What to do when builders don’t turn up

Almost everyone has heard scary tales of dodgy builders and even learned some signs to look out for when contracting one. But sometimes, things can still go wrong, no matter how careful you are with vetting a contractor. Before you know it, you’re left with a half-done project and no one to fix it. So, what do you do when your builder(s) fail to show up? Let’s find out!

Builder working on the roof

1. Assess the Situation

The first thing to do when you can’t reach your builder is to take a step back and assess the situation. Some questions to consider are whether the builder is tied up with another project or there are cash flow problems. Did the builder leave your site because there are issues with contractors? Delays with building materials? Has he been ill? 

If you conduct an investigation and find that the builder is a no-show, giving empty promises, then it’s time to take action.

2. Check Your Contract 

Most contracts typically contain the steps to follow when a dispute arises. So, review your contract and see if it contains this type of clause. Then, give your builder a final chance to fix things before proceeding to the next stage. You may want to write to them at this point, giving them either seven or fourteen days to return and finish the work. Inform them in your letter that you will terminate the contract if they fail to complete the project within the stipulated time.

Remember to record evidence of all communication, including texts, letters, emails, invoices, pictures of the uncompleted work, and evidence of payment. This will help substantiate your claim and provide evidence if the matter blows up.

3. Try Arbitration

Arbitration is a low-cost way of resolving construction contract disputes out of court. In this case, a neutral third party, usually an expert in the relevant field, intervenes in the matter and helps both parties reach a fair agreement. 

However, you cannot take the matter to court after going to arbitration; you can only choose one. An arbitrator’s decision, otherwise called an arbitration award, is final and forecloses any unsatisfied party from approaching the court seeking redress. 

Whether or not you take the matter to an arbitrator is up to you. If any clause in the contract forces you to go to arbitration, it may be an unfair term and, as a result, invalid.

4. Hire another builder and demand costs

contractor at work

If, after writing to your builder and they refuse to complete the work within the timeframe stated in your letter, the next thing to do is to terminate your contract. Now, get another builder to take over the project and give you estimates of what it will cost to complete the work.

This places a financial value on the work left undone by your initial builder. After getting the estimate, write another letter to your former builder, attach the estimates, and demand that they pay the costs once the project is finished.

You can even demand additional costs if the cost of getting someone else to do the work is more than what it would have cost had the original builder completed the project. If the builder refuses to pay these costs, you can take the matter to court.

5. Contact the National House Building Council (NHBC)

Established in 1936, the NHBC is a leading warranty and insurance provider in the UK, with the primary purpose of ensuring that all work registered with them is of the best quality. Most builders in the UK register with the NHBC.

This organisation has a consumer protection scheme, which has a resolution service that can help settle straightforward disputes you may have with your builder. So, if you notice any defect in the work, you can take your complaints to the NHBC while pursuing other avenues of redress.

6. Report to the National Federation of Builders (NFB)

The NFB is the oldest trade association in the construction industry, representing builders and other construction workers in England and Wales. Registered members are expected to follow a strict code of conduct in their dealings with clients. 

Although the NFB makes no guarantees about its members’ work, they provide an avenue for the public to make complaints. They also help resolve issues between their member(s) and an aggrieved client(s) in a timely manner. 

Typically, when a member comes under investigation, the NFB will first make independent enquiries. If they find that the member fell short of standards or breached the code of conduct, they may suspend or expel the erring member. 

Where the NFB cannot resolve the issue, it will refer the matter to arbitration. However, no serious builder with a reputation to uphold will want to lose their membership status with such an organisation, so this is an avenue to try to call an erring builder to order.

7. File A Complaint With the Police

If you feel your builder was fraudulent and only intended to take your money without doing the work, you may wish to report the matter to the police. However, this avenue requires you to have substantial evidence to convince the Crown Prosecution Service to bring criminal charges against the builder.

Before taking this route, ensure that you have tried all alternative measures. If you have not made an upfront payment and the only issue is getting the builder to turn up and do the work, it is best to sever all links with them and quit while you’re ahead. 

However, if you made upfront payments and the builder ran off with your money, you may have fallen victim to a cowboy builder. With enough evidence, the Police can bring a criminal charge of fraud. But beware that you may not get your money back or the project finished if the builder is convicted. 

8. Take Your Builder to Court  

Construction site covered with a scaffold

If you’ve tried all other avenues and yielded no results, you may want to take the erring builder to the small claims court. The small claims court is a less-stressful way to take legal action against an individual or firm in the UK for claims up to £10,000. 

The primary aim of going to a small claims court is to get restitution and not exactly to get the builder punished. You may even wish to represent yourself to save on legal fees. However, take note that taking the matter to court is the costliest approach so far, and claims take up to 30 weeks to process.

In the end, the best way to avoid disappointments from builders is to protect yourself from the start. Only choose a builder with a good reputation and a verifiable track record of completing projects. Still, if you do your best and the business goes bad, consider any of the avenues above for redress.