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Taking a Sole Trader builder to Small Claims Court

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Hello everyone,

 

This is the first time I post on this forum so please accept my apologies in advance if I make any mistake.

 

We are about to resort to the Small Claims Court due to a sole trader that a month ago did a terrible job on our terrace. My concern is that, even if we will (likely) win, it appears very difficult to enforce the court's decision and have our money back (£530). I read of different ways to enforce the court's decision but I would really appreciate if someone could enlighten me about the action with the highest success rate.

 

This is the story:

 

After receiving different quotations by different traders, basing on the quality of the works previosuly made by the trader as shown on his online websites and mybuilder.com, we decided to hire him to have our 1. terrace deck, front balustrade, 2. side fence built, and 3. a bench built in the corner of the terrace as well as a connecting pipe hanging over its corner.

The agreed price for the job was £670 including labour and material (although we provided 2 types of paint). Works were supposed to be finished in 3 days.

 

DAY 1:

The trader was supposed to start the works with cleaning the deck by water brush and stated that it would have been delivered by 2.00pm but the water brush was not delivered. However he couldn’t start the cleaning and stated that the water brush had been delivered at a different site. This inconvenience led him to start building and permanently fixing the bench on the unpolished deck

 

DAY 2:

Unfortunately the water brush resulted being faulty and the cleaning had to be suspended. In the early afternoon the trader managed to get hold of a different water brush. After finishing the cleaning he stated that he did his best but due to the deck he couldn’t really thoroughly clean the deck. The trader informed me that he made a mistake when calculating the wood needed to complete the job and told him that, in order to continue, he should have bought more wood. I asked how much it would have been and he confirmed that the added cost for the extra wood would have been £45. Considering the situation I felt forced to agree. I asked him if painting the deck would cover a burnt on the deck and he reassured me that it wold have been possible by applying some extra layers of the type of paint (suggested by him).

 

DAY 3:

The trader left our flat for about an hour as he apparently forgot something. However the work was not finished so he had to come back on the next day.

 

DAY 4:

Before arriving the trader contacted my wife and said that he wouldn’t be able to mount the hanging connecting pipe in the corner (as agreed) as he could not find the parts to complete the job and proposed to swap it with a chain. The proposal was firmly rejected by us so we had to opt for a wooden bar as last resort. The trader left the flat at about 1.30 pm when I was away and told my wife that we were actually supposed to pay extra £72.53 as results of the further material he had to purchase despite agreeing with me that the extra cost would only be £45. Also he provided receipts reading a cost of £61.43 (this matter was successfully addressed though).

 

Post Work Checks:

 

When I was back I inspected the job and noticed that:

- The burnt on the deck was not covered by the paint

- Despite the contract reading that the trader should have cleaned the walls with the water brush, the walls (and other surfaces) were actually stained by both types of paints, the one used to paint the fence and the bench and the one used to paint the deck. Before him leaving the flat my wife asked him why the walls were stained but he could only reply that it was necessary and that we should have repainted the affected surfaces. More important is that part of the paint used for the deck has stained the walls and the bench: this is stain paint so simply repainting surfaces will not suffice and, in order to fix this up, a blocker will need to be applied on walls.

- The hanging wooden bar split open on one of its sides due to the bad nailing, which means that it will not last long

- The worst part is that the most planks (approximately 95% of them) used to build the bench and fence are badly cracked to the extent that some parts are widely split apart. Also the trader didn’t even bother painting the inside of the planks completely.

- He built the bench on a screw that is now stuck under it and sticks out and cannot be removed (which is likely damaging our deck as well as being a sharp object). He saw this as he also painted over it

- There are other minor imperfection like the planks roughly cut due to the use of inadequate tools

 

After asking for an evaluation of the work by another trader it turned out that most of the stains on the wall could have been avoided by simply painting the planks and subsequently fixing them. While the other stains due to the deck paint spread around denote carelessness and a job that very likely was rushed. At the very least the trader could have used tapes and protecting layer to preserve the affected areas. Also, the wood likely split as the wooden parts should have been drilled first.

 

At this point I spoke on the phone with the trader to inform him that we weren’t happy with all the above issues and would not proceed with the payment of the final 20% until he would at least replace the damaged wood. However he refused and said that this would cost us more money. After sending him 4 of the pictures taken to show him the entity of the damage he replied that we should pay him first in order to have him come over later to glue the broken parts. We obviously rejected the offer as he deemed it unfair. As if was not enough, all the pictures of what appeared to be his amazing previous works were taken from other sites so obviously nothing that he could possible ever do.

 

We spoke with the Citizen Advise Bureau and they instructed us so we asked him if he was member of any ADR scheme but he never replied (which means he's not), so we asked him to have an ADR involved but he never replied (which also means no). We also spoke with a solicitor who said that the work is so bad that there's no fear to lose this case. We sent him 3 letters by registered mail and he only replied to the first one by email. He admitted he needs to fix all that mess up in a couple of emails but never confirmed he'd do this before we complete the payment (as requested by me) nor tried to arrange a date to start the works: which means that he wants the money first. He has gone silent for the last 2 weeks despite me sending him texts, mail and emails.

 

Sorry for the long post and thanks for your help.

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On the basis of what you say, yes – it's pretty clear that you're going to win. It's a shame that you paid him any money already. Did you pay up front or in stages?

 

Anyway, you are absolutely right that although you will win, the problem will be enforcement. If you know where he lives and that he owns his own property then you will probably be able to enforce any judgement. How did you pay him? Did you pay by cash or by cheque? If you paid by cheque then you should be able to get the details of his bank account and so you could use a procedure to enforce the judgement against this bank account – but this assumes that there is money in there and also it assumes that he hasn't changed his account.

 

Does the £530 represent everything that you have paid him?

 

Has there been absolutely no benefit at all. Are there any materials left? Is any of the work done of a reasonable standard? Have you had any quotes for making good the work that he has done?


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Thanks for the prompt reply BankFodder.

 

We paid in 2 stages (part upfront and part during the works) by bank transfer, which means we have his bank account details so I'd assume a bank levy could do the trick.

 

I found his address and it's confirmed by the fact that the registered mail was received and signed by him whom also mentioned it in an email.

 

All we paid for now is £530.

 

In order to make sure he'd be updated I also sent him texts, just in case he wouldn't be checking his work email.

 

You are right, I should get a quote by another trader to understand how much it'd cost us to fix it up and will definitively do that before submitting the form N1.

 

Should the bank levy be ineffective, I read that getting him nailed at high court level would affect his financial record so he might want to pay at some point, is that true?

 

Thanks

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Well if you're going to go to the trouble of suing and you think that you can enforce the judgement then you may as well have a look at how much it would cost you to make it good – and super that if it is more.

 

Once again, bank accounts can be changed or closed down and there may not be any money in it. If you have found an address for him then you should do a land registry search to see whether he owns it. If you find that he owns the property then that is probably a secure as you will get and you ought to start the suing process without any mucking around. This means 14 days warning and then simply issue the claim. Don't remind him that you have had bank details – but the best thing will be to enforce against the property. An


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Thanks again BankFodder,

 

I'll also try the Land Registry search.

 

He was warned about the 14 days by email on May 24th and I sent him a registered letter on the same day. However I had it redelivered on Saturday June 3rd since he was not at home and didn't bother collecting it at the post office even if I informed him, so not 100% sure if I should extend the 14 day period (I doubt that though as we was informed by email sent to his work address).

 

Thanks a lot for your help.

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If you gave him notice that there were imminent legal proceedings then you don't need to start the 14 day period again


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