Where To Start In Resolving A Building Dispute

We understand that problems with building works  can be stressful and frustrating. For home owners disputes with builders are especially stressful where works are left incomplete or you are not happy with what has been carried out by the builder. For builders when a client is refusing to pay or is complaining about quality additional concerns such as damage to reputation arise. We have therefore tried to set out some practical steps below to assist you when dealing with a building dispute. If you are going to seek legal advice, it is likely we will ask for this information.

We can offer initial fixed fee advice in this area but to aid homeowners and builders with disputes on their home build projects, we have provided this page to assist you with the information you will need to gather and consider before contacting us.

For a confidential free discussion, call us today on 01908 414990,  alternatively email us at Hello@altion-law.co.uk or complete our Free Enquiry Form and we will call you back.

1.Gather together details of what exactly was agreed.

The first step is to gather together any evidence you have setting out what was agreed between you and the builder – i.e. exactly what works would be carried out, where, the costs and the timeframe if any. This should include any changes that there made to the agreement over time, for whatever reason.

This may take the form of a contract or agreement formally drawn up and signed by the parties, but could also include emails, text messages, photographs and drawings setting out the basis of the agreement.

If nothing was ever put in writing, then try and write down what you feel was agreed as determining this may help to resolve the matter and it will certainly give you something to work with.

2. Be clear on what your dispute is.

Sometimes when tensions run high, matters can get personal. If there is a building dispute, you need to be clear on exactly what it is that you are not happy with and why so that you have something to work with.

The most common problems include:

1. Incomplete works (try and be clear on what is still left to do where you can)
2. Unsatisfactory works (try and set out which bits are not right and why for clarity);
3. Over payment (try and understand how much you have paid, what you feel you should have paid and what you feel is an over payment);

3. What Evidence do you have?

You will need evidence to support your claims, and this will help back up your position and will be key in helping you take the correct steps to resolving your dispute.

The evidence that you need, will very much depend upon the type of dispute you have. We have tried to set out some examples of different types of evidence you will need

Incomplete works: You may be able to show this from the agreement/ email or text messages setting out what works where agreed, which you can compare to what has actually been done. If the position isn’t clear, you may need to instruct an independent party to assess the matter and clarify in writing for you. An independent party will need to understand what was agreed originally in order to comment on this.

Unsatisfactory works: Where works have not been carried out to the correct standard, you may be able to show this from photographs of the works themselves (such as missing tiles/ holes in the wall) or as a result of damage caused (such as cracks in the wall). If any problems are deeper, you may need to instruct an independent party to assess and comment on the matter.

Over payment: This may be clear from a payment schedule – if works and payments are clearly set out in writing before works begin. Also consider gathering any invoices, receipts and bank statements showing the sums already paid. If an over payment is not clear, you may have to consider instructing an independent party to assess and comment on the matter.

For a confidential free discussion, call us today on 01908 414990,  alternatively email us at Hello@altion-law.co.uk or complete our Free Enquiry Form and we will call you back.

Steps To Resolving The Dispute

STEP ONE

If you are unhappy with works carried out at your property, you need to raise this with the builder very clearly setting out what the issue is and why you feel that it is an issue. You can either do this face to face or you can set it out in writing by email or text message. If there has been a misunderstanding this could flush put the matter and allow you to resolve the matter without incurring any unnecessary costs.

STEP TWO

If Step One does not work and you may need to take matters further. First check to see if you have a legal expenses policy. This is an add on to insurance policies which for a one off fee will provide legal advice and assistance at no extra costs in certain circumstances. You should check all insurance policies, including building insurance; contents insurance; house insurance; employee policies etc.

If you have legal expenses cover, contact them to see if they will assist and deal with the dispute on your behalf. You may need to complete an assessment form which they will provide to you.

STEP THREE

If you cannot proceed with legal expenses cover, you may wish to think about taking further steps to resolve the matter. These can include one or more of the following:

  1. Sending a formal letter setting out the problem and resolution required;
  2. Sending a Pre Action Protocol letter (required before starting any court claims);
  3. Look at mediation or a meeting to try and resolve matters;
  4. Consider court action.

There are different pros and cons to each scenario, and which route you should follow will very much depend upon the dispute itself and what steps (if any) have been taken so far. If you have exhausted all routes that you can take, it may be a good time to take some legal advice which will be tailored to your particular issues and options and costs available to you. This will allow you to understand your matter in more detail, and will arm you with the details you need to know about time frames, costs and risks of each options before any steps are taken and can guide you in the way most suitable for you.

At Altion Law we receive a number of enquiries in this area. We have supported a number of clients in this area and have set out some of the most commonly asked questions.

For a confidential free discussion, call us today on 01908 414990,  alternatively email us at Hello@altion-law.co.uk or complete our Free Enquiry Form and we will call you back.

