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Poor workmanship: what are your rights and how can you get it sorted?

Improving your home should be an exciting time, so it's frustrating when you shell out for a job that isn't done to the standard you'd expect.

Find out what to do if you're left in the lurch by shoddy workmanship with our quick guide to your rights, and the help you're entitled to.

Couple complaining to a builder about poor workmanship

Poor workmanship doesn't just leave you emotionally fraught – you can end up seriously out of pocket too.

You may be able to claim for any damage caused on your home insurance, but that's a last resort.

Here's our guide to avoiding problems – and your rights if you do have problems with poor workmanship.

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What counts as poor workmanship?

Poor workmanship is essentially any job that's not done to what would be considered a reasonable standard.

This could be due to:

  • A tradesperson using materials that aren't up to the job
  • Failing to take necessary care or apply necessary skill
  • Failing to install or build something correctly

At best you could be left with an unsatisfactory finish. At worst the resulting work could be unsafe.


Poor workmanship: what are my rights?

The good news is you can do something if the quality of work isn’t up to scratch. The course of action depends on when you gave the go-ahead for the work.

If it was before 1 October 2015, it comes under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982. The act says that reasonable care and skill must be used while working.

If it was on - or after - that date, then the Consumer Rights Act 2015 comes into play.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 also states that services must be provided with reasonable care and skill, but goes further by laying down minimum standards.

For example:

  • Any information provided in a written format or verbally is binding, if the customer relies on it
  • If the fee isn’t agreed before work starts, it must be provided for a reasonable price
  • The service must be carried out with reasonable care and skill and in a reasonable time – unless a particular timescale had been set out and agreed

If the service doesn’t satisfy these criteria, you can request a remedy. The trader should either:

  • Re-do the element of the job that isn't up to scratch
  • Re-do the entire job at no extra cost and within a reasonable time frame

If this isn't possible, you can request a price reduction. How much depends on the severity of the failings in the original work. The refund should be made within 14 days of any agreement.


What to do if a builder doesn't finish a job

This is slightly different to poor workmanship, but you need to handle it in a similar way.

Keep talking to them regularly and leave the lines of communication open.

You also need to give your builder the chance to finish the work – unless you’ve already made it clear that the work needed to be finished by a certain date.

If you agree to an extension, put it in writing.

If they’ve missed the deadline and you don’t want them to continue, put it in writing.

You should also pay them for the work completed so far.

Depending on the situation, you may want to ask for a discount to cover the inconvenience caused.

If you’ve already given them a large deposit, negotiate to see if they'll refund some money.


What if the trader charges more than expected?

It largely comes down to whether they gave you a quote or an estimate.

They can’t charge you more than has been quoted unless there’s a good reason. For example, if they warned you that they’d need to do extra work.

If it was an estimate and the final bill was a lot higher than expected, this can be queried.

The final price should be reasonable – although what constitutes 'reasonable' isn’t always clear.

Getting a second opinion from another tradesman is a good starting point.

They may reassure you that the price is reasonable for the work carried out or tell you if it’s been inflated.

Either way, if you’re unhappy with the price then discuss it with the trader.

Let them know what you think is reasonable – preferably in writing.

Chances are you have to negotiate with them to reach an agreement.

And remember, it's always good practice to get a number of different quotes before hiring a tradesperson.


What if the trader hasn’t done what you agreed?

If they haven’t done what was agreed – either verbally or in written form – they've broken the contract. You can ask them to rectify it.

On this point, you don’t need to have contracts written down.

However, in reality it makes sense. It’s hard to argue when everything's there in black and white.

If you rely on memories of conversations then it's be your word against theirs, which could get messy.


What if the trader has done something dangerous or unsafe?

Your priority is to stop using anything that’s unsafe immediately.

Obviously, the steps to take depends on the work carried out.

If it’s an electrical appliance, then switch it off and unplug it immediately.

If the trader has burst a pipe, turn your water supply off immediately.

If it’s a gas appliance – particularly if you can smell gas – ring the National Gas Emergency Service on 0800 111 999.

Dangerous or unsafe buildings/structures should be reported to your local council. If it’s outside working hours, you can do this online if you live in England and Wales.

Finally, report them to Trading Standards.

You need to have details of who did the work, what it involved, when you gave the go-ahead, the cost, and if you’ve raised the complaint with them.


How to deal with poor workmanship

Rectify your problems quickly with our tips.

Speak to your trader

You must always speak to the trader directly first to remedy the problem. However, before the conversation takes place, be clear in your own mind what the problem is - and how you’d like it resolved.

It’s vital to remain calm. Losing your temper and swearing at the tradesmen won’t get you anywhere. In fact, this makes it less likely you’ll reach an agreement.

If they’re reasonable, then hopefully they’ll discuss the issue. The best case scenario is you agree a course of action between you.

Remember, if the conversation happens over the phone – or even in person – make a note afterwards covering what was said and agreed.

You should also send a letter, email or text message to confirm in writing what has been agreed and when subsequent work will take place.

This helps confirm everyone is aware of what has been agreed between you.

Gather evidence

In any dispute, evidence is crucial.

You need to keep copies of contracts signed and details of conversations that have taken place.

Remember to include as much detail as possible. This means dates, times and the names of the people present.

You should also collect together any related receipts, and paperwork, such as plans.

Then take plenty of photographs and videos that clearly identify the problem. Make sure the footage and pictures are clear.

File a complaint with your builder

If talking to your builder or tradesperson doesn't do the job, it's worth checking if the company has a complaints procedure.

Citizens Advice has a poor workmanship complaint letter template that shows you how to make a formal complaint for poor quality work.

Try an alternative dispute resolution

If none of the above works, it's worth considering Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). This is a way to settle disputes between consumers and traders without going to court.

A common form of ADR is mediation, where an independent third party helps bring the 2 sides together to facilitate a solution.


Seek legal advice

If you have legal expenses cover on your home insurance policy, you should also be able to get legal advice.

There’s also arbitration where this third party considers the facts and makes a decision. Both such schemes are likely to be more commonplace.

If all else fails you can take the tradesman to court – but it’s usually best to try and get the problem resolved well before it gets this far.


Get more help!

You can contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133. Trained advisers can give you support over the phone – or you can use an online form.