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Claim against builders – £16.5 K

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Hello, to all.

This is just meant by way of a brief introduction - as requested on the home page.

I am a private individual and I am in the early stages of bringing a MoneyClaim Online action against a firm of builders who did some substandard work at my house.

The builders have hired a solicitor, but I am hoping to manage the claim myself in order to minimise costs (because I am aware that I might never actually get paid, even if I get a judgement in my favour). There is a fair bit of Gov.UK -source guidance online about the MoneyClaim Online process and the relevant Practice Directions are all there to read, but I can't find the answer to my problem there, so I thought it would be worthwhile to consult on this forum where there may well be actual real people who have encountered this difficulty.

I have had a good nose around the forum and can see loads of good information, but nothing that quite addresses the sticking point I have at the moment, so I'll jump right in ...

I issued my claim for £16.5k using the online claims process. On the day before the period for response expired I got an email from a firm of solicitors saying they had accepted instructions to act on behalf of the builders, and would I agree to a three week extension to allow them to file a defence. I agreed to that request. I realise that is a week longer than they would have got if they had simply filed an acknowledgement of service, but I reckoned there was no point in being deliberately obstructive at this stage. A week or so later I got a letter containing a without prejudice offer to pay £9000 in full settlement. I declined the offer.

I heard nothing more until two days before the extended deadline was due, when one of the defendants (it is a two-man partnership) called me up and explained that they were very keen to settle the matter and they had a meeting the next day with their solicitor for next steps. We talked for a while and negotiated. We ended up at a point where I said that I would be prepared to accept £15k in settlement, payable in instalments. I said I would text him the details in time for his meeting with his solicitor at 9.00 am the next day. This I did, settling out the amount I would accept and the precise dates and amounts of the instalments. He texted back saying that was fine and he would get his solicitor to put together an agreement to formalise it.

Next morning at 9.30 am I got a text saying they they couldn't manage that amount over that schedule of payments and offering a lower amount. I texted back declining their suggested variations. The next day I get an email from the solicitor with an attachment of a full defence to my claim. I wrote back telling him that, maybe he wasn't aware of it but his clients and I had agreed full and clear terms for a settlement the day before their meeting and in the circumstances I didn't see how they were in a position to file anything other than a part admission given that they were contractually bound by the agreement we had made. I provided him with my minute of the phone conversation and with the exact wording of the follow-up texts. That was a week ago and I have heard nothing back from him since.

He has been unable to file his full defence with the Court because there is currently a bar in place while the Court deals with my request to change some details of the original claim, but I am concerned that when the bar is lifted the court will accept his full defence and I have no way of telling the court "Stop! The Defendants and I have agreed a settlement". 

What do you think is the best way to proceed with this matter?

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Thank you for the general story but I think in order to help you we would need to have a more detailed chronology.

What is the name of the company/partnership that you are suing? Are they simply a partnership or are they limited liability company?

Please give us a bullet pointed breakdown of events from the very beginning until the end – a chronology.

What are the amendments that you are trying to make to your claim? Of course once an amended claim is filed then they have an opportunity to file an amended defence.
Also, even though there may be negotiations and the potential agreement to avoid any further expense and going to trial, the fact that you have then tried to amend the claim may mean that any previous agreements are negated by your own action.

We need to know far more.

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  • BankFodder changed the title to Claim against builders – £16.5 K

Thank you, Bankfodder. Here goes ...

-   On 26th May 2023 I contracted with Steven Lock and Nathan Lock (trading as SJL Home Improvements) to re-roof part of my house for a price of £36,500. SJL Home Improvements is not a limited company.

-  The work was carried out over the following 3 - 4 weeks.

-  When the work was finished I suspected that the job was poorly executed so I commissioned a qualified roof surveyor to inspect the work and report.

-  The surveyor inspected the roof on the 5th July and his report dated 6th July confirmed that the work was far short of a reasonable standard of competence in almost all respects and in its current state presented a serious public health safety risk. He recommended that the entire job was re-done by competent and accredited roofers.

-  On 7th July 2023 I informed the defendants that the job would have to be re-done and that I was taking legal advice how to proceed. I sent the defendants a copy of the report. The defendants offered to come back to the house to fix the faults. I declined their offer since I now realised that they did not have the professional skills to undertake the job and in view of the critically dangerous condition of the roof the surveyor had recommended that I have the roof re-laid by a different and accredited firm.

-   Between 20th July and 18th August the roof was stripped and completely re-laid by a firm of professionally qualified roofers. 

