Before you get building work done
These steps should help you save time, money and stress when you’re preparing to get building work, renovations or repairs done on your home. They should also help you avoid problems with builders, plumbers or other contractors, for example decorators and electricians.
The links provided here may take you to information that is very detailed but should ultimately prepare you well for making decisions.
Step 1: Check if you need permission or approval
You may have to get more than one kind of permission or approval before you go ahead with work on your home.
Always check if you need:
- building regulations approval - you may need this even for small improvements, for example replacing windows or doors
- planning permission - you usually need this to build something new or make a major change, for example, an extension.
There is a detailed leaflet on the Scottish Government website called 'Building Standards Customer Journey' that you can download or read online about the type of journey you may have to go through.
If you have to get approval or permission
If you’re in a conservation area
You must also check with your local council before doing work on your home if it’s in a conservation area.
Step 2: How to find good builders or contractors
Recommendations and references are good ways to find reliable contractors who do a good job. You can check who has been registered on the website of the Federation of Master Builders.
If you can’t get personal recommendations from people you know, ask contractors for references. It’s best to get:
- two or three recent examples of similar work they’ve done
- contact details for the people they did the work for - it’s best to get in touch because written references aren’t always genuine.
Be wary of contractors who aren't willing to give references.
Do the proper checks
It’s dangerous to use someone to work in your home who doesn’t have the required qualifications, especially for anything involving gas or electrics.
You should use:
- a registered gas engineer for gas work, for example installing a boiler or cooker
- a registered electrician for electrical work, for example installing new lighting or rewiring.
Registered traders can be found on the NICEIC website (previously called National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting).
You can also check on the NICEIC website if the contractor is a member of an approved trader scheme.
Check what a contractor says
It’s a good idea to check what a contractor or their website tells you - especially if they’ve knocked on your door or telephoned you to offer their services. For instance, you can:
- ask to see a business card or letterhead, or get full contact details, then ring the business to check if the details match. If the person who called to your home is an employee you can check if they do work for the company
- search trade association websites to check the contractor is a member if they say they are.
Be wary if a contractor just gives a mobile number. They may be hard to contact if problems come up. Make sure you do all the checks above.
Interview contractors in person before you hire them
Before you meet them, it’s a good idea to write down:
- a clear and detailed description of exactly what you want done
- a list of questions to help you get all the information you need to compare and choose between contractors.
Make sure you find it easy to talk to them - this should help you sort out any problems that come up later.
When you meet them, write down what they say they’ll do - if you do hire them it’ll be helpful to have a record of the job details from this conversation, as well as the written contract you’ll get before they start the work.
If you’re not comfortable with a particular contractor don’t hire them. You can always find someone else to do the work.
Step 3: Get quotes before you decide who to use
A quote is a promise from the contractor to do the work at a fixed price. Don’t rely on a verbal quote - get it in writing.
Some contractors charge for quotes - ask about this first.
Try to get written quotes from at least three different contractors before you decide on one. Comparing quotes will help you decide if you’re getting a fair price.
After you say yes to a quote, it’s a binding agreement between you and the contractor, whether it’s written down or not. Having it in writing means you can check what you agreed and you can use it as evidence if there’s a dispute later.
Make sure you get a quote, not an estimate. A quote is a fixed price, so you'll know what you’re getting and how much it will cost. An estimate is just a rough guess, so you could end up paying more.
The contractor can’t charge you more than the price on their quote unless:
- you ask for extra work that’s not included in the quote
- they let you know they have to do extra work and you agree to pay more for it
- they made a genuine mistake when writing down or calculating the price - they have the legal right to charge you what it should have been.
Be wary if a contractor won’t put a quote in writing. It’s a sign they could be unreliable.
Always be cautious if the price is a lot lower than other quotes you get. It could mean they don’t have the right skills or experience, or they’re not being honest. It could also mean they’re not quoting for exactly the same work.
What a quote should include
Be very clear about the work you want done - this will help you get the most accurate price and prevent misunderstandings later.
A quote should include:
- a fixed total price - not a daily rate
- a breakdown of all the work to be done and the materials needed
- separate costs for each material and part of the work
- how long the price is valid for
- if the price includes VAT
- when the price can go up, for example, only if you agree to extra work or extra costs of materials.
You could be offered a daily rate for work instead of a total fixed price. Discuss your options with the contractor and ask for a timescale for the work.
Often building work can develop glitches because of unforeseen problems or issues with weather. An experienced contractor should know how to provide a quote that allows them to take account of issues while giving you a reasonable price for the job.
Before saying yes to a quote, you should check the contractor has the correct insurance in place and try to get a written contract.
See a sample quote
You can download a PDF of a sample quote .
Step 4: Check there’s insurance in place
Contractors’ insurance - what to check
Ask to see insurance policies and check they are not going to run out before the work will be finished.
Insurance it's good to have
Public liability insurance - it's worth asking contractors if they have insurance to cover you and them if someone’s hurt or property is damaged (for example, your home or your neighbour’s). If they don't have any, you might want to think about getting your own cover.
