Consumer Rights: Our builder is charging us for work we've done ourselves

The latest bill for a long-running house renovation contained a nasty surprise for one reader

Q: We have been renovating our house for the past few years and there's now light at the end of the tunnel. However, we've just had a run-in with the builder over the latest bill. They've added-in materials that we've actually bought and paid for and have charged us for some jobs, such as tiling the utility room floor, that we are doing ourselves. The whole job has taken so long and there have been so many problems that we've lost all trust in them and just want them out of our sight. But this row is threatening to prolong the agony. We've calculated that they're overcharging us by about £5,000 but they refuse to budge. I'm worried that if we make too much of a fuss they won't finish the job and we'll be left high and dry yet I don't feel that I can let things go as it will seem as if we're accepting their version of events. What's the best way forward? TR

A: Building work always takes longer, is much more messy and stressful, and costs more than anyone imagines. Are you sure the builders are deliberately trying to charge for things they haven't paid for or done?

You will have been given receipts for materials you've bought and if you don't have them, unless you paid in cash, you should be able to look through your bank accounts and credit card statements to track down the relevant amounts. If all else fails ask the companies you bought from for copies. Gather all the relevant paperwork and ask for a meeting with the main person on the job. Be polite but firm but don't set out to apportion blame. With the receipts in front of you go through the bill, item by item, and reiterate the jobs that you are intending to do yourself. At the end of the process many of the points will have been cleared up. Any problems that are left outstanding should be easier to resolve because you've had a reasonable discussion. You may find that trust is restored and the job can be finished with no further disagreements. Make sure everyone knows what they're doing and who is paying for what.

If the relationship doesn't improve and you feel that you don't want this particular firm to finish the job make sure they're paid for the work they have done and materials they have bought. If you have overpaid and are owed money you will need to continue to negotiate for that to be returned.

Ultimately if there's stalemate you may have to enlist the help of your local Trading Standards Department. The last resort is to claim for any money still owed in the County Court. Because the amount in dispute is less than £5,000 you can use the small claims procedure which isn't too expensive. You can bring your own case but you will have to prove you are right and the builder is wrong.

***

Q: I cancelled the direct debit for my gym membership when we moved house three months ago but the company has taken two more subscriptions so far. I've been in touch and told them this was a mistake and they keep promising to change their records and refund the money but, so far, they haven't. Given that I have also been in touch with my bank why do they keep paying out? What do I have to do to get this sorted out? FK

A: If you contacted your bank before a payment was due but the payment was still made, it is regarded as an unauthorised transaction. You should get a full refund.

The problem with direct debits is that people often tell the bank to stop making the payments without telling the company (in your case the gym) that you won't be needing their services in future. If the bank hasn't adjusted its records a payment can then be made by mistake.

When you want to cancel a direct debit you need to speak to the firm your payments go to and to the bank. This sounds like a failure of systems rather than a conspiracy to rip you off. Write to both the company and the bank and if you don't get a satisfactory result ask for details of the bank's complaints system.

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