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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 pay for a job that isn't done to the standard you'd expect.

Find out what to do if you're left with poor workmanship and what are your rights. You might also be able to claim for any damage caused on your home insurance, but that should be last resort.

Couple complaining to a builder about poor workmanship


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.

The good news is you have consumer rights if the quality of work isn’t up to standard.


Poor workmanship: What are my rights?

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 is used.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 states that services must be provided with reasonable care and skill. But it 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:

  • Redo the element of the job that isn't up to good standard
  • Redo 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 your tradesperson regularly and leave the lines of communication open
  • Give your builder a 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've agreed to a time extension, put it in writing
  • If they've missed the deadline, and you don't want the builders to continue, put that in writing

You should then pay the builders 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.

Traders 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 questioned.

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

Getting a second opinion from another tradesperson is a good starting point. They can either:

  • Reassure you that the price is reasonable for the work carried out
  • Tell you if the price has 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 the trader to reach an agreement.

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


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

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

It's best to have a written contract as it makes it hard to argue against.

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


What if the trader has done something dangerous or unsafe?

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

The steps to take depends on the work carried out:

  • If it’s an electrical appliance, 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 – call 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 and provide them with the following details:

  • Who was the tradesperson who did the work?
  • What did the work involve?
  • When did you allow the work to start?
  • How much did it cost?
  • Have you already raised a complaint against the tradesperson?

How to deal with poor workmanship

You can rectify your problems of poor workmanship by:


1. Speak to your trader

You must always speak to the trader directly first to remedy the problem. But 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.


2. 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.


3. File a complaint with your builder

If talking to your builder or tradesperson doesn't work, 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.


4. Try an alternative dispute resolution

If speaking and complaining to your builder doesn't work, 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.


5. 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.

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


Is poor workmanship covered by insurance?

Legal expenses cover on your home insurance policy is there to offer advice on what your rights are against poor workmanship.

If the problem can't be solved mutually, then the case can be taken to court where legal fees are covered.

If you've caused damages to your building or contents as a result of a home DIY, your policy might pay out depending on the circumstance.

For example, if you've spilled paint over your carpet, then accidental damage should cover this.

But if you cause problems with the electrics, knowing you aren't qualified, you're less likely to get any cover.

So it's best to make sure you call a professional for these jobs. Remember to get multiple quotes from different tradespeople before committing.

To avoid poor workmanship in the future, read reviews or ask family and friends who they recommend.

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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.