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Thousands seek help from Citizens Advice after home improvement nightmares

25 August 2017

Weeks without windows, sinking patios and waste water pouring down walls are just some of the home improvement disasters people are reporting to Citizens Advice, the national charity has revealed today.

The Citizens Advice consumer service helped people with 40,000 problems related to home maintenance and improvements last year, two thirds of which were about substandard services, such as jobs being completed late or poor workmanship.

As people make use of the summer to have work done on their homes, Citizens Advice reveals the top 5 most common building jobs which caused problems:

  • Roofing (4,971 cases) - one person contacted Citizens Advice when a builder failed to complete the work to their roof which led to thousands of pounds worth of water damage.
  • Fitted kitchens (4,766 cases) - another person sought advice after a contractor disappeared without finishing the installation  of their kitchen, leaving them with no doors on their cupboards.
  • Fitted windows and doors (3,879 cases) - Citizens Advice helped one person who had their windows boarded up for 11 weeks after hiring a builder to fit an extension.
  • Plumbers (3,210 cases) - problems include someone who had waste water pouring down their walls due to an incorrectly installed pipe.
  • Driveways, patios and decking (3116) - one person contacted the charity after their patio started to sink after a year, blocking a drain.

People contacted Citizens Advice wanting to know how to resolve their home improvement problems  and their rights around refunds and compensation.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice said:

“Thousands of people are turning to Citizen Advice for help after bad building work leaves them with a home improvements nightmare.

“People trying to improve their homes are finding them in a worse state than before they started. Dealing with botched jobs and unfinished work means many are left out of pocket and face huge disruptions to their lives.

“When you’re looking to get building work done it’s important to get things in writing- such as quotes and contracts- so you can refer back to them if things go wrong, and keep copies of receipts so you can prove what you paid for a job.

“If you’ve had a problem with building work, and you’re not sure about your rights or what to do next, call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06.”

The charity is offering top tips on how to avoid problems when hiring someone to carry out work, and your rights if things do go wrong.

What to do when hiring a trader:

  • Get references or recommendations - you can either get recommendations from people you know, or use a website that rates traders. If you can’t get a recommendation, you should ask the person you hire for examples of work they have carried out in the past.

  • Find out if they are a member of a trade body - trade bodies have codes of practice and can help resolve problems if things go wrong.

  • Get a written quote - not an estimate, and be clear about what the quote covers. A quote is legally binding and the builder can’t change it without a good reason. An estimate is just a guess at how much the work will cost, and so it could change. You can compare quotes from a number of contractors to make sure you’re getting a fair price.

  • Get a written contract - this should cover timing, payments, who will pay for materials and subcontractors, and what exactly is being done. If you can, you should pay in stages rather than upfront.

  • Keep copies of receipts and your written contract as evidence, as well as photos of any problems which arise.

What to do when things go wrong:

  • Ask the builders to fix the work if the work is not up to scratch or is unfinished.

  • Ask for some money back. Suggest a figure and explain why it is reasonable - for example, you may have to pay to have the work fixed.

  • Complain in writing to the trader or their company, and check to see if they are a member of a trade association to see if they can help.

  • Look for an approved alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme - this is an independent third party who can help you to reach a resolution. The trader should provide you with the name of a certified scheme.

If they still refuse to comply, you can consider taking them to county court- but be aware that you will need to pay fees.

Notes to editors

  1. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local Citizens Advice, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
  2. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  3. To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
  4. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.
  5. Local Citizens Advice in England and Wales advised 2.5 million clients on 6.2 million problems in 2014/15. For full service statistics see our publication Advice trends.
  6. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales.