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Legal rights to payment - Sole Trader

sharonjsharonj Well-KnownRegistered Posts: 166
Hi

I know this is a long shot as this is obviously an Accountancy based forum but thought I'd give it a go. Maybe someone out there knows someone who may be able to answer my question. Here goes...

My husband was made redundant a few months ago and set himself up as a self employed Handyman. He's been doing really well, getting quite a bit of work and being referred on etc, etc. We had an awful week last week and two of his customers are yet to pay him. They both say that they are not entirely satisified with his work and are withholding not some but all of his fee.

When he quoted for the jobs involved he only quoted for Labour costs and did not include any materials. The materials were provided by the customers. One of the jobs was building a fence which the customer now states that the fence posts are slightly wobbly (due to a dispute they had with the neighbour next door whilst the fence was being built and my husband had to move the posts, cracking the concrete that had already set to hold the post in place) and this customer has refused to pay. He has since agreed to let my husband try to rectify the problem. The other job was laying click to fit wood flooring, again provided by the customer. The flooring looked fine when my husband left the job but over the next few days the flooring lifted up slightly in a couple of places. This time the customer would not let my husband back at all to rectify the situation, again, not paying him anything.

I would like to know if anyone knows what his rights are to getting paid, whether the customer can refuse to pay for the labour if they are not entirely safisifed with the job. He actually only quoted for his labour charges and not any materials at all.

Just clutching at straws but hoping someone out there may know the answer. Having real trouble finding any information relating to this on the internet.

Thanks to anyone that might be able to help

Sharon

Comments

  • Gem7321Gem7321 Experienced Mentor DevonMAAT, AAT Licensed Accountant Posts: 1,438
    Here is an address:

    http://www.consumerdirect.gov.uk/before_you_buy/thinking_about/home-improvements/


    Personally I know if my flooring raised after I'd had a handyman lay it I wouldn't pay him. Does your husband request deposits? At least that way you will receive some money. And for larger jobs it would be worth asking for payment in instalments. Obviously this all needs to be in writing and the customer needs to agree in writing.
  • sharonjsharonj Well-Known Registered Posts: 166
    Thanks for your reply Gem7321. I know what you mean saying that if it was your flooring that raised that you wouldn't pay him and that is your right to do so but I would at least let him come back and rectify the problem, that's my opinion and we are all different.

    It is easy to think from the consumers point of view as we are all used to doing but I really need someone out there who maybe knows a tradesman or the rights of a tradesman to see it from the other side. It is difficult for me to remain inpartial at the moment as we are owed a lot of money. My husband was made redundant quite a few months ago and money has been tight for quite a while. He finally started doing something he really enjoyed and this has ben spoilt by a couple of people unwilling to pay. We also really need the money and when he has worked really hard for almost a week the last thing you expect is to get absolutely no payment for it at all. He is still learning as he goes along at the moment and gaining in experience with each job that he does. He is always willing to rectify any area that someone is not happy with but when people won't even let him back in their house it is extremely disheartening.

    We have spoken to a flooring specialist who state that this can happen when click to fit flooring is laid down on to concrete, as this was, and that there are ways to correct it. The main problem is that in this situation my husband has not been given the chance to correct it and they have refused to pay him. He is not a flooring specialist and the customer knew this when they employed him. He is a handyman and as such charges a handyman fee not a flooring specialists fee. The customer knew this but still went with him because it would obviously be a lot cheaper. You get what you pay for in the end and a handyman is a jack of all trades a bit like a gp who will know a little about everything but will not profess to be an expert in any one area, that is what specialists ie consultants in the doctoring world are for. My husband wanted to go back and sort it out but he has not been allowed and therefore has not received payment.

    I know also what you mean about being paid in instalments and this is something he is going to start doing. As for contracts, handyman don't generally tend to put things in writing, it is unfortunately not that sort of job where it is easy to do that. Also a lot of people would not want to pay for a job before it is finished and in the current climate people are very careful with their money.

    Thanks for your help though, I have not looked at this website before so I will give it a go.
  • sharonjsharonj Well-Known Registered Posts: 166
    Gem7321 wrote: »
    Here is an address:

    http://www.consumerdirect.gov.uk/before_you_buy/thinking_about/home-improvements/


    Personally I know if my flooring raised after I'd had a handyman lay it I wouldn't pay him. Does your husband request deposits? At least that way you will receive some money. And for larger jobs it would be worth asking for payment in instalments. Obviously this all needs to be in writing and the customer needs to agree in writing.

