Consumer rights: House nightmare – from the builder's point of view

Customer who ignored advice won't pay the full amount


Q. I have just spent 10 days doing building work on a customer's home.

Before we started the work, which included laying a wooden floor, rebuilding her porch and putting in new garage doors, I visited, measured up, gave her information and recommendations on all the materials she needed and gave her a detailed quote for labour. She bought and paid for the materials but some of them weren't as good quality as I had advised.

We agreed that she would pay half of the money for the labour when half of the work was done and the rest on completion. Along the way she changed her mind several times on various details and, as a result, the whole thing has taken longer than it should have done. However, I like to keep my customers happy and do the best possible job so that they recommend me to other people, so in the end I just charged her the agreed outstanding amount.

She has now paid me but held back half of that amount (a quarter of the total) because she says she's not happy with the wooden floor and wants me to put it right. The floor has been laid to a very high standard. It's true that it would have looked better if she'd bought the more expensive wood I suggested in the first place, but I can't change anything without taking up the whole floor and laying it again with different wood – all of which would cost me more than she still owes me. I have tried to explain all that but she isn't listening. I'm out of pocket as it is. I feel she is trying to get the job on the cheap. How do I get her to hand over the rest of the money?

FL, London

A. This is a difficult one. If your customer had written to me she'd have said she withheld a quarter of your money until you put right a wooden floor that hadn't been finished properly. She'd have asked me how to get you to come back and finish the job. She's seeing the end result and it's not as good as she imagined when she decided to have the work done. You're seeing work well done despite the inferior materials that were her choice.

It's very difficult for a third party, without any experience of these types of jobs, to decide who is right and who is wrong. So you need an independent expert to give an assessment of the job and negotiate a settlement. I hope you still have all the paperwork, including details of the materials you advised her to buy. If the expert says the floor is well laid and convinces your customer that the fault lies in the materials she bought, she may give in and pay up. Do you belong to a trade association which offers a dispute resolution service? If so, I suggest it as a way forward.

If you can't get the situation resolved through mediation, you have two choices: cut your losses and walk away or make a claim in the county court through the process that deals with small claims. I wonder whether you took any photographs of the disputed work. If not, it's not likely that your customer will let you back into the house to take some; without detailed photos it's your word against hers in court.

The judge isn't likely to be a flooring expert and, unless he or she decides an independent assessor should assess the quality of the work. it will come down to who does the best job of convincing the judge that they are in the right. You do have your workers who can act as witnesses but they may not be seen to be unbiased. You'll have to decide whether to take your chances and risk losing the court fees and the time the case takes.

Q. My parents have recently bought a stair lift which cost them several thousand pounds that they can't afford. Someone called at the house and I get the impression they stayed until my dad cracked and signed an agreement. The irony is that they can both get up and down the stairs fine at the moment and have always intended to sell the house and move into a flat near me when they get too much to cope with. I think they've been pressured into this agreement. I've called the company and asked them to cancel it but they say it's too late and that they won't deal with me. Can it be cancelled and is there anyone we can complain to?

JO, Surrey

A. Pressure selling to elderly people of items such as stair lifts isn't a new complaint. As you weren't there at the time it might be difficult to get to the bottom of how this visit came about. Try to find out from your parents whether the representative of this company turned up on the doorstep without invitation or visited following an initial unsolicited phone call.

If, as it seems from what you say, your parents had an unsolicited call from the rep, they should have had a seven-day cooling off period and that should have been put in writing. If it wasn't, the contract is void and they should get their money back. Stair lifts are mobility items and so the company selling them is obliged to carry out a proper needs assessment. It sounds unlikely that they did.

Get on to the company straight away. If you still get nowhere, call your local trading standards department at your local authority.

www.moneyagonyaunt.com

Do you have a consumer complaint?

Write to Julian Knight at The Independent on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF

j.knight@independent.co.uk

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Guru Careers: Tax Manager / Accountant

    £35 - £50k DOE: Guru Careers: A Tax Manager / Accountant (ACA / CA / CTA) is n...

    Recruitment Genius: Financial Administrator

    £19000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Administration Team Leader

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company prides itself on its ability to p...

    Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company prides itself on its ability to p...

    Day In a Page

    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
    What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

    What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

    Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
    Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

    Are you a 50-center?

    Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
    The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

    Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

    The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
    Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

    Hollywood's new diet trends

    Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
    6 best recipe files

    6 best recipe files

    Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
    Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

    Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

    Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Atwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works