Whether it’s a repair job or a renovation, when home improvement work goes wrong, it can be costly, time-consuming and hugely disruptive to your day-to-day life.
Unfortunately, issues with shoddy work, unfinished or delayed jobs, and misleading prices are all too common in the home improvement industry.
Ironing out any issues that arise under your roof will of course be a priority – but resolving problems swiftly isn’t always easy.
In part, this is because some home improvement companies don’t belong to an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme, which means you won’t always be able to escalate a complaint if the company isn’t willing to resolve the problem amicably.
Here, we investigate some of the issues reported by Which? members and explain why we’re calling for a mandatory ADR scheme to better protect consumers.
Homeowners find it difficult to choose a tradesperson
Choosing a tradesperson can be tricky. Knowing exactly what type of work you need, which companies are reputable and how much you should pay isn’t always obvious – particularly if you’ve not had work done on your home before.
One in four consumers (27%) who had work carried out in the past two years found the process of selecting a trader difficult, according to a Which? survey of more than 16,000 members.
Of these, 58% said they couldn’t find a trader they trusted, while 17% said they weren’t happy with the prices quoted.
- Read more: find a Trusted Trader near you
Issues with quality of service
A lack of transparency and knowledge means consumers may be vulnerable to shoddy work or being ripped off. One in ten respondents to our survey who’d had work carried out in their home in the past two years said they weren’t satisfied with the outcome.
Half of these consumers were unhappy with the quality of the service provided. The most common issues were feeling that they’d been overcharged (27%), the trader not perfoming the job as agreed (23%) and the trader not completing the job at all (19%).
One respondent told us: ‘The refurbishment of our bathroom led to a leak which has cost thousands of pounds of damage.’
Another reported issues resolving damage caused to their window sills and doorstep after having their roof replaced: ‘The trader is evasive and is attempting to slide out of paying for the damage by delaying and not responding to requests and telling falsehoods.’
Of those who tried to resolve their issue, more than half (55%) told us they found it difficult to do so.
- Find out more: how to complain if you’re unhappy with building work
‘You feel like you’re piggy in the middle’
With energy bills soaring, Steve wanted to improve the insulation in his conservatory with a polycarbonate roof. He obtained a number of quotes before choosing a company and paying over £10,000 for the roof installation.
But though the job was supposed to only take four days, it ended up taking seven weeks to complete – and a number of things went wrong.
‘We were left with quite a large snag list at the end of the seven weeks which we finally got them to put right,’ Steve said. These issues resolved, he was happy with the job until his thermal camera came across an unexpected cold spot in the conservatory.
‘The camera flagged up a huge cold spot which ran down the underside of the box gutter, which basically collects water from the roof,’ Steve explained. ‘You can feel the cold air in the conservatory when you’re by the cold spot.’
On researching the issue, Steve discovered that he should have received a sign-off certificate at the end of the job – but at no point did the tradespeople mention this.
He contacted them to ask for the certificate but has found himself stuck between the roof insulation manufacturers, the sign-off authority and the people who carried out the work.
‘I’ve been going backwards and forwards. At one moment I was just going round and round, being passed pillar to post. You feel like you’re piggy in the middle,’ he said.
To his frustration, the issue is still unresolved. ‘They haven’t provided me with the sign-off certificate and I’m left with this long cold spot down the side of the conservatory which needs rectifying.’
- Find out more: letter template if a trader doesn’t respond to your complaint
Grants for energy efficient work
Like Steve, many of us are looking to make our homes more energy efficient after a long winter of sky-high heating bills. But it can be difficult to know what type of job you need and what prices are fair.
Trading Standards told us it has noticed an increase in complaints about energy efficient services in recent months as more people look to make their homes greener. One recurring issue is around access to government schemes to decarbonise your home.
‘There are complaints about eligibility for the grants available,’ Alison Farrar, lead officer for property and lettings and consumer education, told us. ‘For example, a pushy salesman might give the impression that a homeowner would get all their costs back when they may not be eligible for the grant.’
This underlines the importance of checking what you’re entitled to before going ahead with any work.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has called on the government to consider making it mandatory for businesses in the green heating and insulation sectors to belong to an approved ADR scheme. It has also published a guide to buying green heating and insulation products.
- Read more: are you eligible for an insulation grant?
Which? calls for a mandatory ADR scheme
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) schemes are independent third parties which act as a middleman between you and a company you’re in dispute with. They offer an alternative to the cost and complexity of taking a complaint to court.
In some sectors, all companies must belong to an ADR scheme. But although consumer detriment in the home improvement industry is high, there’s no mandatory ADR scheme for businesses.
While some home improvement businesses do choose to belong to a scheme, others refuse, which could leave consumers facing an uphill battle trying to get issues resolved.
As part of the new Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, the government has committed to making various improvements to how ADR schemes work.
But despite these new measures, the government has missed a huge opportunity by not introducing a mandatory single ombudsman in each sector. A mandatory ombudsman would have made it more straightforward for consumers to complain when something goes wrong, ensuring that all companies belong to an ADR scheme.
We’d welcome a more forward-looking vision from the government, and for it to set out how ADR will be reformed in a more meaningful way to give people more control over the resolution process when products and services go wrong.
- Find out more: what is alternative dispute resolution?
Tips for finding the right tradesperson
If you’re looking to get work done in your home, you can follow our list of tips below to ensure the trader is legitimate.
You can also check out our Trusted Traders site, where every trader has passed a rigorous assessment by our trading standards team.
- Check Companies House: does the trader have a history of closing companies down and opening new ones? If so, treat this with caution – once a company is dissolved, all of its obligations (including those under the Consumer Rights Act 2015) end and you won’t be able to enforce your rights.
- Check the trader has the relevant competency to carry out the work: you can do this by searching for the relevant competent person scheme, such as Gas Safe. You can find a full list of these schemes on the government’s website.
- Check any logos the business uses on its website: if it claims to be part of an association (such as CIPHE for plumbers), you can search that association’s website to check if it’s legitimate. If the business doesn’t appear on the association’s website, this could be a red flag that it doesn’t have permission to use the logo, or it may have been removed from the scheme.
- Use reverse image search: check images on the trader’s website to ensure they haven’t been stolen from other websites. You can do this by right-clicking on the image and clicking on ‘search image with Google’.
How to complain about home improvements work
Talk to your trader
Under the Consumer Rights Act, any work carried out in your home should be done with reasonable care and skill. Materials should be of a satisfactory quality, as described and fit for purpose.
It’s always best to try and deal with the trader directly to begin with – explain the problem, how they can resolve it, and give them a realistic timescale. Keep a record of any communication you have with them.
Follow the formal complaints procedure
If resolving things amicably hasn’t worked, ask for the trader or company’s complaints procedure.
If the company doesn’t have one, ask whether they’re a member of a trade association, in which case there may be a dispute resolution scheme you can use.
To use any resolution scheme, you’ll need to show that you’ve tried to resolve the issue with the trader first but have reached a deadlock situation. You can use our ‘letter of deadlock‘ template to help.