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Advice Column: Problem with builder

I’m having problems with a builder I employed to build a kitchen extension to our house. The foundations are laid, and he’s knocked through the back wall – the back of our house is now a tarpaulin sheet. We paid an initial deposit upfront, and then two further amounts in cash for materials. He’s now asked for more money – but I’d like to see more work done first. We had a bit of a row, and he hasn’t turned up for the last two days. What should I do next?


There are various things you can do. The Citizens Advice consumer service (0345 04 05 06) is a good first port of call.

If you think your relationship with the builder can be salvaged and you’d like him to finish the work, you can try to sit down with him and agree – in writing – a schedule of works and payments you’re both happy with.

Written contracts don’t need to be in legal language – they just need to outline:

  • exactly what you’re paying for (they can refer back to the quote for this)
  • everything you’ve agreed on, eg timings, tidying up, materials and payments

It can help to look at example contracts, or create a contract using a template deom www.citizens

Make sure the contract covers:

  • start and finish dates
  • if you’ve agreed on a daily rate, the number of days the work will take and how many working hours are in a day
  • delays – why they might happen, and what the contractor will do about them
  • how and when the contractors will remove rubbish and clear up after themselves
  • who pays for delivery and collection of any skips
  • who pays to buy or hire materials and equipment for things the contractor buys, how they’ll give you receipts and paperwork
  • if and when they’ll use subcontractors

Make sure the contract also covers how and when you’ll pay. Aim to:

  • pay by card not cash
  • pay in stages
  • avoid deposits or upfront payments
  • get some protection for your money

If you pay by credit or debit card, you may be able to get your money back through your bank if something goes wrong, eg the contractor doesn’t turn up but refuses to pay back your deposit.

If this happens, you can contact your bank and say you want to use the ‘chargeback’ scheme.

If you pay more than £100 by credit card, it may be easier to tell your bank you want to ‘make a section 75 claim’. It’s another way to get your money back.

This is a good idea, particularly if it’s a big job, because it means problems can be put right before you make the final payment. Be clear about the point in the work when payments are due.

Don’t agree to pay everything up front, in case something goes wrong or the contractor doesn’t turn up.

If they ask for a deposit to pay for materials, offer to buy them yourself instead of paying a deposit – that way, at least you own the materials if something goes wrong.

If the work will take a long time, you may not be able to avoid a deposit. Aim to push it down as much as possible, and don’t agree to more than 25%.

Always get a receipt for a deposit, as well as receipts for any materials it covers.

You can protect your deposit or staged payments until the work’s complete, eg with a:

  • deposit protection scheme – your money will be stored in a secure account until you and the builder are happy with the work
  • insurance-backed warranty or guarantee – you can buy one of these from some contractors to cover the cost of finishing or fixing work if they do a bad job or go out of business


If the contractor doesn’t then do what you agreed, a written contract can help you get what you paid for, or at least get some of your money back.

It’s a good idea to take photos as the work progresses and keep copies of your communications and any receipts.

If you feel the situation with that trader can’t continue you can complain in writing to him or his company and ask for some money back. If you believe the work is substandard you can report problems to Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice consumer service. If he’s a member of a trade association they also might be able to help.

If that doesn’t work, look for an approved alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme – this is an independent third party who can help you to reach a compromise. The trader may already be a member of a scheme. If not, they should provide you with the name of a certified scheme and say if they are willing to use it.