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How to build confidence in your home improvement project

Press release

Home improvement – DIY or get some help?

Home improvement has seen a huge rise throughout the pandemic. The increased amount of time people are spending at home, improving mental health and wanting their home to look nice for Christmas are all contributing factors to the 12.8 million people planning to do improvement work at home in the next few weeks.

In the run up to Christmas, 46% of Brits plan to undertake home improvements and 54% of them are planning to do the work themselves, with a whopping 61% admitting that they are not competent to do the job! That’s according to figures released today (16/11/20) from research undertaken by the financial services comparison company, GoCompare.

At the start of the second lockdown, Housing Minister, Robert Jenrick, confirmed that tradespeople would still be able enter customers’ homes to carry out work.  However, in yet another example of confusion around the COVID-19 restrictions, the research reveals that 13% of those wanting to work on their homes believed that they couldn’t have tradespeople in their home and 23% didn’t want them in their home at all.

With so many risks associated with undertaking works in the home, what else do you need to consider when using a tradesperson?

wooden joints

10 Top Tips for taking on tradespeople

1)  Get at least 3 firm quotes, not just rough estimates. Ignore any that are very different to other quotes.

2)  Ask friends and family for recommendations of companies who have already done work for them. If you don’t know anyone who can make a recommendation, ask traders for details of customers willing to show you their work. TrustMark can provide a list of recommended traders in your area, each of whom in turn is registered with a professional trade association. TrustMark say they are the Government Endorsed Quality Scheme and if something goes wrong with a trader – and their process doesn’t put it right – you will be able to use the Dispute Resolution Ombudsman for free. Check out reviews. Be careful and cynical of reviews on Facebook, particularly on the builder’s own page. Scams abound on many sites. So, check carefully before making a decision!

3)   All professional builders should willingly agree to a written contract which includes an agreed staged payment plan. In addition to the contract, continuous communication throughout the project is the best way to avoid problems arising. Many traders are signed up to reputable trade associations which help them to get their paperwork in order, but remember, what comes naturally to a lawyer doesn’t necessarily to a trader.

4)   Beware of websites that just offer to help you to find tradespeople. Often traders pay to be listed on these websites which generate leads for them, sometimes without the trader being vetted or required to abide by an Ombudsman or Alternative Dispute Resolution Service. If the website only helps you to spend your cash but doesn’t help you put things right if they go wrong, avoid it and look for one that will help you at both ends of the project.

5)   In addition to providing lots of advice and information on services, Which? operates the Which? Trusted Traders scheme. Unlike a lead generation site, this carries out checks and requires traders to abide by a comprehensive code of conduct, all of which is underpinned by the Dispute Resolution Ombudsman which can independently investigate complaints if things do go wrong.

6)   Be wary of any builder who can start straight away! Any builder worth their salt will be busy!

7)   Check to see if the builder has public liability or employer’s insurance which will give you peace of mind. Consider a building warranty that either they or you can take out to give you further peace of mind.

8)   Take photos before, during and after the work.

9)   For some larger projects, both parties can agree that an independent expert will value the work and payments can then be made at various stages during the project.

10) If you’re using a home improvement retailer to fit a bedroom, bathroom or kitchen, check that they are a member of the Furniture and Home Improvement Ombudsman before you buy. If they are registered, you’ll benefit from free and independent dispute resolution if things go wrong.

Top tips – what to do if things go wrong with tradespeople

Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow, a consumer champion, has these tips:

1)  Try to resolve the matter in person or over the ‘phone before formally writing if you have a complaint.

2)  Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 you are entitled to goods of satisfactory quality, that last a reasonable length of time and services (such as fitting) to be carried out with reasonable skill and care.

3)  Give the trader an opportunity to remedy the work. If they refuse to do this or they fail to do it satisfactorily, then you can take the matter further. Ensure that you state that you retain your legal rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, so that you are still able to claim if necessary afterwards when you write to complain.

4)  If the trader does not respond or does not remedy the faulty work, proceed with getting an independent report and 3 quotes.   Get the work done and write to the trader requesting this amount, attaching the paperwork. You could attach a quote before the work is done to give the trader one last chance, if you wish.

5)  The Defective Premises Act 1972 relates to work undertaken by builders, developers, surveyors and architects. “Defective”, in legal terms, means work causing the property to be unfit for habitation as a result of design, workmanship or materials. Improvement, small jobs and refurbishments are not covered by this Act, so use the Consumer Rights Act 2015 instead.

6)  If the trader is a member of a trade association, you can contact it and see if you are able to use their dispute resolution scheme.

