Having a contract in place before starting work seems like an obvious step, but we regularly hear complaints that suggest this doesn’t always happen. We explain why it’s essential to get everything in writing.

On most of your jobs, you provide a quote, do the work to the best of your ability, the customer is happy and they pay you.

But, as we all know, not every job goes that smoothly.

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Trader stood next to his van with Trusted Trader and CIPHE logos on it

Why you need a contract

At Which? Trusted Traders, we often hear complaints from customers and traders because a problem has cropped up and there hasn’t been a quote or contract in writing.

This leaves both parties in a difficult situation, because it’s one person’s word against another.

It can also result in the customer withholding payment because they believe they’ve been overcharged, or the job hasn’t been completed as they expected.

To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, it’s essential to get a signed contract in place before you start work.

Our tips to reinforce contracts

Even with a contract, sometimes problems can crop up during the job which can lead to disputes with the customer.

We asked Which? Trusted Traders complaint handlers for their advice to make sure your contract is as watertight as possible. Here are their top three tips:

1. If the quote changes mid-job, get it agreed in writing

Sometimes, you’ll have a contract in place and start work, but then a new issue crops up which needs additional work and expense.

In this situation, our complaint handlers say it’s essential to re-quote and get the go-ahead in writing, even if that means a delay in getting the work done.

The danger of not re-quoting is that the customer often doesn’t realise that the job is going to be more expensive, and gets a shock when presented with the final bill.

2. Make sure the customer reads your T&Cs

A trader and customer looking at paperwork

If you use terms and conditions, make sure the customer reads them before you start work.

Before they sign the contract, ask your customer to confirm in an email:

  • that they have understood your T&Cs fully
  • and that they agree to them.


This way, the customer shouldn’t get any surprises during or after the job that could lead to a dispute.

3. Take before-and-after photos of each job

Take a few moments before and after the job to get some snaps of the work on your mobile phone.

Email the pictures to the customer at the start and end of the job and get confirmation in writing that they’re happy with the results.

This ensures that you can prove the contract was fulfilled to the customer’s satisfaction.

As a bonus, you might also be able to use the pictures to show off your skills on your website and social-media channels.

Protect yourself by always following procedure

As our complaints handlers know, the best protection for you and your customers is to have everything clearly laid out in writing, and stick to it.

So always make sure that you:

  • have a signed contract in place before starting work
  • re-quote if anything changes during the job, and get written agreement from the customer before continuing work
  • get the customer to read and agree to your terms and conditions before the job starts
  • use photographs to record that the contract was fulfilled
  • keep a record of all these communications with your customer.

Join Which? Trusted Traders and save with the CIPHE

If you’re a CIPHE member, you’ll receive 50% off your first six months’ membership with Which? Trusted Traders.

All our Trusted Traders have a dedicated account manager who can advise them on avoiding and handling customer complaints, as well as access to our alternative dispute resolution service if you need it.