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How to work with your trader

When it comes to working with traders, there are several things you can you do from your end to make sure things run smoothly. Our guide has tips on understanding and working with your trader from the start.
group of people, consumers and traders crouched looking at plans

All Which? Trusted traders work to the Which? Trusted Traders Code of Conduct, which covers areas around clear contracts and working to fair trading principles. However, there is no corresponding code of conduct for consumers. This can make it more difficult for you to know what you should be doing when it comes to working with your trader.

Contracting traders and opening up your property to them can feel quite intimidating. You want to make sure you’re making the right choice. But where do you start? What should you ask, and when? With plenty of clear communication and a professional attitude from both parties, this should be a smooth process.

Which? Trusted Traders is here to help you make a more informed decision about who to employ, but you should still take some basic steps before going ahead with any work. Find out more about Which? Trusted Traders, and read on for more about how to work with your trader.

Before the project starts – getting quotes

Quotes are not just about comparing prices. You are also comparing each trader’s approach to a particular job, how long they estimate it will take them, and what materials they propose to use.

Here are four things you should consider when getting a quote:

  1. Consider your priorities. Before getting a quote, think about what elements of the job are most important to you – such as accessibility, minimising disruption, timescales or cost - so your trader can address your priorities in their quote. For example, it could be particularly important to you that a job takes as little time as possible – in which case a trader who has more staff available might be able to complete the work more quickly. But this could mean it costs more.
  2. Communicate key moments in your timescale – for example if there certain dates you’ll need your trader to meet. It’s also good to be specific about taking the rubbish away – has that been quoted for?
  3. Ask for a breakdown to see how the quote is made up. Cheapest isn’t always best - a cheaper quote could mean cutting corners or using poorer-quality materials.
  4. Ask about a deposit or staged payments. Traders should be upfront about how they expect you to pay them. Deposits should be necessary only when they need to buy goods, or will be working on a bespoke design, so the trader needs to cover any initial outlay. On a big project where the trader needs to buy a lot of materials, it is entirely reasonable for them to ask for staged payments. Ensure the final instalment is payable only once you’re happy with the work. If the deposit is a large amount, up to 50%, ask if pre-payments are protected by insurance should they go out of business or if anything goes wrong.

Is your trader insured?

Check your trader is properly insured before you hire them. Ask to see their insurance certificate, and make sure it doesn’t expire during your project. Your trader should have:

  • public-liability insurance in case someone gets hurt on your property
  • cover in case there is damage to your property, so they can redo the work or pay others to clean up their mess (eg. decorators may be required to cover up any marks left by a poor plastering job)
  • cover in case the builder goes bust or has an accident, so you can pay someone else to finish the job.

If your trader is going to employ sub-contractors, make sure they hold proper insurance too, so you aren’t liable for any accidents. You may also need to notify your own buildings insurer that work is being carried out.

Traders carrying out work in domestic properties must now by law do a health and safety risk assessment before the work starts. This is called a construction phase plan, and it applies to all work - no matter how small or large the project is. Ask if they are doing this, as their insurance may not be valid without it.

Once you’ve decided which trader’s quote meets your requirements most fully, and checked that they are sufficiently insured, then you can move to the contracting stage before work starts.

Contracting your trader

A proper contract, agreed before the work starts, is the key to avoiding and resolving disputes with builders and other tradesmen.

Generally, small-scale home improvements need only a letter of agreement to set out a contract, which both parties must sign. For larger projects you may require more detail, to cover all the areas that you agreed at the initial quotation stage. Consider consulting a qualified building surveyor for larger jobs.

If you agree the contract and sign it in your own home, you will have a 14-day cooling-off period in which to change your mind. You should be given a cancellation-rights form so you can cancel without charge. If you agree to start works within the 14-day cooling-off period, you will have to authorise the works in writing. If you later cancel after that, you will have to pay for any work that’s been carried out.

All contracts should include:

  • a description of the job to be done
  • the agreed price for the work and how this will be paid - a lump sum at the end, or stage payments as work progresses
  • the agreed start and finish dates
  • a clause detailing whether any part of the payment can be withheld in the event of a dispute arising between the parties
  • a requirement that the trader leaves the site in a tidy state at the end of the work, and information that they are registered to carry and dispose of any waste
  • a requirement that the contractor returns to put right any defects in the work, and any damage caused to your property, at their expense
  • the name of the person responsible for obtaining any necessary official approval for the work, if relevant.

If there are other elements that are particularly important to you, such as ensuring that the work is completed by a certain date, or specific arrangements to deal with any waste, you can ask the trader to include these in the contract.

During the work

  1. Ensure products arrive on time. If you are providing materials, products or goods rather than the trader, ensure that you will be able to get them in place in good time, and to the right specification for the trader to do their job. If they don’t arrive on time, the trader is unlikely to get another day’s work at such short notice.
  2. Establish how and when you will communicate early on. Regular communication is priority number one while the job is underway. Just as you would expect your trader to be readily available if you have any questions, you also need to make time to answer any queries they may have as the project progresses. If your time is pressured, you may need to set aside specific times when they can contact you.  
  3. Minimise disruption. Any work that takes place in the house will cause disruption to the household. You need to work out who will be around to let the trader into the property, which areas they can access, and how you will manage that disruption.
  4. Let your trader focus on the job. They are not there to look after children, collect parcels, answer the phone, or otherwise help out in your home. While many of them may not mind, it’s not really fair to ask them to do these things.
  5. If you have any concerns during the project, don’t keep them to yourself. Talk to your trader, raise the issue you have – keeping any emotion out of it – and make it clear what you were expecting. Also be clear about how you want the trader to resolve the issue. Your trader will want to work with you to get the work to the standard you require.
  6. Agree any additional work in writing. If there is any extra work outside the original contract that needs doing, you MUST agree this in writing to protect both yourself and the trader. Your trader does not need to re-contract, but they should send you an email detailing any extra work, and how much it will cost, which you need to acknowledge and agree to by return.
  7. Resolve disputes. If you are still unhappy, or your relationship with your trader has broken down and you’ve reached what is known as ‘deadlock’, if they are a Which? Trusted trader you can take your issue to the Dispute Resolution Ombudsman.

At the end of the project

There is no need for panic if everything is not perfect at the end of a big job. There are often issues that need resolving after a substantial home improvement, and traders are familiar with this. You need to contact the trader in writing, listing the problems and asking for them to be clear when they can return to resolve them.

Paying for the work

The size and nature of the work will determine whether you need to pay a deposit – you should have agreed the way you will pay for the project before work commences, so by the end of the job, it is clear how much you owe.

Your trader will send you an invoice for the final payment. 

Traders will vary in how they prefer to be paid. If you’re paying in cash, it’s good practice to count it  together, to avoid any subsequent dispute about how much money has changed hands. Mistakes can happen – even banks have been known to hand over incorrect amounts.

BACS transfers are another popular payment method. Ensure you have up-to-date bank details for your trader. But beware fake invoices coming from scammers via email. It’s always worth confirming bank details with your trader directly.

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