Disputes over building work

Disputes over building work

Delays in work

If there have been delays in completing building work, you should tell your builder, in writing, that you will cancel the contract unless the work is finished within a stated period. In your letter you should demand that your builder complete the work within the period you specify - the time stated has to be reasonable and have regard for the terms of any contract. If you're building a new home 'off plan' and your builder is covered by the Consumer Code for Home Builders, you have a right to withdraw from your purchase under the Code if there is an unreasonable delay in completing the construction and serving the notice to complete. See our section entitled 'Before building works start', under the heading 'Consumer Code for Home Builders' for more information.

If the builder still does not complete the work

If the builder has still not completed the work within the specified period after you have sent the letter, your next step is to cancel your contract with the builder and state that you will be obtaining estimates from others to complete the work. Once you have obtained these estimates, send another letter to your builder enclosing the estimates you have obtained and indicate which of these estimates you have accepted. The builder should also be told that you will look to them to pay the costs when the work is completed.

Demanding the builder's costs

Once you have followed the process detailed above, and your new builder has completed the work left unfinished by your original builder, you can demand that the original builder pay the costs of your new builder to complete the work and give them a time period in which they must make the payment. This will put a financial value on the work left outstanding by your original builder.

You can also demand that your original builder pay any additional costs if your outlay in employing the new builder is greater than the amount which you would have had to pay your original builder to complete the work. If the builder does not pay these costs, you can take the matter to county court within the time period you have specified in the letter to attempt to recover your costs.

You should consider, however, the cost of bringing an action in the county courts and the likelihood of recovering these costs and damages from the builder. This is particularly important if the builder might be facing financial difficulties and might become insolvent.

Defective work

If the work done is defective in any way, you are entitled to ask the contractor to make good the defective work.

Requesting faulty building work be fixed

The first step is to ask the supplier of the service to put things right. You can request your builder to fix the defects. It will be up to you, the customer, to determine upon the facts whether 10 or 14 days or any other number of days is reasonable to complete the work satisfactorily.

If your builder does not put the matter right in the time you have allotted to them, you are entitled to employ another contractor. Once you have accepted estimates from your new builder, you can tell your original builder what estimates you have accepted to fix the faulty building work and also that you will be looking to them in due course to recover your costs.

Once your new builder has completed the work, you can then demand the original builder to pay the costs of the new builder by letter. Your letter should warn the builder that if they do not pay, you will be forced to recover your costs in county court. Again, you should consider the cost of bringing a court action and the likelihood of recovering these costs from the trader.

When paying on credit

If you have any kind of credit agreement, think carefully and take legal advice before you withhold payments as your future credit rating could be affected.

If you paid by credit card or the work is being financed by a credit agreement arranged by the trader, the lender is jointly liable with the trader for any breach of contract (if the work costs between £100 and £30,000). Tell the lender if there is a dispute.

Disputes about cost

If the bill is greater than the builder's quote

If you accept a builder's quotation, you are not obliged to pay anything over this amount. A quotation may be accepted by firstly marking it with the word 'accepted', secondly signing and dating it and finally, returning it to the builder.

However, if there was additional work done by the builder which wasn't included in the original quote, then the builder is entitled to charge for it.

Seeking further help

If, in spite of letters and telephone calls, the complaint has not been resolved, you should consider getting in touch with the trade association or professional body the supplier might belong to. Such bodies have codes of practice that are not legally binding but set the standard of quality consumers can expect from their members. In addition, they have conciliation or arbitration schemes, which can be used to resolve disputes between consumers and their members.

Resolution and insurance service

Many builders are registered with the National House Building Council (NHBC). The NHBC is the standard-setting body for the new and newly converted house building industry. The NHBC provides a consumer protection scheme which includes an insurance service for new and newly converted houses that will cover the costs of repair. The NHBC scheme also provides a resolution service which will help you to resolve straightforward disputes with your builder. Your rights to make use of the NHBC scheme will be set out in your agreement with the house builder, provided that they are registered with the NHBC.

Under the NHBC scheme, the builder also gives an undertaking to make good any defects attributable to the builder and anything not complying with the required standard of workmanship during the first two years of the purchase of the property. In addition, the builder will make all major structural defects good, without cost to the purchaser, for the next eight years.

Arbitration service

If conciliation does not work, you can take the dispute to arbitration if such a scheme is available. Arbitrations involve an expert in the relevant field whose decision is final.

Bear in mind though that you must choose between arbitration and going to court. If, having chosen arbitration, you are not happy with the decision of the arbitrator, you might be prevented in certain circumstances from going to court. In England and Wales, you should note that any clause in a contract that forces you to go to arbitration might be an unfair term and therefore invalid. Although there is a small claims mediation service for claims up to £10,000, you cannot be forced to mediate rather than continuing your claim in court. For further information on this in Northern Ireland, you should check with the arbitrator.

Useful contacts

The trade associations for the main trades are as follows:

For builders

For building problems related to gas

For double glazing

Related services

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