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Unsafe and dangerous building work

When you get building or repair work done, you hope things will run smoothly. But sometimes things can go very badly wrong and your home can be damaged, left unsafe, or even unfit to live in.

Read this page to find out what you can do if this happens.

What you need to know

When you get a service carried out such as building work, home repairs or improvements, common law in Scotland says it must be done using reasonable care and skill.

What is meant by using reasonable care and skill

Check the work is unsafe

If you think building work is unsafe, you might want to stop your contract and refuse to pay your builder any more money, or refuse to pay them for what they’ve already done. Before you do this, you need to be sure that the work is really as bad as you think.

If it’s something the builder can put right, you should probably give them a chance to do this. If you don’t pay the builder, they may take you to court to claim what they think you owe them.

For example, if a shelf falls down while having your kitchen refitted, you should ask the fitter to fix it. If you stopped your contract just because of this, a court would probably decide you were being unreasonable and you’d still have to pay the fitter what you owe them.

However, in some cases, the builder is clearly not capable of putting the fault right, because the work they’ve done is so bad. Allowing them to try and fix the problem might cause more damage or place you in danger, so you will need to take further action right away.

If it’s possible, try talking to the builder first to see what they can do about the problem. If you’re unsure about how safe the work is or whether to get your builder to fix it, get a second opinion from a surveyor or another builder. Ask the surveyor or builder to write down what has been done wrong and how much it will cost to fix it. You need to make sure you use a builder who can be trusted to give an independent opinion and is not just trying to get work for themselves.

Once you’ve got a second opinion, if you think your builder can fix the work, write to them and ask them to sort the problem out. You can use the evidence that you’ve got from the second builder to say what is wrong.

Give them a reasonable period of time to sort things out, but say that if they don’t fix the problem by this date, you will consider taking further action.

Using a trade association to sort out your problem

Check whether the builder belongs to a trade association or has signed up to a quality mark organisation like Trustmark. Organisations like these have complaints procedures and mediation schemes which can help you sort your problems out.

Taking further action

If the damage is really bad or the builder refuses to sort it out, write and tell them you’re stopping the contract because it hasn’t been carried out with reasonable care and skill. Refuse any further work and if you’ve already paid, ask for a refund so you can get another builder to fix the problem. There may be other costs you can claim for.

You may have to pay for any work which has been done to a reasonable standard.

If a builder refuses to pay compensation, you may need to take them to court.

Getting evidence for a claim

If you want to make a claim from your builder for unsafe work, you will need to have evidence. You should write down details of everything that has happened and take photographs of the damage.

If you had to get building control approval for the work, you may be able to get evidence from your local authority building control department.

Your local Health and Safety Executive may also be interested in providing evidence of unsafe work in certain circumstances.

Claiming on a guarantee or insurance

You may have insurance or a guarantee against poor building work which you can claim on. This can be particularly helpful if a builder has gone out of business.

Claiming from a credit company

If you paid for the work on credit, for example with a finance company or with a credit card, you may be able to make a claim from the credit company instead of the builder.

This may be useful if the trader has gone out of business or is unable to compensate you.

Next steps

Other useful information

  • For more information about how to find a surveyor, go to the website of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) at : www.rics.org.uk

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