By Amanda Hamilton, CEO, National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP)
These days, as we know, it is very difficult to find tradespeople you can rely on and who will do the job that you have asked them to do – and to do so to a good standard. What can you do if they complete the work, but not to your satisfaction or the work they have done leaves a lot to be desired?
The first rule before embarking on a contract with any tradesperson is to do your due diligence. Just like you would with any service provider: you need to check credentials. Has this company/individual done any work for someone you know who is happy to recommend them to you? From the tradesperson’s point of view recommendations are a good way to build up business reputation, and from your perspective, it can give you a level of comfort. There are also other ways to check by going on sites like ‘Checkatrade.com’, ‘RatedPeople’, ‘TrustMark’ or other review sites.
You can also check the reviews on that individual’s or business websites, and of course, it is important to meet the trade person(s) personally to get a good idea of character.
However, this may not always work – unfortunately, some people talk a great talk, but then don’t deliver on their promises. We have all heard of the term ‘cowboy’. There are plenty of TV programmes about shady operatives who take money from unsuspecting individuals up front and then either abandon the job or complete it in a completely sub-standard manner. Generally, these days, these incidents are more like the exceptions rather than the norm. With so many review sites and awareness of ‘cowboys’, it’s harder and harder for these people to operate without being found out.
But what happens if you are ‘caught out’ despite your best efforts?
Legally, when you employ an individual who offers a service (including the supply of goods), for example: fitting kitchens or bathrooms, home improvements (painting or decorating) or fitting double glazing, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 sets out minimum standards that apply to the service and also remedies if the trader fails to achieve these standards.
Minimum standards that apply include: performing the service with reasonable care and skill, being bound by verbal or written information where the consumer relies on it, the service must be provided for a reasonable price if the price is not agreed beforehand, and if a particular timescale for performing the service is set out or agreed, the service must be carried out in a reasonable time.
If the tradesperson does not satisfy these criteria, then you have the following recourse under the Consumer Rights Act:
- The tradesperson should either redo the part of the service that falls short, or should perform the whole service again at no extra cost to you, within a reasonable time and without causing you significant inconvenience.
- If re-doing the service is impossible, or can’t be done within a reasonable time or without causing significant inconvenience, you can claim a reduction in the price. This could be anything up to 100% of the cost depending how severe the failings are and the trader should refund you within 14 days of agreeing that you’re entitled to a refund.
The above also applies to situations where there is only the supply of services. For example: services offered by a solicitor or other professionals like accountants, or, dry cleaning services.
Start by explaining to them, and ideally showing them what the problems are and asking for them to offer a solution. Usually a gentle, non-combative approach works best. So try to find a friendly resolution if you can.
If you need to push a bit harder to get them to take action, then you can quote the Act to them and ask them to resolve the issues so that you don’t need to take further action.
In the unfortunate circumstance, where despite the fact that you have certain rights under the above statute, the service provider ignores this and refuses to put things right, what can you do?
It is important to write a letter, formally stating what is wrong with their work and why you believe it should be performed again. You should also give them a time limit to do this. This time limit does need to be reasonable, say, 14 days. If they still do not comply, you can send another letter stating that you will not pay their invoice, and further, that unless the work to put things right is undertaken, you will employ another trader to do so and charge them for the extra work.
However, be aware that trying to get a non-responsive tradesperson to pay these additional costs is unlikely – and will almost certainly mean going to court to reclaim your losses.
Even without any additional costs, ultimately, if matters are not settled, then it could end up in court. Either the trader will be suing you (for non-payment), or you will be suing the trader (for not completing the work).
If it falls within the ‘small claims’ band (claims up to £10,000) then you can opt for mediation first. The aim is to reach an agreement which a trained, independent third party will facilitate. Hopefully this means that ending up in court can be avoided.
If this isn’t possible, then going to court will be the next step. You can represent yourself in court (although this is not recommended and judges tend to look less favourably on this as it can waste a lot of court time), or you can get a qualified, registered Paralegal to assist you. They can help pulling all the evidence together and writing legal letters while you are negotiating with the tradesperson in hopes of finding a solution, and they can help you take the case to the court. Depending on the case and the judge, you may then need a barrister to represent you, but in many cases (particularly in the small claims court) the Paralegal can apply to represent you and the judge can grant this.
Going to court should always be the last port-of-call as it can be expensive and time consuming – and the outcome can seldom be guaranteed!
Fortunately, it is highly unlikely that any tradesperson will risk their reputation (if they are a bona-fide business) by going that far. Usually, a compromise will be reached long before this eventuality.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit Membership Body and the only Paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England). Through its training arm, NALP Training, trading as National Paralegal College, accredited recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for a career as a paralegal professional.
See: http://www.nationalparalegals.co.uk and https://www.nalptraining.co.uk/