    I've just looked at the website given and it is really for the consumer and what their rights are. Even though it would be really useful if I was looking for a tradesman, and what to watch out for what to remember etc etc I really need something that say's what the rights of the tradesman are. The problem with a lot of people nowadays is that they assume that any tradesman will be a cowboy, only interested in what they can get out of people. There are unfortunately a lot of people out there like this, there are also a lot of people wanting to do a good job and genuinely nice people who are being unfairly treated as a direct result of the bad reputations of a few tradesmen.

    It took my husband a lot of confidence to completely change jobs as he was made redundant and no jobs were available in his previous field. He has worked really hard and gains more experience and expertise with each job. He is more than willing to rectify any problems that arise along the way but to not be paid at all when we have been struggling with money and he has worked so hard all week for that money , is really, very disheartening. Thanks anyway, the search continues.......
  • burgburg Experienced Mentor GloucesterModerator, FMAAT, AAT Licensed Accountant Posts: 1,441
    It may be hard without any form of contract.

    Yes the tradesman does have rights but it will come down to who has breached the contract that does not exist in writing.

    Simply doing a written estimate in future may help your case as you can then have set out the work to be undertaken and may have some grounds to what has/has not been done. It may be worth having a small contract on the rear of a quote / estimate stating a few things such as only 10% can be retained after completion for 'snagging'.


    It may be argued in court (if it went that far) that your husband breached the contract first by not completing to a satisfactory standard (in the customers eyes). A resolution could be to correct or just end the contract.

    A further way around could be payment on completion. Such as when you have a plumber or locksmith perform work. They would not leave without payment.

    It may be a case of leaving the two problems thus far but protecting yourself going forward. I do know what you mean as to it is not normal as such for contracts in this trade. However a signed (by both parties) quote / estimate will form a contract even of only small.

    If you would like a small set of terms and conditions I have used for these clients then please pm me your email address and I can provide a copy.
    Regards,

    Burg
  • oakleyoakley Feels At Home Registered Posts: 73
    Generally you cannot withold payment without giving first giving the tradesman a chance to correct his work, although as work is being done without a signed contract/purchase order this may become difficult to enforce, and do you want the trouble of going to the small claims court. I understand what you say about contracts not widely being used but non payment by customers will be more common than you think as contracts are not used, If you are doing a large job, make sure you get staged payments to cover yourself, maybe on a weekly basis, but you should obviously agree payment terms like this before the job.
  • sharonjsharonj Well-Known Registered Posts: 166
    Thanks very much Burg and Oakley for your replies.

    When my husband carried out the flooring work the owner of the property was on holiday and when he left the property the flooring looked perfect. He even took photos for his portfolio to pass on to other people as an idea of his workmanship. He is really gutted about this whole situation.

    We will definately looking at getting the customer to sign something in the future, however small, so we have some proof. Usually he would get paid at the end of the day but this was an exception to his previous jobs. We are just annoyed that he has not been given the chance to go back and sort it out.

    Thanks very much for your help.
  • blobbyhblobbyh Font Of All Knowledge Registered Posts: 2,415
    While the contract is only verbal, don't let this put you off as verbal contracts, though harder to prove, are still legal. Work was agreed with the intention there would be some form of remuneration. Unless the debtor is going to lie outright and say the work was never done to start with or that it was done for free or as a favour, there will be a contract. Going forwards, take into account all the previous comments and try at least to get a 'fag packet' contract or something.

    I worked in the window trade for a while where withholding payment at the slightest whim is common but at least we could threaten to take our windows back for non-payment. While there's a philosophy that the customer is always right, in my experience the customers, from both in retail management and in the building trade, are more accurately trying to screw you where they can get away with it. So don't let them get away with it and start thinking about a legal route. Send retrospective invoices with a footnote that queries must be notified within seven days (which if what the customer claims is correct, they should do). If they don't notify you but still don't pay, progressively step up the seriousness of your demands with the ultimate threat being legal action and that costs and interest will be added to the bill. Normally, by this point you'll either have had the opportunity to make good any repairs and receive some payment or be in such total dispute that only a court may resolve if you choose to go that far. The important thing is to establish a provable debt chasing trail and that they've refused to pay when asked.

