How to take on a rogue trader and win
Everyone has a tale about dodgy tradespeople.
We've all experienced - or know someone who has - problems such as the builder who skimped on cement so the wall fell down as soon as it rained; the decorator who caused the central heating to fail; the electrician who was unsuccessful in finding the lighting fault, but left a hole in the ceiling; and the bike shop which 'repaired' a puncture but left a nail in the tyre.
All of these happened to me. And all were resolved - bar one.
The builder rebuilt the wall (I hadn't paid so I had leverage), the decorator paid for a plumber and, after an argument, the bike shop threw a new tyre and tube at me and told me to do it myself (a sort of result).As for the electrician, he demanded £30. I refused to pay and repaired the ceiling myself - he was simply not worth chasing.
Most traders do a good job. And when they mess up, the vast majority put it right at once. But a minority refuse. You then have a choice of ignoring it or taking the problem to the next stage.
From here, forget the phone and do everything in writing. Formal letters are usually better than emails. Send these to the firm's registered address if it is a limited company. You can find this out free of charge on the Companies House website (companieshouse.gov.uk).
However, many traders are not companies. If that is true in your case, send your complaint to the owner's address. Write down your complaint in plain English, outline any financial losses and give the trader seven days to suggest an "amicable" solution. Keep calm and don't be abusive.
If there's no response after a week (but be reasonable and allow for holidays) repeat the letter but this time warn of further action if your complaint remains unresolved. Again, keep the tone polite; friendliness and understanding is always better than aggression.
The next stage is to check if the trader is a member of an arbitration scheme. There are a number of these that vary in quality. Arbitration schemes are governed by the Arbitration Act and decisions are legally binding on both parties, so neither side can go to court if they are unhappy with the decision.
Each party presents their case to an independent arbitrator, generally a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, in writing - although sometimes there will be an informal hearing.
Industries or bodies with schemes include the British Association of Removers, the Federation of Master Builders, and the Glass and Glazing Federation (which takes in the majority of double glazing and conservatory firms).
However, these schemes only cover members of these organisations, not everyone working in the industry. So it is good to check membership before you hire someone.
Small claims court
If you have had no response to your complaint, your only remaining option is the small claims court. It deals with cases up to £5,000 in England and Wales, £3,000 in Scotland and £2,000 in Northern Ireland. You can claim back the money you have paid plus anything extra you've spent to put the damage right.
The small claims route is intended for ordinary people, not lawyers. Neither side can claim legal costs from the other, although the winner can claim court fees, plus travel and certain other costs. The process is never quick and some defendants know how to prolong it in the hope you give up.
In general, you set out your case in the paperwork you send the court. This is then given to the other side, which may enter a defence. Some cases are resolved at this stage - your opponent knows you are right and concedes, or you realise your case is weak and is not worth continuing.
But many go to a hearing. This is usually at a county court near where you live. The court itself is informal, so no wigs. You must be prepared with material sufficient to convince a judge so paperwork, records of phone calls and photos can all be useful.
It is a court of law, which means you are under oath. In many cases, the other side fails to appear or enter a defence, so you win. The hmcourts-service.gov.uk website has details of court addresses and costs plus how to use the service online.
Getting your money back
Winning your case and obtaining judgement is not enough to get a payout, however. A minority of traders refuse to pay even though this adverse judgement stays on the record for six years. Bear in mind that enforcing a judgement costs and you could throw more good money after bad, especially as traders know the excuses.
The most common remedy against traders is to send bailiffs to grab assets to sell. The most common legal method for this is called a 'warrant of execution'. It costs £100 on a small claim.
But this does not always work. A dry cleaner who ruined a vintage dress told bailiffs that he did not own anything in his shop as it was all leased, so they left empty-handed.
Others tell bailiffs that items belong to workmates or family members - bailiffs can only take goods that are owned by the person named in the court judgement. In any case, bailiffs cannot take items that are essential to someone's trade, so the plumber's spanners are sacrosanct.
Moira Haynes, spokesperson for Citizens Advice, says: "Taking court action should always be a last resort, only worth considering when all other attempts to settle have failed.
"The small claims system is meant to be quick, cheap and easy to use without involving lawyers. In reality it can be time-consuming, and it may be several months before your case is heard.
"You need to do your homework and be aware that winning your case is no guarantee of getting your money back."
For more help contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau, or visit citizensadvice.org.uk
Your rights when dealing with traders
Traders such as plumbers, builders, electricians and car mechanics have an obligation to carry out work "with reasonable care and skill".
The Supply of Goods and Services Act states: "Where the supplier is acting in the course of a business there is an implied term that the supplier will carry out the service with reasonable care and skill." If they fail, you don't have to pay.
Attempts, sometimes with a notice, to say the trader has no responsibility for "factors beyond their control" often have no legal effect. Businesses are assumed to have expertise.
So someone offering a paid-for service repairing computers is deemed to know all the potential problems or, at least, tell you that a particular fault cannot be corrected (perhaps because the computer is too old or has insufficient capacity). A professional should know this.
A stockmarket security (a form of derivative) issued by companies on their own ordinary shares to raise capital. A warrant has a quoted price of its own that can be converted into a specific share at a predetermined price (called the conversion price) and future date. The value of the warrant is determined by the premium of the share price over the conversion price of the warrant. Warrants give the same economic exposure to an underlying security without actually owning it, and cost a fraction of the price of the underlying security.
Small claims court
Courts that sit in England and Wales (Sheriffs Court in Scotland) and used by the public to resolve most consumer and personal-related disputes. “Small claims” refer to action where the monetary value involved is £5,000 or less. You can claim for faulty goods or services and even for wages owed and also bring a personal injury claim, as long as the value is under £1,000. You can also use small claims court if you’re a tenant claiming against your landlord for repairs that total less than £1,000. It’s worth noting that, even if you lose your case, you won’t have to pay the other side’s costs.