable materials and complete the work to reasonable standards. The materials used by the builder must be of satisfactory quality and fit their description. To find out what is 'reasonable', see below.

If you are unhappy about the quality of the work, you can ask for the work to be done properly or the faulty work to be put right. You are not obliged to pay any additional cost for the work to be rectified/completed to a satisfactory level of quality. You are also able to claim compensation for any loss or damage as a result of poor workmanship.

Sometimes it will be difficult for you to ascertain whether or not the job has been carried out to standards and an expert will need to be called in, as only they will be able to tell you this.

If the builder is unable to rectify the problem, you are entitled to claim the expenses incurred to hire an alternative builder to do so. You would usually have to take the builder to court in such an instance.

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How To Deal With A Problem

You have a number of options to take depending upon your rights.

The first thing to do is make sure you have gathered the following information:

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Basic Statutory Rights

Basic statutory rights are rights given by law. When you employ a builder, you can expect and are entitled to the work being:

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What is 'reasonable'?

The word 'reasonable' has been used a number of times above. But what constitutes reasonable work and reasonable pricing. To come to a conclusion you have to compare the work done to other work of a similar nature that has been completed to satisfaction.

To find out what is reasonable you can :

This will give you guidance on what are reasonable standards of work and comparative prices. You will then be better placed to decide what action you can take in order to resolve your dispute.

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Additional/Alternative rights

In addition to your basic statutory rights, you may also have other rights.

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Cancellation of Agreements

If you want to cancel an agreement because you can no longer afford the work, you may only be able to do so if:

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Claim Assistance

If you feel that you have grounds to claim compensation, the following information will help you with your claim.

Sources of Free Help and Advice

Legal advice is not always expensive.You may be able to get free help to pursue your claim. The following section details some of the options you have for obtaining free advice and help.

The National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux (NACAB)

NACAB are the most common association that people go to seek legal advice. They are regionalized and provide free, confidential advice. Unfortunately, as they are a free source of advice, it can take some time to get through to them.

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Legal Advice Centres

Free and independent legal advice but only for people in the local area. Legal Advice Centres do prioritise cases that appear to be most in need of help.

Contact details of the centres near you can be found in your local directory

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Law Centres

As with Legal Advice Centres, Law Centres are also free and offer advice for people in the local area. However, Law Centres will help you to take your case to court.

Once again, they tend to prioritise the cases that they feel are the most deserving.

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Local Authorities

Your local council will have a number of departments that may be able to assist you. If the dispute is with a business in your local area, the council's Trading Standards department may be able to advise as to whether or not a law has been broken.

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In mediation, a neutral mediator helps disputing parties reach an agreement without the need to involve lawyers. Some mediation services charge a fee, especially those that deal with disputes over money. Mediation UK, on the other hand, puts people in touch with local mediation services that help to resolve a range of community conflicts, and these are usually free. This includes conflicts in schools and workplaces, mediating between neighbours, and working with victims of crimes and offenders. Mediation UK puts people in touch with services throughout England, Wales and Scotland. The Mediation Network for Northern Ireland provides a similar service.

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Chargeable Services

You may need some paid-for advice, and there are several places to turn.

Arbitration and Conciliation
When you can't reach a mutual agreement with a builder and are in a dispute situation, find out if the builder is a member of a trade association (see our Authorities pages). The trade association may offer conciliation service with respect to it's members which could help to resolve your problem. This form of conciliation is often free, but take note the end result is not legally binding.

In order to get a legally binding conclusion you will need to get arbitration. Although some trade and professional organizations have an arbitration scheme, the builder may refuse to go down this route. The other drawback to arbitration is that you can't take your case to court if the outcome is not in your favour.

You do not have to attend any hearings, as Arbitrators work from written documents, etc. If you wish to put forward your case, then you will have to go to court, which is advisable when dealing with 'small claims' (see below).

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Small Claims Court

To make it easy for you to take your case to court, the 'small claims track' has been created. This track allows you to take make claims up to the value of £5000 and these are dealt with by the 'fast track' process. They are dealt with by your local court and it is important that you hire yourself a lawyer. Personal injury and housing repair disputes have an upper limit of £1000. The limits in Northern Ireland and Scotland are £1000 and £1500 respectively. Scottish cases are dealt with by the Sheriff's Court.

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When you have no further choice and are left with going to court, you will have to get a Solicitor. Some of these charge over £100 per hour and you cannot be entirely sure of their quality. You will also need to find a specialist in the particular area of your claim - this is usually provided in their adverts.

Initial consultations are free, so contact them and make a judgment over the phone as to their competence. You may also have friend or relative who can recommend someone to you.

As with any other service, get a written estimate from the solicitor of the number of hours they believe your case will take and the likely fee. Also ask for the estimated fees for additional services you are likely to be charged for, such as fees for experts, barristers, etc.

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Community Legal Service

The Government have launched an initiative called the Community Legal Service, to help people to get good legal advice. As with the building profession, there will be a quality mark that identifies lawyers who supply quality legal services. You can also obtain legal advice from an informational website, www.justask.org.uk

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Paying Your Legal Costs

So if you have decided that you need to take legal action, please remember that not only will this be time-consuming it may also be very expensive. The following sections provide some information on how you may obtain assistance with funding your case

Legal Aid

Only people on very low incomes qualify for Legal Aid and it is usually only provided for very specific cases. It now comes under new Community Legal Service Fund in England and Wales. Legal Aid will not cover building disputes (?)

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Legal Expenses Insurance (LEI)

If you are familiar with car insurance schemes, you will know that you are offered the option of legal cover. This is a contribution to an insurance scheme in the event of you requiring legal assistance if you make a claim. This type of insurance policy is known as a 'Before-the-event policy'.

You can also purchase an 'After-the-event policy' if you are already in a dispute situation. Insurers will assess your case and if they feel that you have a chance of success, they will cover your costs. Please note that you will have to pay the compensation if you lose and not all forms of dispute are covered.

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Conditional Fees

If you have ever heard the term 'No win, no fee', this refers to Conditional Fees. The idea is that, if you lose your case, you do not pay your solicitor's fees, but please do not be misinterpret this.

If you lose and have not taken out insurance, the other party's court costs will have to be paid. In addition to this, if your solicitor hasn't agreed to do so, you will also have to pay for independent experts and court fees, etc.

If on the other hand you win your case, you may have to pay a 'success' fee. This could potentially be double the charge of their normal fee. The 'success' fee and your insurance premium will be recoverable from the other side if you win as per new amendments to the regulations in England and Wales. Conditional fees do not cover family issues, but do cover all civil cases.

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Contact Information

Law Society of England and Wales
0870 606 6575
Law Society of Scotland
0131 226 7411
Law Society of Northern Ireland
028 9023 1614
Mediation, Mediation UK
0117 904 6661
Mediation Network for Northern Ireland
028 9043 8614

Other Useful Contacts

Citizens Advice Bureau (www.nacab.org.uk)

Trading Standards Departments and Law Centres (see local directories)
Honest Builder Home

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