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Cancelling building or decorating work

This advice applies to Scotland

If you’ve arranged for a contractor or company to do building, decorating or landscaping work on your home but then change your mind, your right to cancel and get your money back will depend on:

  • where and how you made the arrangements
  • whether they’ve started work or not
  • whether you've ordered 'made to measure' or standard products

If you arranged the work while on the business’s premises

If you made arrangements for the work in the contractor or company’s place of business, eg in their office or perhaps a contractor’s home, your right to cancel will depend on whether they’ve started the work.

Cancelling before the work has started

You can cancel the work as long as you haven't made a contract. You won't have to pay anything.

A contract is formed when either you or the business makes an offer and the other party accepts. You’ll most likely have a contract, even if it’s not in writing - for example, if you’ve:

  • signed an agreement
  • agreed to a quote (you could have done this verbally)
  • fixed a starting date
  • paid a deposit
  • verbally told them to go ahead with the work

If you do have a contract then cancelling will be breaking that agreement, unless:

  • you’ve agreed conditions for cancelling (such as a cancellation charge)
  • the business doesn’t honour its contractual obligations (eg hasn’t done the work in a reasonable time and then misses the final deadline you give them)
  • you felt you were misled or pressured into hiring the business to do the work

They may ask you to pay for either or both of the following:

  • a cancellation fee
  • any loss of profit caused by your cancellation (eg if they set aside time to do your work and can’t book another job for the same period)

If you gave a deposit they might hold some or all it to help cover their loss. Negotiate with the business if you think the amount they’re withholding or the cancellation fee is unreasonable.

Cancelling after the work’s started

A builder or decorator will only begin work if you’ve formed a contract, either written or verbal.

You’ll need to negotiate with the business if you want to cancel and get any money refunded.

They may ask you to pay for any or all of the following:

  • a cancellation fee
  • labour costs up until the time you cancelled
  • any items installed or fitted that can’t be removed without damaging them
  • the return of any items that have been delivered but not installed (or can be easily uninstalled)
  • any loss of profit caused by your cancellation (eg where they set aside time to do your work and can’t book another job for the same period)

Example

You visit a shop that sells kitchens and choose one you like. You pay them a deposit and arrange for them to install the kitchen a week later. They arrive and begin installing kitchen components but you change your mind the next day. You have to pay £150 for the cost of labour, £50 for tiling that can’t be uninstalled without damaging it, £25 for returning items to the warehouse and a £150 cancellation fee (5% of the original quote).

If you gave a deposit they’ll most likely hold some or all it to help cover their expenses. Negotiate with the business if you think the amount they’re withholding or the cancellation fee is unreasonable.

If you arranged for the work away from the business’s premises

You have a ‘cooling-off’ period of 14 days to cancel and get a refund if you arranged the service:

  • over the phone
  • on the internet
  • by mail order
  • somewhere else outside their business (eg in the street or at your home or workplace)

14 days is the absolute minimum cooling-off period that a seller must give you. Make sure you check the terms and conditions in case they’ve given you more time to change your mind - many choose to do so. 

Your cancellation rights after the ‘cooling-off’ period are the same as if you’d arranged the work while on the business’s premises.

You don’t automatically get a cooling-off period if:

  • you have something specially made - for example, made to measure curtains, windows or a conservatory (some traders voluntarily offer a 7 day cooling-off period for these products, but they don’t have to)
  • you invite the business into your home for urgent repairs or maintenance - for example, when you ask a plumber to come and mend a burst pipe

When the cooling-off period begins

Your cooling-off period will begin the day after you give the go-ahead for the work to be done.

For any goods that you’ve ordered as part of the work, your cooling-off period for returning them depends on the type of order:

  • if you’ve ordered a single item, or several items that will be delivered in one batch, your cooling-off period starts the day after the delivery is made
  • if you’ve placed a one off order for several different items that will be delivered at different times, your cooling-off period starts the day after the last item is delivered
  • if you’ve placed an order for several deliveries of the same items over a period of time, your cooling-off period starts the day after the first delivery

A business must give you details of how to cancel (they’re allowed to send this by email for phone, internet and postal orders). If they don’t provide these your cooling-off period is extended by 14 days from the date you receive these - up to a maximum of 1 year.

Cancelling if the work’s not started yet

You can cancel and get all your money back if the business hasn’t started the work and you’re still within the 14 day cooling-off period.

You can use one of our template letters to let the business know you’re cancelling. The letter you use depends on whether you arranged the work:

Keep a copy so you’ve got proof you sent it.

You could also phone - but make sure you make a note of who you speak to and what was agreed. It’s a good idea to follow up with a letter or email.

Cancelling if the work’s started

If you asked for the service to be provided during the cooling-off period and the business provided the cancellation information, you’ll have to pay a part of the agreed price. The amount will depend on how much was completed when you asked to cancel.

If the builder, decorator or installer begins the work during the cooling-off period without your approval you’ll have the right to cancel and get a full refund of all costs.

Example

You hire a landscape gardener to redesign your garden. You use an online form on the company’s website to arrange the services. You ask them to begin the work as soon as possible, so they start work the next day by building a wall. You then decide you don’t want the rest of the work done as you don’t like the way they’re working. You negotiate with them to finish the wall, which you pay £100 for. The rest of the job is cancelled, and you don’t have to pay.

If you had items installed that now can’t be physically removed without damaging them, the business could argue that you lose your right to cancel. If removing an item reduces its value, the business could argue you get a reduced refund because of this.

Even if items were installed or fitted as part of the work and can be uninstalled, you may have to pay for their return if the pre-contract information states this and includes a cost.

You can use our template letter to let the business know you’re cancelling. The letter you use depends on whether you arranged the work:

Keep a copy so you’ve got proof you sent it.

You could also phone - but make sure you make a note of who you speak to and what was agreed. It’s a good idea to follow up with a letter or email.

Help with negotiating

You should always try to negotiate with the business if you disagree about:

  • how much you’re being charged for work already completed when you cancel
  • whether a cancellation charge is fair or not
  • how much of your deposit covers the business’s loss

If the business is a member of a trade association, the association may be able to help you in your negotiations.

If those negotiations are unsuccessful you could try an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme - a way of solving disagreements without going to court. Ask the business if they’re a member of one.

If the business doesn’t respond, isn’t a member of an ADR scheme or won’t use ADR, keep a record of the fact that you asked them (and the date). You’ll need this if you end up in court.

Choose a Trading Standards-approved ADR scheme yourself to try and solve the problem more informally. It’ll help you later if you end up going to court.

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