/ Home & Energy

Builder disputes – how to repair the damage

Angry builder

A decent builder or decorator is like gold dust – as the millions of people who’ve had disputes with traders will well know. So why do so few people know their rights and end up getting stung by a bad service?

Our latest research shows that at least 2.5 million people have had a dispute with a builder or decorator in the last three years.

And a quarter were forced to take formal action – so it’s hardly surprising that this is an area we get lots of calls about on Which? Legal Service.

How not to employ a trader

When there’s so much information available these days, it takes me by surprise when I talk to people who don’t understand their rights. Many employ trades people they’ve never used before, pay up front and have no written contract.

Why do they do this? Usually because they simply don’t realise that they can ask for these things and can agree terms, payment schedules and even retain some money until after the works are completed.

Although it’s a different type of service, recently I had a heavy argument with a large telecoms provider about who was responsible for my satellite dish and receiver, so I totally understand why most consumers believe what they’re being told. In my case, forcing the issue and dealing with a manager led to a free repair.

You should never feel bullied into paying for work that you’re not happy with. It amazes me how many times, when things go wrong, people have been misled as to who is responsible.

What to do when quality suffers

When you instruct a trader, generally the contract is governed by the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 that says work should be carried out with reasonable care and skill, using materials of a satisfactory quality, and completing the work within a reasonable period of time.

And yet our survey found that the most common disagreement people have with builders and decorators is over the quality of their work, with other major gripes including traders not turning up when agreed, delays over completion, and properties being left untidy.

In many of these cases they could be in breach of contract and you may be able to get a third party to complete the works. But if you have to take court action, ensure you know who you are suing (i.e. sole trader, limited company) and be aware that there could be problems enforcing a court judgement.

Many of the problems that people experience could be avoided if they took a few simple steps – although nothing can guarantee total protection. Do you have any failsafe methods to make sure you find a decent trader – or are you one of the many who has had a bad experience?

Have you ever tried to solve a builder dispute?

No (50%, 59 Votes)

Yes and it wasn't resolved (40%, 47 Votes)

Yes and it was resolved (9%, 11 Votes)

Total Voters: 117

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Terry B says:
3 November 2014

Further advice to the above is greatly appreciated – feeling ripped off!

Brian Hudson says:
4 November 2014

Terry B

Yes my advice to everyone, (I have trusted workmen too, (& been caught out) Never allow anyone to work on your property without your supervision. Schedule of work is a must, (which you appear to have done) Be professional with your workmen, don’t get to friendly and draw attention to any work which is not to your satisfaction. This nips many problems in the bud. Don’t be afraid to say anything at the time work is taking place.

Should you get judgement in your favour at small claims court – still does not ensure that you will receive your compensation.


Terry B says:
4 November 2014

Thanks Brian – appreciate your comments.

We trusted a friends recommendation and had seen his work on a number of occasions and now believe that he let 2 unskilled workers in our home whilst he completed other work. Today I have a reputable decorator in that has confirmed the works could never have been rectified by the decorator in one day hence my concern. I am working from home so I can be on hand but ultimately the reason for the initial job being given to what we thought was a trusted decorator was because we were away on holiday and our little dog was not around at the time. The new decorator has slated the works; doors not primed/filled properly and merely painted over. Now the poor guy is having to work hard to rectify such a bad job. In hindsight, I feel I was too trusting and out of principle I will take the matter through the small claims court. I have registered with the MCOL website and believe once submitted the courts will issue a letter within 1-2 days where he has up to 14 days to respond. I understand that I may still not receive any monies even if the judgement is made in my favour but the decorator needs to understand he cannot rip people off and get away with it. I’ve contemplated naming and shaming on social media but that’s not really my style so we will see how this pans out. I may even report him for tax evasion 🙂 as it is obvious given he works Mon-Fri in the building trade that he pockets all his private job monies. Thank you for taking the time to respond in the meantime.

