Most of the time, hiring a contractor to work for you or to carry out a job on your behalf is fairly straightforward. You ask them to give you a quote, tell them what you want them to do, and they do a great job. So you pay them.

Sadly, in some cases, the job isn’t done properly, the contractor disputes that you asked them to do something, or the agreement just goes awry somehow. Here’s how to deal with situations in which things have gone wrong.

The Law

In general, contracts for services are governed by The Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982. This piece of legislation sets out what you can expect from a contractor in very general terms, and those are, briefly:

You are entitled to a service carried out with reasonable skill and care, for a reasonable cost (if the cost is not agreed separately) within a reasonable time and using materials of a satisfactory quality.

You should find that this covers most eventualities.

First steps

Before you employ anyone to do any work for you, make it very clear from the start what you expect. Ask for a specific quote, rather than an estimate, and get everything possible set out in writing at the beginning, so that if there are any disagreements later you can refer back to your agreement.

If you’re unhappy with the standard of work, or there’s a dispute about what you’ve asked the contractor to do, refer to the agreement. If someone has done work for you (for example, fitted a boiler) and the work isn’t done properly (the boiler isn’t heating up properly), you should let them know as soon as possible. The longer you leave it, the more likely you are to have been deemed to have legally accepted the work as satisfactory.

Ask them to return and put the work right. Give the trader a deadline – don’t let them keep you hanging on indefinitely while you stew. Make an initial telephone call, and send an email or a letter with details of the problem to back it up. This might be all you need to get the contractor back to sort the problem out.

If the work is so bad that it’s reasonable NOT to want them back to put things right, or they’ve done work that’s dangerous, you can ask another contractor, but make sure you tell the first one, and let them know your reasons. You should put this in writing too.

When there’s a dispute

If the contractor refuses to return to put the work right, and you’ve set them a deadline, you can ask another contractor to put the work right once the given deadline has passed. So, if you’ve made sure that you’ve given the original trader a chance, and he’s either refused or ignored you, get a quote from someone else.

You can let the original contractor know, out of courtesy, that you’re going to be getting the work rectified by someone else, and how much it’s going to cost. You’re entitled by law to claim this cost back from the original contractor, either by deducting the cost from the original invoice or, if you’ve already paid, claiming it back as reasonable expenses.

At this stage, you should put absolutely everything in writing, because if the trader decides to take you to court for part or all of his invoice, or you need to claim compensation for getting the work done again, you’ll need to prove you’ve done everything you can to be reasonable, including giving the original contractor chances to put things right where possible. If you’re happy with some of the work but not all of it, it’s also reasonable to pay only for the part that you’re happy with.

Charged too much?

You should always agree on the amount a job will cost before you get started, and if you have done so, the trader can only charge you more by agreement. If you asked someone to fix a van and it turned out, on investigation, that more work needed doing than originally thought, the mechanic would not be able to do the work without your prior agreement. If he did, you wouldn’t be legally obliged to pay.

Be wary of the difference between estimates and quotations, too. An estimate is just that; you could end up being charged a lot more. However, a quotation is fixed and shouldn’t be changed. You can still dispute an estimate, if you think you’ve been charged more than is reasonable.

If you didn’t agree the price beforehand, remember that the contractor is obliged to charge what’s reasonable. Prices do vary, but if you’ve been charged substantially more than you think the work is worth, ask an independent expert, the trade association for that area of work, or other local contractors what a reasonable price might be. This might give you grounds to go back to the trader, offer what you think is a fair price, and negotiate.

If you can’t agree, you might end up having to take the matter up through the courts.

Legal action

If you’ve had to pay out because of someone’s shoddy workmanship, you may end up having to claim compensation through the courts if they refuse to pay up.  You could also end up being sued if you refuse to pay, or if there’s a dispute over the amount of an invoice.

The courts are split into three tracks depending on how much you’re claiming:

·         Up to £10,000 – small claims track

·         £10,000 to £25,000 – fast track

·         Over £25,000 – multi-track

 It might be an idea to get some legal advice before you take this step – going to court, especially for larger sums, can be expensive and stressful.

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