Rogue Traders: How to Deal With Them

By George Burton

Senior Associate

Incompetent, over-priced or unpleasant traders, or ‘cowboy builders’ as they are sometimes called, can be a real concern. Such individuals often operate on the premise of finding unsuspecting homeowners in need of building work, taking their money and then ‘disappearing’ without any trace.

Sometimes, it is not always easy to tell, at face value, which traders are trustworthy and professional, and which are not. On occasions when a bad builder does slip through the crack, what can be done about it?

What Can I Do Before Instructing a New Builder?

Ensure That You Have Properly Identified the Builder
You can ask for ID, and with their permission take a copy to keep as a record until the building works are complete.

Obtain Full Contact Details from the Builder
This should include their full name, address, telephone number, date of birth, etc.)

Make a plan of the building works to take place, and ensure it is separated into various ‘stages’ of work
Ensure the builder will sign off on this, and don’t take the risk of ‘freestyling’ this type of work.

Obtain a few quotes to ascertain the going market value of building and construction services
If the quote provided by the builder sounds too good to be true, then that might be because it is.

Avoid large, lump sum payments particularly if they are required upfront
If you agree that payment will be made upon the completion of each stage or phase of the building works, you can ensure you have tighter control over the situation.

Try and make all payments via a tracked method (e.g. cheque, online banking, etc.)
If you are paying cash ensure you have the builder sign a receipt of payment for your records!

Make sure that any agreement is in writing and signed by the builder
If the builder unreasonably refuses any of the above, this does not necessarily mean that they are going to be difficult but these points should assist you if they are.

What Can I Do If I Have Been a Victim of Poor Workmanship?

Attempt to contact the builder yourself to see if they would be willing to reach an agreement in respect of your losses
It is important to highlight your concerns in writing so that you have a record, however be careful that you do not waive a breach that is significant. If you make a call, make a note of the call straight after with the time and date of the call along with what was discussed.

Check the contract or agreement (if any) to see what the express terms of the contract say about the obligations of the builder
Make a claim based on the builder’s statutory obligations

Depending on your circumstances you may have a claim under various statutory implied terms which include, but are not limited to:

  • Trader must carry out work with reasonable care and skill
  • Trader must carry out work to agreed costs or at a reasonable cost
  • Trader must use materials that are fit for purpose and of satisfactory quality
  • Trader must carry out services within a reasonable timeframe
  • Information provided by the trader can be binding, depending on circumstances.

If the builder is in breach of the above, there may be a few things that you can do, however, these will depend on the circumstances:

  • As a ‘consumer’, subject to statutory requirement you might be able to terminate the agreement for ‘repudiatory’ breach. This means a breach that the law regards as sufficiently serious to justify termination of the contract
  • You may be required, subject to statute, to give the builder an opportunity to fix and rectify their errors, before instructing a different builder. If the builder refuses to rectify, you are entitled to ask for a refund for the parts of the work that were unsatisfactory, along with the additional costs to fix it.

If they refuse to pay, you can issue a court claim to claim back what you are owed.

Make a complaint to Trading Standards to ensure that this builder is on their radar, and that they are hopefully prevented from doing it again.

For more information on our contractual dispute services, please contact us on 0345 646 0406 or fill in our online enquiry form and a member of our Team will be in touch.