Kevin Grix, Chief Executive and Chief Ombudsman at the Dispute Resolution Ombudsman, says:

“Sometimes even the most straightforward home improvement projects go wrong – and when they do the consequences for everyone involved can be dire. The temporary loss of amenities such as plumbing and electricity caused by a problem are often just the tip of the iceberg. Often when jobs go badly, traders and their customers find themselves in a stand-off, with work left incomplete and arguments over payments escalating.”

There are few more emotive disputes than those that involve the home. Dewdney says that good builders and tradespeople are not just adept with their tools – they also have processes in place to look after their customers. “For extra peace of mind, select those who demonstrate a commitment to standards and putting things right if they go wrong. Look for the ones who are registered with an endorsement website and with an Ombudsman.”

What to include in a contract with the builder etc

A contract should include the following:

  • Total price inclusive/exclusive of VAT
  • Timescales
  • Start and end dates to include delays and disruptions
  • Payment stages
  • Specifications of materials to be used
  • Insurance and responsibilities for loss/damage
  • Liabilities
  • How unexpected work will be dealt with
  • Health and Safety
  • Termination/cancellation rights
  • Sub-contracting
  • Dispute resolution

For more information see How to ensure a stress-free building project which includes a case study and court action which set a precedent you need to know if you are considering legal action!

Cover of How to Complain updated 2019 large cow logo

 

For more help, advice, tips, information and templates buy  How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

 

 

 

man in hard hat

There are some problems in the ADR/Ombudsman sector

There are many issues regarding ADR and Ombudsmen providers. These are mainly to do with the oversight by their approval bodies and are highlighted in my articles Government and regulators continue to fail on resolving consumer disputes and Landing in Court with Ryanair. These articles include links to the reports Ombudsman Omnishambles and More Ombudsman Omnishambles.

This is why we recommend an Ombudsman. (See More Ombudsman Omnishambles for details on how Ombudsman standards are higher than other ADR providers).

Alternative Dispute Resolution – approval and oversight in the loosest sense of the words…
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ADR Ombudsman Companies customer service Laws Legal Action Property

How to ensure a stress-free building project

First published in Moneywise

Undertaking large works in your house – a warning

Buying a kitchen can be one of the largest expenditures of your life! With such a commitment it’s important to get it right. If your chosen builder turns out to be a cowboy, it can cost you more than you allocated for the job.

Tracey Davies, a freelance travel journalist from Brighton, and her husband, employed BrightSpace, a local building and design project management company, to fix a rotten floor and install a new kitchen and bi-fold doors. They obtained a number of quotes and warned BrightSpace that they had no contingency funds, so had to keep a tight rein on the budget.

However, they say the company overspent by over 50%. Instead of the new bi-fold doors they paid for, the builder obtained a used set from another property (which had been installed wrongly) and had them put in whilst Tracey and her husband were away over Christmas. When they returned, the doors looked appalling. Tracey says “They wouldn’t lock, daylight was coming through all the gaps and they were scratched. We were unhappy about them all.” The bi-folds were so badly installed they were  condemned by a professional glazing company with the doors which eventually had to be removed and replaced (costing £1500).

When they couldn’t pay the extra £7,000 of costs beyond the initial quote, Tracey says “He threw all manner of abuse at me, downed tools halfway through the job (while my husband was seriously ill in hospital) and left the house a building site.” She continues “We spent two years taking him to court, he counterclaimed and we won by default twice (he didn’t attend). We sent in bailiffs when he didn’t pay. It has cost us so much money and the kitchen is still unfinished four years later. Currently, it has damp patches, the worktop has blown and the sink needs resealing, so the splash backs have not been fixed in.” The couple have both suffered depression due to the stress caused by the problems and Tracey doesn’t feel she has any fight left in her to pursue the matter.

The Davies’ contract for the work was with BrightSpace and the work was carried out by their subcontractors. Sam Taylor, BrightSpace owner, says that it’s not liable for the subcontractor’s defective works. He argues that the Davies’  “… opportunistically refused to pay for either installation services to contractors, or [his] project management fee when some works on site were substandard but prior to the snagging stage completion. They refused contractor entry to the property to make good. They refused to settle bills due to other contractors despite there being no fault. Quite simply, an earlier unforeseen … and extensive structural issue with the floor zone to this Victorian build property consumed some extra thousands of pounds that subsequently pushed them over ‘budget’ ”.

“I firmly believe that Mr & Mrs Davies saw an opportunity to save money by not paying, when actually patience, honesty and reasoned attitude were required.”, said Taylor in conclusion.

Your consumer rights when employing a tradesperson

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 you are entitled to goods of satisfactory quality, that last a reasonable length of time and services (such as fitting) carried out with reasonable skill and care.