Employers’ liability insurance - contractors who work through a company are breaking the law if they don’t have this (but a sole trader doesn't need to have it). It doesn’t matter if it’s their own company or not. It covers you and the company if they’re hurt on the job.
If a contractor doesn’t have the right insurance, and things go wrong or someone’s hurt, you could be forced to pay to fix things, or go to court and pay damages and legal fees.
Other insurance to check for
Other types of insurance may be available, but it’s worth remembering the contractor has to carry out the work with reasonable care and skill. If they don’t, you can ask them to redo the work or refund some of the cost.
Contractors’ all-risk cover - this covers the cost of replacing work that’s destroyed before it’s completed, and before your insurance covers it.
Insurance-backed warranties or guarantees - you can buy one of these as part of the cost of the work, if the contractor offers it. Check exactly what’s covered before you decide to buy one - it should cover the cost of finishing or fixing the work if the contractor does a bad job or goes out of business.
Your insurance - what to check while work is being done
If you have home or contents insurance, contact your insurer to check you'll be covered during the work. You may have to pay more for your insurance during and after the work.
Your insurer will probably want to know what contractor you’re using and what insurance they have. They might suggest that you take out joint insurance with the contractor.
If you don’t have home and contents insurance, it would be wise to get some before the work starts.
Step 5: Get a written contract
As soon as you give a contractor the go-ahead, you’ve made a contract with them, even if it’s not written down.
Always try to get a contract in writing before you give the go-ahead. If the contractor doesn’t do what you agreed, a written contract can help you get what you paid for, or at least get some of your money back.
If the contractor gives you a contract, check if it covers everything you agreed. If they don’t give you one you can write your own and give them a copy.
Be wary of contractors who won’t put anything in writing.
Help writing your own contract
Written contracts don’t need to be in legal language - they just need to outline:
- exactly what you’re paying for (they can refer back to the quote for this)
- everything you’ve agreed on, for example, timings, tidying up, materials and payments.
It can help to look at example contracts, or create a contract using a template - for example, for:
- building work - you can download an example contract or buy a contract template.
Make sure the contract covers:
- start and finish dates
- if you’ve agreed on a daily rate, the number of days the work will take and how many working hours are in a day
- delays - why they might happen, and what the contractor will do about them.
Make sure the contract covers:
- how and when the contractors will remove rubbish and clear up after themselves
- who pays for delivery and collection of any skips.
Materials, equipment and subcontractors
Make sure the contract covers:
- who pays to buy or hire materials and equipment for things the contractor buys, how they’ll give you receipts and paperwork
- if and when they’ll use subcontractors.
Make sure the contract covers how and when you’ll pay. Aim to:
- pay by card not cash as using a card gives you extra protection
- pay in stages
- avoid deposits or upfront payments
- get some protection for your money.
Avoid contractors who only accept cash or want you to pay everything upfront.
Paying by card not cash
If you pay by credit or debit card, you may be able to get your money back through your bank if something goes wrong, for example, the contractor doesn’t turn up but refuses to pay back your deposit.
If this happens, you can contact your bank and say you want to use the 'chargeback' scheme.
If you pay more than £100 by credit card, it may be easier to tell your bank you want to 'make a section 75 claim'. It’s another way to get your money back.
Paying in stages
It is a good idea to pay in stages, particularly if it’s a big job, because it means problems can be put right before you make the final payment. Make sure you understand the points in the work when payments are due.
Don’t agree to pay everything up front, in case something goes wrong or the contractor doesn’t turn up.
If they ask for a deposit to pay for materials, offer to buy them yourself instead of paying a deposit - that way, at least you own the materials if something goes wrong.
If the work is going to take a long time, you may not be able to avoid paying a deposit.
Always get a receipt for a deposit, as well as receipts for any materials it covers. These may be in the form of an email between you and the contractor.
You can protect your deposit or staged payments until the work’s complete, for example with a:
- deposit protection scheme - your money will be stored in a secure account until you and the builder are happy with the work
- insurance-backed warranty or guarantee - you can buy one of these from some contractors to cover the cost of finishing or fixing work if they do a bad job or go out of business.
You may be able to cancel the contract if you change your mind within 14 days of giving the go-ahead or signing a written contract. If you agreed the work could start within those 14 days you may have to pay for some or all of it.
Step 6: Be prepared to deal with problems
Get the contractor’s full contact details before work starts. If you know how to get in touch, it’s easier to deal with any problems that come up. A reputable contractor may take responsibility to get in touch with you to provide progress reports or confirm what stage they are expecting the work to be at by the end of the week.
As soon as something happens that you’re not happy with:
- ask the builder or contractor to put it right
- come to an agreement about how they’ll fix it, and ask them to put it in writing.
If a contractor does a bad job or doesn’t do what you agreed, you should be entitled to get it fixed or get some money back. Find out what you can do about problems with building work, decorating and home repairs.
You can also use the complaints resolution process provided by the NICEIC.
Contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau or Advice Direct Scotland's consumer service if you need more help.
Advice Direct Scotland's Consumer Service
Freephone: 0808 164 6000