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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!


Legal Action

Family Court: How to be a victor not a victim

Do not choose to be a victim in a Family Court case for your children or finances 

Being involved in a case to Family Court may not be a pleasant experience. But by following these simple guidelines you can make it easier for yourself and your family.

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Choosing to go to the Family Court

You are not powerless. It is far too easy to see yourself at the mercy of your ex, the court and the rest of the chorus of people you will come into contact with when you wish to change a situation you are not happy with. Listen to the horror stories and you may be tempted to surrender before the first metaphorical shot is fired. Who would choose to get involved in all that?

Factors against you in the Family Court

Because when you become involved in the Family Court you will meet a huge cast who will say you are doomed. They could include:

  1. The ex’s solicitor. He or she (paid handsomely by the ex) will tell you things that will make throwing in the towel seem like a sensible option. Why do you think he or she does that? It’s almost like they’re – I don’t know – working for your ex.
  2. Friends, family and people you have never met on social media. A huge club who combine ignorance of the facts, ignorance of the law and personal agendas. It’ll include the bloke who `told the judge like it is’ – the one who is as angry as hell and isn’t going to take it any more…and has no contact….but there was nothing the judge could say apart from `Thanks. Off you go’. The bitter divorcee who fought a 15 year battle with the ex over the house or the kids. The gender war advocate who wants to strike a blow against the other sex.
  3. Some of the court staff. Be it the CAFCASS officer who tells you that contact only really works if the parent who has the child agrees to it. Or his/her counterpart in Social Services saying the same thing (who may tell you that you absolutely positively have no choice but to sign that Section 20 if you are mired in a public law case). Amongst others.
  4. Organisations pushing an agenda about bias and incompetence in the system. I’m not going to make a judgement about that one. But again – listen to that sort of thing and you’ll end up feeling like a long walk off a short pier sounds mighty attractive.

It’s enough to make you want to go and join the French Foreign Legion, isn’t it?

More power in the Family Court than you think

That applies even if no-one in the courtroom apparently likes you. Even if the judge has seemingly decided he/she doesn’t like the look of your face the moment you walk in. Even if you have been threatened with a £20,000 costs order, no contact with the kids ever, losing the house you inherited or worked so long for and a day in the stocks on the village green while you wear the latest in fermented tomato on your face.

Family Court – the positives

Despite all the relentless negativity so far (you’re still reading right?) there are simple things you can do – that don’t require a legal background to help you prepare and keep you in the right frame of mind even if it all seems hopeless.

I would point out that there are no exceptions here (although everyone I come into contact with is a `special case’ with the strongest case/worst ex/whatever). These points are by and large common sense…and again – we get it. That’s part of the reason we do the job we do – to help you focus when things are hard – many McKenzie Friends (a type of paralegal who can help you represent yourself in all aspects of your child custory, finance or divorce case) ended up doing the job after personal experience of this all.

So what are these pieces of enlightenment? Here goes…

5 Top Tips to help you in the Family Court

  • Don’t give up

But consider this. You have a 100% chance of getting nowhere if you walk away. There aren’t many guarantees in court but this is one of them. You may say you have no chance if you don’t give up…but I’ll also guarantee you it’s less than 100%. Only you decide if you give up – no one else at all. Own it!

  • Sell the solution

The court will take the easy option. Make sure you are the easy option in their eyes. If you tell the court you’re walking away from it all, that’ll be seen as an easy option and they won’t try that hard to stop you. They’ll close the case and for all intents and purposes it’ll be considered a success – because you’ve come to an arrangement with your ex without the need for a court order. If it means ordering no contact because you got yourself a non- molestation order, a caution because you `kicked off’ at the wrong time in the wrong place…that’s marked as a success. Remember, even indirect contact is considered a success!

Make sure what you’re proposing is clear, simple, fair and actually doable – both in terms of practicality and in line with the law.

  • Focus

At the start ask yourself this: `What do I want out of this case?’ If it is anything other than building a relationship with your kids or an equitable settlement that doesn’t leave your ex living under a railway bridge as punishment for being so awful you’re probably not going to have much fun or luck. Because the court will be irritated if it thinks you’re using it as a weapon against your ex. Don’t get distracted either – keep your eye on the ball. Don’t concentrate on the ex’s 493 ridiculous, fictitious and/or painful allegations.

  • Keep it clean

If your ex has dirt on you, it’s a fair bet it’ll be discussed in court to justify their actions. Because they’re not going to say `Yeah – I’m only being unreasonable because I wish to punish him/her. Don’t give your ex ammunition or justification for his or her actions – which could be backed up with screen prints of your abusive messages, police reports of your arrest or witness statement of the nice old lady next door who saw and heard you shouting threats through the letter box while demanding to see the kids. If they want to find something to criticise you for…they will. Don’t hand it to them on a plate.

  • Be nice – Even if it kills you

There’s a line somewhere like `If you can interpret something in two ways and one of them upsets you I meant the other way’. Don’t rise to stuff. Choose to assume that the other person has the best of motives. If you know that is the case ask yourself `Is my response liable to escalate things or dial them down?’ What you do and say now could well affect your life for years to come.

The Family Court and you

It’s more than practical stuff too. A positive mindset will help immensely. It’s hard enough as it is without you shooting yourself in the foot from the outset.

Keep calm and carry on.

About the author Steven Wade

Steven wade standingSteven Wade is a Family Law Specialist, assisting people in child custody, financial matters and divorce for over a decade in courts around in England and Wales – from magistrates all the way to the Royal Courts of Justice.

He works with his partner, Michaela, for Family Law Assistance and lives in Mid Wales.


Born in Essex, he worked in various sectors including finance, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications and the oil industry after gaining a degree in geology. He became interested in family law following his divorce and court case involving his son.

Relocating from the South East of England to Wales he volunteered with a parenting charity and quickly gained a reputation helping parents in family law matters both in and out of court before deciding to do this on a full-time basis. More recently he has added coaching skills and qualifications to his CV to further assist his clients in mindset issues to accompany his legal background.

Tel:                       0117 290 0274

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