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Problem with building work, decorating or home improvements

This advice applies to England

If you’ve had work done at home and there’s a problem caused by the trader, you should be able to get it fixed - or get at least some of your money back.

Whatever the problem is, you’ll need to talk to the trader and come to an agreement.

You should take up the problem with the trader who arranged the work, even if they ‘sub-contracted’ (passed on) all or some of it to another business.

Before you do that, it’s a good idea to:

  • gather any paperwork and receipts
  • take photos to use as evidence of the problem
  • make notes about what’s happened, including dates and times

What you should do next depends on the type of problem.

They haven't done a good job

The trader should have done the work with ‘reasonable care and skill’. This means they should have done a good job that’s worth the amount they’re charging you. If they haven’t done this, they’ve broken the law.

You’re legally entitled to either:

  • ask them to fix the problem - if they provided you with goods as well as the service, (eg they bought the slabs and laid the patio)
  • get a refund and stop them doing any more work - if they just provided the service (eg you bought the slabs and they laid the patio)

What to do

Let them know you understand what you’re entitled to. What you should say is slightly different depending on when you gave the go-ahead for the work.

If you gave the go-ahead before 1 October 2015:

“The Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 says that reasonable care and skill must be used while working.

In my opinion, you did not use reasonable care and skill when you carried out this work.

I want you to fix the problem/get a refund and stop doing the work.”

If you gave the go-ahead on or after 1 October 2015:

“The Consumer Rights Act 2015 says that reasonable care and skill must be used while working.

In my opinion, you did not use reasonable care and skill when you carried out this work.

I want you to fix the problem/get a refund and stop doing the work.”

You could also ask for money off for any inconvenience caused, for example 5% off the cost as a goodwill gesture. They might say no, but there’s no harm in asking.

What happens next

The trader should fix the problem within a reasonable amount of time, without causing you too much inconvenience. The law doesn’t say what counts as reasonable, so you’ll have to agree it between you.

If they can’t or won’t fix the problem, you can ask for a partial or full refund - depending on how bad the problem is. You’ll have to come to an agreement with them about how much you should get. It’s a good idea to start by suggesting a figure and explaining why you think it’s reasonable, then take it from there.

If you gave the go-ahead on or after 1 October 2015, once you’ve agreed on the amount with the trader the law says you should get your refund within 14 days.

If you’re not sure what to do, contact the consumer helpline (or Consumerline in Northern Ireland) - a trained adviser can give you advice over the phone or by email.

If you can’t come to an agreement

They haven’t done what was agreed

When you gave the go-ahead to the trader, you technically made a contract with each other - even if it wasn’t written down.

If they haven’t done what was agreed, they’ve ‘breached’ (broken) the contract and you can ask them to put things right.

Check exactly what was agreed, if you can. Look through any paperwork that they’ve given you.

If you gave them the go-ahead on or after 1 October 2015, anything you took into account before you agreed to the work is also part of the contract.

Example
You met a window fitter who said he’d install a new window and paint the frame. You gave him the job, but he only installed the window and then left. 

What to do

You can ask the trader to do whatever’s necessary to get the work done properly. They should cover all the costs, including any extra materials.

Let them know you understand what you’re entitled to. What you should say is slightly different depending on when you gave the go-ahead for the work.

If you gave the go-ahead before 1 October 2015:

“Under the terms of our contract, you have breached your contract with me by not doing the work as we agreed.

I want you to do the work again, this time exactly as we agreed.”

If you gave the go-ahead on or after 1 October 2015:

“Under the terms of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, you have breached your contract with me by not doing the work as we agreed.

I want you to do the work again, this time exactly as we agreed.”

You could also ask for money off for any inconvenience caused, for example 5% off the cost as a goodwill gesture. They might say no, but there’s no harm in asking.

What happens next

The trader should fix the problem within a reasonable amount of time, without causing you too much inconvenience. The law doesn’t say what counts as reasonable, so you’ll have to agree it between you.