The Defective Premises Act 1972 relates to work undertaken by builders, developers, surveyors and architects. “Defective” in legal terms means work causing the property to be unfit for habitation as a result of design, workmanship or materials. Improvement, small jobs and refurbishments are not covered by this Act but use the Consumer Rights Act 2015 instead.

What if you buy the kitchen and installation from the same company? The same principle applying to kitchen fitting also applies to other goods. You wouldn’t get a full refund on a Rolls Royce because the iPod dock didn’t work! So, it is possible that you won’t get a full refund when only part of the kitchen is messed up.

What you should be aware of when thinking about legal action

Should you be thinking about legal action against a company who provided and fitted anything at your property, be aware that a precedent was set in 1995. The case of Ruxley Electronics and Construction Ltd v Forsyth. Ruxley built a swimming pool in Forsyth’s garden. The contract involved a diving area of 7 feet 6 inches in depth. Once finished it was only 6 feet 9 inches deep but it was safe and the pool value was not affected. Forsyth wanted the pool demolished and rebuilt, at an estimated additional cost of £21,540.

The judge rejected the “cost of cure” damages, ruling that it was unreasonable but awarded “loss of amenity damages” of £2,500. The court of appeal then ruled that

Forsyth should be put back into the position he was in before the pool was built.

Ruxley then appealed to the House of Lords. Lord Mustill’s ruling on the matter concluded that one must look to ‘the loss truly suffered by the promisee’ and reverted back to the award of £2,500.

This means therefore that if you have a poorly-made kitchen you are unlikely to get a full refund if it is still usable! The law, is, sometimes, an ass!

Contracts with builders

All professional builders should willingly agree to a contract which includes an agreed staged payment plan. In addition to the contract, continuous communication throughout the project is the best way to avoid problems arising.

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) will provide advice and support for free regarding choosing and working with the best builder for you. Brian Berry, the Chief Executive, advises always using a written contract and agreeing payment terms. “Payment terms vary from project to project and it’s ultimately down to what the builder and their client agree between themselves.” However, the FMB generally recommends that the maximum deposit paid to a builder should be 10% of the contract price.

Although it may be time consuming to prepare a contract, remember this is a huge outlay for you. The contract can be referred to whilst the job is being carried out and forms part of your evidence should problems arise and you need to take the matter further. A contract should include the following:

  • Total price inclusive/exclusive of VAT
  • Timescales
  • Start and end dates to include delays and disruptions
  • Payment stages
  • Specifications of materials
  • Insurance and responsibilities for loss/damage
  • Liabilities
  • How unexpected work will be dealt with
  • Health and Safety
  • Termination/cancellation rights
  • Sub contracting
  • Dispute resolution

How to protect yourself when looking for and employing a builder

1) Get at least 3 firm quotes, not just rough estimates. Ignore any that is very different to other quotes.

2) Ask friends and family for recommendations of companies who have already done work for them. Age Concern may be able to provide a list of recommended builders in your area.

3) A growing number of Local Authority Trading Standards Services have partnered together to develop the “Buy With Confidence” scheme. You can check to see if your local authority is listed on the Buy with Confidence website, which allows searching for builders by postcode area Approval is given to traders who have provided a lot of information. This includes a basic criminal background check in some instances, their complaints history and references. Traders must abide by the scheme’s Code of Conduct which is monitored by the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. Customers give feedback directly to Trading Standards who will take action including expelling a trader from the scheme if necessary.

4) If you don’t know anyone who can make a recommendation, ask traders for details of customers willing to show you their work.

5) In addition to providing lots of advice and information on services, Which? operates the Trusted Traders scheme. Members have to sign up to the Which? comprehensive code of conduct and to using a dispute resolution scheme.

6) Be wary of any builder that can start straight away! Any builder worth their salt will be busy! The FMB says “Builder’s workloads have been rising steadily over the past two years, particularly with home renovations. As more than 40% of builders need at least four months’ notice from consumers, it’s important to note that if a builder is free to start work tomorrow, alarm bells should ring.”

7) Check to see if the builder has public liability or employer’s insurance which will give you peace of mind. Consider a building warranty that either they or you can take out to give you further peace of mind.

8) Check out reviews. Be careful and cynical of reviews on Facebook, particularly on the builder’s own page. Scams abound on many sites. So check lots!

9) Take photos before, during and after the work.

10) For some larger projects, both parties can agree that an independent expert will value the work and payments due at various stages in the project.

By following the tips and advice above you will be doing as much as possible to prevent problems and ensure your build runs as smoothly as possible!

Cover of How to Complain updated 2019 large cow logo

 

For more help, advice, tips, information and templates buy  How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!