/ Home & Energy

Don’t be haunted by nightmare builders

According to our recent survey, more than a quarter of Which? members who used a builder in the last year had problems. And when they got a tradesperson in to fix them, the average cost was a whopping £532.

I personally wasn’t surprised by this. I know lots of people who’ve had building nightmares. At the mild end of the scale, some people experienced poor finishing – wonky tiling and windows painted shut, for example. At the extreme end of the scale, the wrong interior wall was knocked down – thankfully not a load-bearing one.

When things go wrong…

Unfortunately we can’t all have cowboy-builder-hunter Dominic Littlewood hiding in a van outside our house, ready to pounce if things do go wrong.

But there are simple things we can all do to deal with building traumas – and avoid them in the first place. We’ve uncovered the five most common problems that customers experience and have asked our Which? Legal Service lawyers for expert advice on how to solve them.

1. Timing issues: To avoid timing issues, such as work starting late or over-running, either include timings in your contract, or agree them with your builder, in writing if possible.

2. Cost more than original quote: Agree a fixed price wherever the extent of the work can be determined in advance, and ask what rates you’ll be charged for work that can’t be priced.

3. Poor quality job: Picking a good trader is key. But the Supply of Goods and Services Act says that all building work must be carried out with reasonable care and skill, with materials of satisfactory quality that are fit for purpose.

4. Rubbish left behind: Agree at the start – preferably in writing – who is responsible for getting rid of rubbish.

5. Poor communication: Make sure you’ve got more than one way to reach your builder – preferably phone number and address – and remind them that services must be supplied within a reasonable amount of time under the Supply of Goods and Services Act.

It’s not all bad news for builders

Despite numerous people experiencing problems along the way, clearly there are many good builders out there. Which? members who’ve used one in the last year were actually pretty satisfied overall with the builder they chose.

Builders got an impressive 82% customer satisfaction score, which when put against the other sectors we looked at is very good (utility companies got a dismal 47%).

My top tips are: make sure you offer your builder plenty of tea and biscuits – the small things in life can make a big difference too! I’d also say that it’s a good idea to know your rights from the start – get as much agreed up front and in writing if possible, to avoid too much debate later down the line. Have you got any tips of your own to avoid building pitfalls?


Personal recommendations or references can also be helpful. A clear written specification [updated if necessary as the work proceeds] is essential and is a protection for both sides. For structural work, or anything that requires building regulations approval, a surveyor or other appropriate professsional can make a world of difference, especially if they are also engaged on project supervision or management. Their fee is a sort of insurance policy and they will usually recommend a builder competent for the work involved.


The problem of rubbish keeps on coming up. A builder if he takes it away is taking away commercial waste. I suppose we will eventually get used to thinking “resource” and “reuse” instead of just “rubbish”. The increase in the number of second hand sites including freecycle help with this.
It does need to be planned into the works.

Rosemary says:
18 June 2012

I had an extension built in 2009 and rust has appeared on the edges of the walls inside the room. The extension is very damp and so I have to keep painting it. Even though I use ‘kitchens and bathrooms’ paint, the dampness still comes, so that my walls are stained with mildew. The hinges used by the workman also rusted. What can I do about this?


Many damp problems are caused by condensation and if your extension is cold and poorly ventilated, moisture will condense on the walls.

David Prince has given advice to many people with damp problems on another Conversation:


With luck, there may be a simple solution and your problem may not be a building fault.


Always check with your council’s buinding regulations team as to their requiements. We had roofing work done a few years ago and only one quote out of 7 complied with the law.


Interesting that.

People don’t realise that there are Building Regulations AND Planning Permissions that may need to be sought. They are different and not needing Planning Permission does not mean not needing Building Regulation Consent.

Builders definitely should know this, just as they should know the law on waste. They probably do.

19 June 2012

Re: consulting ‘Building Control’

See copy of email I received from a certain Council as to the enforcement of said Building Control’!

Dear Ken,

Further to my visit today, I have checked our records and we have a current case open on number **. The officer concerned is **** ***** and she can be contacted on 020 7*** ****. Her email address is ****.@***********.gov.uk She will speak to the managing agents of the property about the problem with the drains.
***** has referred the property to the Planning Enforcement Team who have also visited and are aware of the recent conversion of the property to flats.
I am not sure how the process works but believe that planning permission is likely to be granted ‘Retrospectively’ once an application is made.
Building Control are also aware of the works but I am led to believe that they are not taking any action.

So much for ‘Building Control’, they are one big joke!


Not so. Building Control teams are very good at getting things right if asked beforehand. It is correcting matters after the event where they have resourcing issues.