  • My builder has left site and I want to cancel the contract, can I?

The answer will very depend upon your particular circumstances, and you should be careful to make sure that you do not prejudice your position. If there is a written agreement in place, check the wording of the agreement before deciding whether to cancel a contract. If there is no written agreement in place you need to consider why and how the builder has walked off site and whether there could be any claim of breach of contract against you if you do cancel. It is best to get legal advice on your particular circumstances to ensure that you don’t prejudice your position.

  • I’ve been overcharged for works what can I do?

This will depend upon the circumstances. If you’ve been given a quote which you have accepted, but later established that it may be on the slightly higher side, then you may be bound by the agreement. If however you have found that the price has increased throughout the works, or additional works have been carried out at a higher price, then you may be in a position to challenge this so it is worth seeking advice about  your own circumstances.

  • I’m being charged more than I expected what can I do?

Firstly check and understand exactly what was agreed and the price that would be charged. Do be aware that some builders charge VAT on top of costs, however they have to do advise you that VAT will be charged in addition to the price. Also check to see if you’ve agreed costs for labour and materials or just labour. If materials are not included in the costs estimate then the costs overall may vary.

If however you have been charged more than agreed, then you may well be able to challenge this and it is advisable to seek advice as soon as possible.

  • I’m not sure if my builder is part of a limited company or a sole trader, does it matter?

It is important to understand who you have entered into an agreement with, as if a dispute arises you will need to communicate with the correct party. If a dispute cannot be resolved, and ends up going through the court, it is vitally important that any court proceedings clearly state the correct party that you’ve entered into an agreement with or it could prejudice your position.

A limited company is required to set out that they are a limited company on their communications (letters and emails), as well as to state their company name and company number clearly. If you cannot see any reference to a limited company you may well find that the builder is a sole trader, and you should establish the builders full name in this regard.

  • We don’t have a written contract, the discussions took place verbally is that a problem?

It is completely acceptable to have a verbal agreement, it is just as legally binding, however where a dispute arises it can be harder to prove exactly what was agreed between the parties. Whilst many building discussions take place verbally, there are often emails or text messages which clarify some of the details so do check emails, text messages and any other method of communication to see if you can find any written evidence of what was agreed should a dispute a rise.

  • I’ve paid a deposit to the builder but the contract was later cancelled. Am I entitled to get my deposit back?

In certain circumstances a deposit is refundable, however in other circumstances the deposit is not so it will depend upon your particular circumstances. If you have a written agreement in place then check the agreement to see what it says about returning deposits. The reasons that the contract was cancelled are also relevant, where a contract is cancelled by the builder directly you may be more likely to recover any sums paid to the builder. This can be complicated however and it is advisable to seek advice as soon as possible.

  • My builder has asked me to pay in cash is this ok?

There is nothing wrong with paying in cash, however where large sums are involved it is certainly advisable to look at other methods such as bank transfer. The bank transfer is traceable, you will need the name of the account holder and it will be a written record of any payments made.

Do be aware if you are asked to pay in cash in order to avoid VAT that this is not permitted and could be used against you should a dispute arise at a later stage.

  • The builder I have instructed is a limited company, but I have been asked to make payment to the builder personally. Is this a problem?

You should definitely be wary of circumstances where you are asked to pay money to a different party to the one carrying out the works. If you are asked to do this then thoroughly question why, and make sure that you fully understand the reasons and that it makes sense. Do ask for any evidence if that will help, but if you’re unsure it is best to walk away.

  • If I pursue my builder in court, will I recover my legal costs?

This will very depend upon the value of the claim made. Where a claim is for less than £10,000, this will be a small claims where the general rule is that do not recover your legal costs even if you are successful. If a claim is for above £10,000 the general rule is that the successful party can recover their costs, however costs are ordered at the discretion of the court (who will also look at the behaviour of the parties througout). Do also be aware that costs can be fixed in certain circumstances so it is best to seek advice before looking at starting a court claim.

  • I obtained a successful court judgement against my builder, but the limited company they then went into liquidation/ administration. Can I still get my money back?

Maybe, but if you do recover anything you may not recover it all. A full investigation of the business and their financial position needs to be carried out first of all, and if there are funds within the business, these will be distributed in a certain order. Secured creditors are paid first (i.e. a mortgage), with unsecured creditors paid from remaining sums if any (i.e. those with a County Court judgements where the sum due is not attached to anything).

You cannot pursue the individual personally unless they were personally a party to your agreement. If you’re unsure you should seek advice.

Altion Law are specialists at advising and representing parties during a building dispute.  We work for both builders and home owners and understand the issues that both sides will experience.

For a confidential free discussion, call us today on 01908 414990,  alternatively email us at Hello@altion-law.co.uk or complete our Free Enquiry Form and we will call you back.