Choosing the right person
There are a number of safety measures you can take to preserve your welfare when you are having any sort of building, repair or decorating work done in your home. By selecting trustworthy, qualified builders and other tradespeople, by agreeing a contract for the work, either verbally or in writing, and my monitoring the work as it progresses, you can minimise the probability of problems and guarantee that you have some legal retort if anything does go wide of the mark.
Recommendations when selecting tradespersons
Try and select a tradesperson who has been personally recommended. Choose someone who is a member of trade association. The association can often recommend a dependable tradesperson in your area. Members usually abide by the association’s code of practice, and if necessary you can use its complaints procedure.
Try and get at least three quotes (which should include the precise specifications about fittings and materials). Make sure that the quote you accept is an exact and firm quotation so that it is legally binding and you cannot be asked to pay more.
Generally when you enter into a contract, the law does not regard a delay in carrying out the work as sufficient reason to cancel. You can avoid this by including in the original contract a date by which the work must be completed. This is called ‘making time of the essence to the contract’. If you do this and suffer any monetary loss as a result of holdup, you may be able to claim reimbursement. Therefore, specify a time for starting and completing the work.
Further, have a written contract for major work, for example, a loft conversion. Pay by credit card if possible. Always get a receipt with the tradesperson’s name and address on it. You can even ask for guarantees or rather insurance-backed warranties for the work. Also, make sure that the trader carries insurance in case of damage to your home or contents, or to a neighbour’s property.
It also becomes important to check that either the tradesperson’s insurance or your own household insurance includes cover for death or personal injury due to work.
Do not ever take the risk of employing anyone who does not have a recognised business name and address, and a landline phone number. Also, do not engage anyone who cold-calls to ballyhoo for business and allow yourself to be pressurised into having work done which you do not actually want. It is also advisable to not to agree to extra work on top of the original job (unless you are very sure that it is necessary).
Always beware of the trader who suggests the need for extra items or procedures that other quotes have not mentioned, and finds allegedly serious problems with your property not related to the job in question. Also, it is important to look out for the trader who talks up the difficulty of doing a uncomplicated job, asks for cash upfront and makes verbal promises that do not accord with the small print of the contract.
Making a contract
A contract may be made verbally, in writing, or by a arrangement of the two. All are equally valid in law, but a written contract makes it easier to prove what you have agreed. In a contract for services you have rights under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982, irrespective of what has actually been agreed between you and the supplier or tradesperson.
It is always wise to have a written contract specifying what has been agreed so that both parties are aware of their rights and obligations. This does not have to be a official document, but ideally both the parties should sign and date the contract and each keep a copy.
A contract for work should specify the entire details of the work that is to be carried out, and clear-cut specifications for any fittings to be used, including materials and makes where suitable. It should also include details of any foundational work and possibly the details of how the job is to be finished off – for example, removing all the rubbish and leaving the site clean and tidy. Further, a contract should include a time for the work to start and agreed completion date, the total price and payment details (for example, payment on satisfactory completion or within 60 days). If staged payments are involved, a detail of exactly what must be completed before each payment is made. Finally, it must include the details of any guarantees or warranties and a statement of any insurance in force.
Look for the logo
Protect yourself form cowboys by employing a member of a recognised trade organisation. Some of the recognised building trade associations include the Gas Safe Register, The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) and the Institute of Plumbing (IOP). Members of each organisation have agreed to follow a code of professional standards and each of them keep a register of competent and qualified tradespeople who can be contacted through the website, provide practical and safety advice to customers and have a proper complaints procedure.
The price charged is not the one advertised
You answer an advertisement offering to clean carpets for an eye-catching price. You do not ask for a quotation because you thought the price was as advertised. When the crew arrives, the supervisor refuses to do the job for that price and insists on an additional fee for removing stains.
If you do not have a definite agreement, you cannot force the company to do the work. If the advertisement was misleading you can complain about that, but you cannot compel the company to abide by the price stated. You may even find that the small print in the advertisement covers the company against this kind of situation.
If you feel that the advertisement or the price was misleading, complain to your local trading standards office, which will be able to advise you. In the event of the advertisement being misleading, the matter would be referred to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). At least you may be able to ensure that others are not similarly misled.