-  On 7th August a firm of local solicitors which I had consulted sent a letter before action to the defendants outlining the basis of my claim and asking for a full refund of the contract price (which had all been paid). She asked for a reply within 14 days.

-  The defendants emailed back to the solicitor reiterating that they were willing to attend to rectify the work themselves. There was then no further contact from them at this stage.

-  On 18th September (by which time I had taken over conduct of the case in the interests of saving costs) I wrote again to the defendants with a second letter before action. My letter was in effect an expanded version of the letter the solicitor had previously sent with some further explanatory detail. It also contained a further copy of the surveyor's report, a full suite of the quotes I had received for the rectification of the work by another firm (all of which had by then been accepted, performed and paid for except for one, which I was unable to proceed with at this stage due to lack of funds).

-  My letter before action (as mentioned in the last bullet point) reduced the amount claimed to approximately £16.5k damages under any permutation of the following three heads: i) damages in lieu of recission on account of the defendant's written misrepresentations that they used only qualified roofing operators and that they were "proud members of Check-a-Trade" and "My Builder" (they didn't and they weren't) ii) damages at Common Law for breach of the express terms of the contract, iii) damages under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 for breach of the "reasonable care and skill" terms implied by s.49 of that act. In addition I inserted a further head of claim under Tort law for conversion of the roof tiles they removed from the site without my permission.

-  On 22nd September the defendants telephoned me and again offered to come and sort out the problems with the roof. I advised them that it had all been done and it remained only to settle-up financially between us.

-  In the absence of any further contact from the defendants, I initiated online proceedings resulting in the issue of a claim on 5th October. The claim was for the £16.5k damages as explained in my letter of 18th September, plus court fees of about £850 plus interest. The claim was deemed served on 10th October

-  On 17th October I started to become concerned that in my initial claim I had identified the defendants by name, but had not included their trading style (t/a SJL Home Improvements). I was keen that any award I might eventually get would be enforceable against the defendants on a joint and several basis, and that I should therefore have specified the partnership name in the claim.

- On 17th October I applied on Form N244 for a Judge's permission to amend and re-serve my claim with the inclusion of the trading style. The application could not be made online and had to be by paper copy letter to the Civil National Business Centre. I have heard nothing about the progress of this application despite calling the CNBC twice to enquire about progress. Eventually the online progress checker showed that a bar had been placed for the defendants on 13th November, which I take to be an indication that this application is now being processed.

-  On 23rd October the defendants filed an acknowledgement of service.

-  On 24th October I received a letter from the defendants' solicitor advising me that they had accepted instructions and asking for an extension of time until 16th November in which to file a full defence . I agreed to their request.

-  On 3rd November I received a letter from the defendant's solicitor containing a without prejudice offer to settle for £9000. I declined the offer by letter dated 13th November.

-  On 14th November I received a phone call from the defendants. They wanted to negotiate a settlement to avoid the need to file a defence and ultimately go to court. After some discussion I said that I would agree to an amount of £15k by way of settlement and I would also be open to instalment payments over a short period. They were due to meet their solicitor the next morning at 9.00am to discuss next steps. I said I would let them know my precise requirements before the meeting with their solicitor.

-  Later that evening I texted them my precise requirements for the amount required in settlement and the schedule of instalment payments.

-  Within minutes they responded saying that was acceptable and they would ask their solicitor to put together an agreement embodying those terms.

-  The next morning (15th November) at 9.30 am I got a text from the defendants saying they couldn't get the money together for that amount over that payment schedule and they went on to propose a lower amount and a longer schedule. I responded by text declining their revised offer.

-  On 15th November the defendants' solicitor wrote to me enclosing a full defence to my claim, saying he had also filed it with the court. Because of the bar in place on the online proceedings (see above) this defence does not appear to have been processed yet.

-  On 16th November I wrote to the defendants' solicitor pointing out that his clients had already agreed terms for settlement and payment the evening before his meeting with them. In the circumstances I did not believe they were in a position to file anything other than part acceptance of my claim. In view of their contractual commitment to settle on the terms discussed, the full defence appears not to be legally competent.

-  I have had no reply from the solicitor despite a reminder on 21st November.

-  The MoneyClaim Online process does not, as far as I am aware, provide for the claimant to notify the court that they have received a satisfactory offer in settlement.  I am concerned that if their solicitor continues to ignore the matter of the contractual offer and acceptance, then when the bar is lifted the court will process the solicitor's full defence and the arrangements for contractual settlement will be unknown to the court.

How should I proceed to ensure this cannot happen?

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