    I assume you came here because maybe you know something about bookkeeping so make sure everything is accurately recorded, bills and dates sent, dates of phone calls, who you spoke to, what was said etc. Look on the internet for progressively threatening letters and keep copies of ones sent. Use recorded delivery as this also implies you are serious. Turn up and ask for your money in person but don't be threatening. If you do nothing, you will show weakness and they'll think they've beaten you. Don't let bad payers win - ever - as it's you that suffers, not them.
  • JanJan Experienced Mentor Registered Posts: 654
    Sharon

    Agree with all of Robert's points above, don't let them get away with non payment. There should be a programm called Rogue Customers, but as he says the customer is always thought to be right. Some people like to take advantage and you have had the misfortune to come across one of them. Would Citizens Advice be any help? After all you do need advice, and you are still a citizen!

    Well done at going self employed, my husband did the same thing a few years ago and has never regretted it. It is nerve wracking though, especially at the moment. The responsibility of everything rests on your husband's shoulders, so when it goes wrong it can be disheartening, it is just one of the things you have to get used to, but don't give up.

    And Gem, I understand what you are trying to say, but I surely you'd allow a handyman to correct their work, after all it would be the handyman's loss not yours.
  • sharonjsharonj Well-Known Registered Posts: 166
    Thanks Jan and Blobbyh for your replies. We have had further developments with regard to the flooring job in that they have asked for my husbands full address so that they can confirm in writing a conversation that they had with him a couple of days ago. I thnink they are trying to claim some damages of some sort as I am a bit dubious as to why they want our details. It is so disheartening as he is such a hard worker and has only had compliments and good referrals up to now. He was more than willing to try to rectify this problem but they are being extremely awkward. They also owe us a bit of money for materials too. Nowhere near as much as they owe us for labour costs but it's really not the point.

    I am studying the aat diploma route the moment, on advanced certificate stage so will definately make sure everything is as accurate and noted down as it should be. Just feel ill about this at the moment as we are so short of money and we are still waiting for almost a weeks pay. I hope the situation is resolved soon but I don't think it will be.
  • blobbyhblobbyh Font Of All Knowledge Registered Posts: 2,415
    View the letter as a positive move since essentially they'll be proving the existence of the debt/liability, maybe without them fully realising it. While it's reasonable that they could withhold a percentage of the final fee due to a dispute with the workmanship - and I don't mean to sound harsh or passing judgement with that - it's unreasonable to try and escape the total amount without your husband being able to confirm that any work needs correcting.

    Until he's reached a satisfactory point where he can inspect the work you should insist on the full fee with no compromise. Why take their word for it? You could point out that - in theory - the longer they leave it to be corrected the problem may deteriorate further without reparations thus the increasingly less amount they can claim as they'll have arguably contributed to it. That might prompt a response.

    Personally, I hate bad payers and think they should all be executed, but that's just me. Please keep us informed of developments Sharon, by PM if you want to, while other interested parties might like to use this for their unit 15 module.
  • sharonjsharonj Well-Known Registered Posts: 166
    Thanks Robert. I really like the idea of the flooring having deteriorated without repairs having taken place. There have been more developments in this case. We have been contacted by the customer stating that they have sought legal advice and are now communicating to us via email. They state that they are willing for my husband to go back and try to repair the problems but have only given two dates and both are Sundays. I think they are trying to be awkward but we have gone back to them saying that even though it is inconvenient as Sunday is the only day my husband gets to spend with the children, he will do the work on one of the Sundays requested as a good will gesture.

    Robert, I will pm you with the exact details of their email to us and our reply and you can see for yourself.

    I am lucky enough to have a friend from school who is a solicitor and even though she deals with corporate law, usually for large corporations she has helped me to reply to their email. She thinks the customer has gone way over the top far too early in the dispute and that they are trying to pull a fast one. I just want my husband to go back and sort this out to we can get paid and he can forget he ever did the work. It is doing absolutely nothing for his confidence at the moment. He still has other jobs that he's doing but to be thought of so badly for something that you were once quite proud of is a real kick in the teeth...
  • Jon_1984Jon_1984 Well-Known Registered Posts: 186
    One of our customers said to us the other day "Every company makes mistakes at some point, it is how you attempt to rectify them that sets you apart from the competition".

    Never have I seen a truer statement in the working environment.....
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