Kind regards.


gordon mcculloch says:
22 January 2015

I employed a roofer from trustatrader, who came with two labourers in the white van. The work estimated by builder/landscaper was £290 for replacing approx. 10 tiles & pointing two hip/ridge tiles inspected from the pavement. The roofer inspected the rear roof (east facing) from approx. 100 yds away and decided that the small chimney needed recapping/pointing. For this work he would charge £300.0 + £290.00 for the work on the west facing roof. £10 .00 was added for cutting two slabs (an aside) which I agreed to pay, a total of £600.0 was agreed. Shortly after arrival they left to fetch 4 packs of roof tiles from Bobbersmill reclaims 12tiles/pack. I was asked to pay £300.0 in cash up front, the remainder to be paid by cheque. All three sat in the van awaiting to receive the payment which I handed over. On close inspection with my camera/software I discovered they actually replaced a total of 15 tiles, 11 front facing roof/ 2 east facing. The workmanship on the small chimney was shody at best, the pointing non-exsistent. I supplied the digital images to the builder/landscaper via email and his comment was “lost for words”. The roofer returned to the property a week later and I got a written statement from him offering to pay back £300.0. for the very poor workmanship carried out, was given wrong address, I also have the statement as evidence on my computer. That date passed yesterday the 21st Jan. Guess what cannot contact any of them, not answering mob/Emails, and only got a business card and a mobile number from the roofer.

[This comment has been edited to align with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Andy says:
15 March 2015

I need some advice please…

My builder admitted to capping off the stopcock in my new flat and no uncapping it when continuing on with the work. Come finishing the work, the water pressure was extremely low. Reason being, capped stopcock. Now, this stopcock is not clearly visible and it situated behind the kitchen units. I know exactly where it is as I took photos throughout the building process.

Luckily for me, I have photos and the builder, to quote from an email when I mentioned it to him, “Ok, mains is my fault. I do apologies for that. I completely forget that anything was there.”

Can people advice on how to tackle this problem in terms of the builder in question?

Also, during the building process, the boiler stopped working. We just thought it had broken, turns out there was no water supply being directed to the boiler to heat up, as the mains had been capped.

This subsequently made us get a new boiler and new piping in the flat, again, a lot of money.

Any help or advice would be much appreciated.


Hi Andy, thanks for your post – I’m sorry to hear about the problems you’ve had in your new flat. We’ve lots of advice here that I’m certain you’ll find useful:


As John mentioned, it’s great if you’ve kept copies of any written documentation.


Pursuing the builder legally might be a waste of time and money. If you know exactly where the water mains stopcock is, try to see if you can [gently] drill a small hole in the back panel of the kitchen unit which you can then enlarge around the stopcock once you can feel its precise position. The builder should have offered to do this for you but you might be better off on your own if you can do it.

As for the boiler and additional pipework, a competent boiler installer should have been able to diagnose the fault [lack of water inflow] immediately before dismantling the existing boiler. Given that you now have a brand new boiler, and nobody can put you back in the position you were in before taking out the old one, I think the best you could hope for would be a compensation payment for incompetence from the firm that installed the new boiler, although the chances are they will resist it all the way. It might be worth taking legal advice on that – I hope you have kept any contractual documentation like a specification of works, an estimate or quotation, and receipts for payment. Best of luck.

Chris Hurst says:
1 May 2015

Recently I had my whole bathroom redone through a local plumber. He subbed the plasterboarding/skimming and tiling out to his mates.

Long story short the plasterer didn’t use dust sheets to protect the engineered wood flooring in an adjacent room which was directly exposed to his work in the bathroom. As a result wet and dry plaster has expanded into the wood grain across most of the floor (my temporary bed saved some of it by taking a big hit of plaster dust) and after 8 washes still is not coming out (the wood is sealed so not burnt it, just stuck in there).

The plumber is blaming me for not fitting the floor last, blaming my fitter for not making sure the wood was sealed when he fitted it (it already has 5 coats of lacquer so didnt need anything) and blaming the actual floor itself for not having enough lacquer on it to cope with plaster?!!

He has done the usual threats of ‘the plasterer can come and take his £200 worth of materials back’ and ‘will seek legal advice’

So to begin with I have paid the plumber £2k out of £2340 sugge