If they can’t or won’t fix the problem, you can ask for a partial or full refund - depending on how bad the problem is. You’ll have to come to an agreement with them about how much you should get. It’s a good idea to start by suggesting a figure and explaining why you think it’s reasonable, then take it from there.

If you gave the go-ahead on or after 1 October 2015, once you’ve agreed on the amount with the trader the law says you should get your refund within 14 days.

If you’re not sure what to do, contact the consumer helpline (or Consumerline in Northern Ireland) - a trained adviser can give you advice over the phone or by email.

If you can’t come to an agreement

They haven’t done the work on time

You have to give the trader a second chance to finish the work, unless you made it clear that it was important that the work had to be finished by a certain date.

Make it clear that this time, the work has to be finished by a certain date. It’s a good idea to put it in writing - this will help make it feel more urgent.

If you said the work had to be finished by a certain date

Tell the trader you don’t want them to carry on working for you. Do it in writing, so you’ve got a record.

You should pay them for any work they’ve done so far, though you can ask for a discount to make up for any inconvenience they’ve caused. If they’ve done very little or no work at all, you might not want to pay them anything.

If you’ve already given them some money (or a deposit) and you think it’s too much for the work they’ve done, you can suggest a figure and ask them to refund the difference. 

If you can’t come to an agreement

They’ve charged more than you expected

If you agreed a price with the trader but you’ve been charged more, your rights depend on whether you were given a quote or an estimate. Check your paperwork if you’re not sure what you were given.

A quote (sometimes called a ‘quotation’ or 'fixed estimate') is a promise to do work at an agreed price. An estimate is the trader's best guess as to how much the work will cost. 

If you have a quote

The trader can’t charge more than they’ve quoted, unless there’s a good reason - like:

  • they let you know they’d need to do extra work, and you agreed to pay more because of it
  • it was obvious that the price in the quote was a mistake - there isn’t a definition of this but it generally means that most people would see this mistake

They can’t charge you more if their costs have gone up since they did the quote.

If they made a mistake

So long as it wasn’t obvious to you when you got the quote, you have a legal right to get the work done for the price in the quote.

What to do

If they can’t give you a good reason for raising the price, tell them that you’ll only pay what was quoted. It’s a good idea to put this in writing so you have a record.

Don’t let them push you into paying more.

If you’re not sure what to do, contact the consumer helpline (or Consumerline in Northern Ireland) - a trained adviser can give you advice over the phone or by email.

If you can’t come to an agreement

If you have an estimate

If you were given an estimate and the final bill is a lot more than what you were expecting, you can dispute it.

The final price should be ‘reasonable’. The law doesn’t say what counts as reasonable, so you’ll have to agree it between you. You should consider:

  • the estimate you agreed to
  • any changes, and why they happened
  • anything that happened that was beyond the control of the trader, like bad weather or the cost of materials going up

If you need help to decide, you could:

  • ask another trader for an estimate for the same work
  • find out if the trader’s a member of a trade association and contact them for advice
  • get an expert opinion, though you’ll probably have to pay for it

What to do

Let them know:

  • that you’re unhappy with the price
  • what you think would be reasonable - make it clear that this is what you will pay

It’s a good idea to put this in writing so you have a record.

You’ll probably have to negotiate with them, but remember that what you pay should be reasonable. Don’t let them push you into paying more.

If you can’t come to an agreement

Something wasn’t installed properly, eg a kitchen or boiler

If you’ve had something installed at home and it’s been done badly, you’re entitled to get it fixed - or you might be able to get a refund. For example, this could be if:

  • it’s not where you agreed it would go, eg your new satellite dish is on the wrong wall
  • it’s dangerous or unsafe, eg you get an electric shock when you use a new light switch

When you gave the go-ahead to the trader, you technically made a contract with each other - even if it wasn’t written down.

If they haven’t done what was agreed, they’ve ‘breached’ (broken) the contract and you can ask them to put things right.

Check exactly what was agreed, if you can. Look through any paperwork that they’ve given you.

If you gave them the go-ahead on or after 1 October 2015, anything you took into account before you agreed to the work is also part of the contract. If you gave the go-ahead before this date it’s not included as part of the contract.

