What should I do if my builder goes AWOL?
Everyone’s heard the scare stories of cowboy builders and dodgy tradespeople! You know the signs to spot so surely it won’t happen to you? Sometimes, no matter how much you have vetted a contractor, things can still go wrong and before you know it, you’re left with half a build and no one to fix it.
The first thing you have to do is assess the situation. Has your builder really done a runner or are they just not answering your calls and are tied up on another job? The majority of builders are honest, dependable tradespeople who for a long time once relied on a handshake to agree a job done and never encountered any disputes. Often, they will have started working for themselves and acquired the right skill sets, but not necessarily the right admin skills to run a business. Not communicating effectively about the progress and expectations of a job can be one their biggest downfalls. Some of the best skilled individuals in the trade can be a wizard with the electrics or the greatest plasterer but be totally useless when it comes to keeping you, the customer, in the loop. Has the builder left your site because there are problems with the work? Delays on materials? Issues with one of the contractors they employ? Or are the issues vaguer? Did their phone die; has their van broken down or have they been ill?
If the explanations for a no-show start to sound like empty excuses, it’s time to take action. If your builder has walked off site (with his tools), leaving the agreed work unfinished and you out of pocket, there are a number of things you can do.
Check your contract
Are there any clauses in your contract to say what to do in the event of a dispute? Give your builder one last chance in writing to fix or finish things before going to the next stage. Make sure you record as much evidence as possible including emails, texts, letters, invoices, records of payment and photos of the site, to help quantify your evidence for a future claim.
This is a low-cost option of resolving a wide range of civil disputes out of court, where an impartial, third party helps both sides work out an agreement. There’s usually a small fee for this.
Contact Citizens Advice
As a charity organisation, your local Citizens Advice centre will be able to offer you free, confidential and independent advice on how to solve your particular problem. It will tell you the law that applies to your situation and pass information about complaints on to Trading Standards.
Contact Trading Standards
This regulatory body takes a dim view of cowboy builders and rogue traders and will be able to guide you on the correct steps you should take.
Take your builder to a small claims court
This is a costlier approach for small claims worth £10,000 or less and can take up to 30 weeks to process. If your builder doesn’t respond, you can ask for an order to be made against them. A report by Consumer Focus in 2010 found that of those who won, 25 per cent received only a portion of their money while 10 per cent got nothing.
Protection under the section 75 Consumer Credit Act
If you paid your builder with a credit card, then you may have a degree of protection under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. This will be for services costing between £100 and £30,000.
Go to the police
If you feel your builder has been fraudulent with a clear intention to take your money for work that was never carried out, then you will need enough evidence to convince the Crown Prosecution Service they can proceed with criminal proceedings.
Before taking action, make sure you have explored all other ways of resolving a dispute. If your builder is accredited by a trade body, they will have codes of practice and can help resolve problems if things go wrong. If you cannot find the builder and you haven’t paid all monies upfront, then it might be better to quit while you’re ahead. Severing all links with a builder because you have lost complete faith in them is often the most reasonable response.