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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?

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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…
ADR Ombudsman Business Latest News

International Ombuds Day – what does the Ombudsman do?

Get to know the arbitrators!

The 8 October 2020 is International Ombuds Day. The second Thursday of every October its aim is to raise awareness of what an Ombudsman does.

square/rectangles blocks with people shaking hands, buildings

What is an ombudsman?

An Ombudsman is an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) provider. You may use an Ombudsman to arbitrate in cases where a business and you are in dispute. An Ombudsman adjudicates and makes a decision which is binding on the trader. (The trader loses membership if it doesn’t abide by the rules but this rare). It is not binding on you but should you not agree and want to take the matter to court. The Ombudsman is impartial and cannot side with the business nor with the consumer.

There are other different forms of ADR which include arbitration, mediation/conciliation and negotiation.

When should I use an Ombudsman?

You can try other avenues first. See 20 Top Tips for complaining effectively.  For example, you can contact the CEO using to get the details. Write to the CEO, who may not respond personally, but it will escalate the matter and get their dedicated executive team involved. If you have purchased an item costing more than £100 on a credit card you can try to make a Section 75 claim from your credit card provider, which is jointly liable with the seller. Or you can go to the Small Claims Court. You will need to show that you have considered ADR prior to having your case heard.

Regulated areas

Service providers in the regulated sectors, such as those in energy (Ofgem), communications (Ofcom) and financial services (FCA) must sign up to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme. In most cases this is an Ombudsman.

Non-regulated areas

In the non-regulated areas, such as providers of goods and services, it is not mandatory for businesses to be a member of an ADR scheme. However, many are and it can be part of the reason for purchasing from a certain company. For example, if you want to make a large home purchase knowing if they are a member of The Furniture & Home Improvement Ombudsman you have somewhere to go if something goes wrong. Same with buying a car from member of The Motor Ombudsman.

Costs of using an Ombudsman

It does not cost you anything to take your complaint to the ombudsman. It is worth remembering that it DOES cost the business both in a yearly fee and per case that is processed. That means it is in the interest of the business to always try to resolve the matter before it goes to an ombudsman.

All providers in the non-regulated sector are funded by their industry. Providers in the regulated sector, such as the Financial Ombudsman, energy and telecoms are also funded by the industry, so that services are free to consumers. Others, such as the Local Government Ombudsman, are funded from public funds.

The Ombudsman process

In general, the complainant has a year in which to bring a claim and can do this 8 weeks from when a complaint was started or when a “deadlock letter” is received. A deadlock letter is requested from the provider stating that they will no longer correspond on the matter.

The differences between an Ombudsman and an ADR provider

To be an Ombudsman the organisation must be a member of the Ombudsman Association and meet a strict set of standards. An ADR provider essentially provides the same service but has lower standards.

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.

How approval bodies are failing to properly approve and monitor Alternative Dispute Resolution -

Useful related posts

Top 20 Tips for how to complain effectively

5 myths about Ombudsman providers busted – a post that tackles misconceptions about an Ombudsman.

Why use the Financial Ombudsman? – Director of General Casework describes why and at what point you should contact the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Energy ombudsman shows how to keep heat on your supplier – the Chief Ombudsman at Ombudsman Services shares the traps people fall into and how to make a stronger case when submitting their claim. He looks at energy in particular but the points are valid for all sectors

Ask the Ombudsman: Kevin Grix CEO Dispute Resolution Ombudsman & The Furniture Ombudsman – a post looking at what this Ombudsman does with tips on preventing problems when you shop.