Example
You met a window fitter who said he’d install and fully finish the frames. You gave him the job, but he only did a basic installation and then left.

You’re legally entitled to either:

  • ask them to fix the problem - if they provided you with goods as well as the service, (eg they bought the shower and fitted it)
  • get a refund and stop them doing any more work - if they just provided the service (eg you bought the shower and they fitted it)

What to do

Let the trader know you understand what you’re entitled to. What you should say is slightly different depending on when you gave the go-ahead for the work.

You should take up the problem with whoever arranged the installation, even if they ‘sub-contracted’ (passed on) the work to another business.

If you gave the go-ahead before 1 October 2015:

“The Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 says that reasonable care and skill must be used while working.

In my opinion, you did not use reasonable care and skill when you carried out this work.

I want you to fix the problem/get a refund and stop doing the work.”

If you gave the go-ahead on or after 1 October 2015:

“The Consumer Rights Act 2015 says that goods must be correctly installed, if installing them was part of the contract.

In my opinion, you did not install them correctly when you carried out this work.

I want you to fix the problem/get a refund and stop doing the work.”

You could also ask for money off for any inconvenience caused, for example 5% off the cost as a goodwill gesture. They might say no, but there’s no harm in asking.

What happens next

The trader should fix the problem within a reasonable amount of time, without causing you too much inconvenience. The law doesn’t say what counts as reasonable, so you’ll have to agree it between you.

If they can’t or won’t fix the problem, you can ask for a partial or full refund - depending on how bad the problem is. You’ll have to come to an agreement with them about how much you should get. It’s a good idea to start by suggesting a figure and explaining why you think it’s reasonable, then take it from there.

If you gave the go-ahead on or after 1 October 2015, once you’ve agreed on the amount with the trader the law says you should get your refund within 14 days.

If you’re not sure what to do, contact the consumer helpline (or Consumerline in Northern Ireland) - a trained adviser can give you advice over the phone or by email.

If you can’t come to an agreement

What they’ve done is dangerous or unsafe

Stop using anything that’s dangerous or unsafe straight away.

Dangerous or unsafe appliances

If it’s an electrical appliance, switch it off and unplug it if you can.

If it’s a gas appliance and you can smell gas, call the National Gas Emergency Service on 0800 111 999 (or phone 0800 002 001 if you’re in Northern Ireland).

Dangerous or unsafe buildings or structures

You should report a dangerous building or structure to your local council immediately, even if it’s outside of normal working hours. You can do this online in England and Wales. If you live in Scotland you’ll have to contact your council directly.

Leave the building if you think you might be in immediate danger.

Report the trader to Trading Standards

It’s really important that you report the trader to Trading Standards if they’ve done anything that’s dangerous or unsafe.

You can’t usually report the trader to Trading Standards directly - you’ll need to contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline and they will contact Trading Standards on your behalf.

The adviser ask you a series of questions, so they can find out things like:

  • who did the work (and if you have their contact details)
  • what the work involved
  • when you gave the go-ahead for the work
  • how much the work cost and how you paid for it
  • if you’ve already raised your complaint with the trader

If you can’t come to an agreement

If you can’t come to an agreement with the trader, you should take the following steps:

  1. Use one of our complaint letters. We have different letters depending on whether the problem is to do with the quality of the work, the price, a delay or installation. The letters contain legal terminology, and may help the trader understand that you know your rights.
  2. Check if the trader’s a member of a trade association. Look on the trader’s website or ask them if you can’t find this information. Contact the trade association and explain the situation.
  3. Ask the trader if they’re a member of an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme - it’s a way of solving disagreements without going to court. If they don’t respond or won’t use an ADR scheme, keep a record of the fact that you asked them (and the date). 
  4. Choose an ADR scheme yourself (filter by country to select 'United Kingdom') to try to solve the problem more informally. It’ll help you later if you end up going to court.
  5. Claim compensation if you have to get someone else to do or re-do the work. This could mean simply asking the trader for compensation or it could involve taking them to court, which could be costly and time consuming.

Read more about taking someone to court.

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