Consumer rights: My newly installed kitchen is a mess but the builders still want to be paid in full
How do you deal with a firm that did substandard work / Solicitor failed to spot a major property problem and homeowner now wants compensation
Sunday 17 October 2010
We just had a new kitchen installed and it's a mess. We bought all the units, and had a building firm to fit them, put in splash-back panels and redo the tiling.
The tiles are uneven; the units don't match in height, and the spaces between them are different widths. The boss of the building firm refuses to come out to look at it. Luckily we haven't paid him yet. Because we bought the units ourselves he didn't need money up front for materials, but he's demanding payment in full for the work done even though it's not satisfactory.
Before you go any further take photographs of all the snags you've identified. Then give him another chance. Set out all your complaints in writing and attach copies of your photos. Once he sees for himself that there really are faults to be addressed, he may take action. If there's still no response, check whether he's a member of a trade organisation which may have an arbitration scheme.
If not, get a second, and even a third, opinion. Be absolutely sure that you aren't expecting too high a standard. Ask another reputable firm(s) to look at the work and give you quote for putting everything right. Once you've got that, write to the builder again telling him that you've had a professional company in, and send a copy of the quote with a list of the faults it covers and the work that will be done. Ask him again to come out to have a look within a reasonable period of time – say, a week or, if you're feeling generous, two weeks. Tell him in the letter that if he doesn't do that and agree to put right the faults, you will have the second firm correct them and will pay this firm what remains of the money you originally agreed to pay him.
Keep calm, be reasonable and polite and keeps copies of all letters and emails and notes of all telephone conversations. It could come to the point where he sues you for the money he feels he's owed, so you must be able to prove to the judge that you really did have cause for complaint, behaved reasonably, got expert second opinions from reputable firms, gave him every opportunity to correct mistakes and tried to negotiate.
I've had a long and complicated problem over a flat I bought six years ago. We discovered when trying to remortgage that according to the deed we didn't own our own entrance; it belonged to the owner of the lower flat. Obviously, if that had been pointed out at the time, we'd have insisted on it being sorted. The other flat owner was as surprised as we were at the discovery and was very happy to have the deed varied to correct the problem. But my solicitor promised repeatedly to sort out the mess, eventually stopped returning my calls or answering letters, and as he's a one-man band we had to go to another firm of solicitors to get it resolved. I've ended up about £4,000 out of pocket. I don't like to complain about my original solicitor as he's been terrific over many years, but I feel this was his fault and I need compensation for the money I've lost and for all the time it has taken me.
You should complain directly to your solicitor before taking a complaint further, by writing to the designated complaints handler at the firm. However, in this case you've already tried to get responses and failed, so the next step is to contact the Legal Ombudsman by phone on 0300 555 0333, by letter to PO Box 15870, Birmingham B30 9EB or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. There's more information on www.legalombudsman.org.uk.
The Legal Ombudsman is the independent ombudsman for all legal services and may deal with your complaint or pass it on the Solicitors Regulation Authority. There are levels of investigation that may be done depending on the seriousness of the situation and whether your solicitor complies with requests for information, files, documents, and so on. At worst, a solicitor's business can be closed down; he may be ordered to pay money back and he may be fined.
There is a difference between the money you have lost and compensation. Your solicitor could be ordered to pay you the amount of money you've lost and you may or may not be awarded some compensation on top. The Legal Ombudsman can order compensation to be paid but the Solicitors Regulation Authority can't. The important thing is the £4,000; compensation is icing on the cake.
However, even if your solicitor is ordered to pay you the money you've lost, there's the possibility he may not be able to pay up. There is a compensation fund for people who have lost out in some cases but you may not be eligible to apply. Talk to the Solicitors Regulation Authority about what happens if your solicitor can't or won't pay.
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