Unfortunately disagreements between consumers and builders or contractors are commonplace and often arise out of misunderstandings following verbal discussions. Many disputes could be avoided by the parties entering into a written contract before work starts.  McMillan William's Building and Construction Dispute Specialist, Hayley Prideaux, discusses when you should enter into a written contract with your builder or contractor, what you should discuss at the outset and what you should put in writing to avoid a dispute.

When should you have a written contract?


Hayley Prideaux
Hayley Prideaux
Solicitor - Estate & Trust Disputes Specialist

In an ideal world you should always enter into a written contract when engaging a builder/contractor so that everyone understands precisely what has been agreed.  The terms agreed between you should be outlined in a written contract which should be signed and dated by both parties. This is particularly important where the project is complex, you have agreed to make staged payments or where the cost of the work is significant. In addition, if there are any changes to the terms outlined in the contract as the work progresses, which you both agree, those changes should also be set out in writing and signed/dated by you both.

However, we understand that it is not always practical to enter into a written contract. You may also feel awkward about asking your builder/contractor about the same and worry they will not want to work with you, particularly if the job is straightforward.  But, even for if you decide not to ask your builder or contractor for a formal written contract, it is important that both parties are clear on what work will be carried out, how much it is going to cost and what will happen if things go wrong.

The more information that can be put in writing, the better.

What should you put in writing?

If you do not want to go to the trouble of making a formal written agreement, we would advise you to discuss your project fully with your builder/contractor and then follow up that conversation in writing as a record. Email is the quickest and easiest way of doing this and will be useful evidence if the project does not go as planned.

You should ensure you discuss the following with your builder or contractor:

  • A description of the works – You should be specific about what work you want the builder/contractor to do so that there can be no dispute at a later date. For example if you are building an extension, does the work include work to the interior of the extension such as joinery and painting. You should also discuss how long it is likely to take for each aspect of the work to be completed.

  • The cost of the works - It may seem obvious, but you should agree the cost of the work alongside the description of the work so there can be no dispute as to what is being paid for. It will also ensure you have something to refer to if changes need to be made later. You should ask your builder/contractor to provide you with an estimate or a quote at the outset and ask them to confirm precisely what work the estimate/quote refers to if it is not clear.

  • The payment terms - Agree how much is to be paid and when payment is due. You should discuss whether you will be paying for materials up front or whether the cost of materials is included in the price. Also, does your builder/contractor require you to pay a deposit? Do you need to pay for additional items such as scaffolding or skip hire? When and how should the final bill be paid and what happens if it is paid late? Is it appropriate for you to make staged payments and, if so, when will each payment be due? Agreeing payment terms up front will help to avoid any disputes later on.

  • The builder or contractor’s responsibilities – You should agree at the outset what do you want your builder/contractor to do as the work progresses. For example, do you want the builder/contractor to clear up once the work is complete? Is it important for tools to be securely stored away, if you have children in the house for example? Agreeing theses type of details will help both you and the builder/contractor know exactly what is expected before work begins and should ensure the project proceeds smoothly.

  • Your responsibilities – Responsibilities work both ways and it will also assist your builder/contractor to do a good job if certain things have been discussed and agreed by you in advance. For example, do you need to move items of furniture before the work commences? Will this be your responsibility or the responsibility of the builder/contractor? What access to your property are you going to provide to your builder/contractor?

  • Additional work and alterations – Once work starts, consumers often find they want to make changes to the work initially agreed or they want additional work done. If this happens, make sure you confirm any changes to the originally agreed works in writing and ask your builder/contractor to sign the same if you are able to. This can be done by email if necessary and you could ask your builder/contractor to confirm their agreement by return email. You should ensure you agree a description of the revised/additional works, the cost of the works and the payment terms, as you would have at the outset. Should a dispute arise at a later date, you will then have an accurate record of what was discussed and agreed between you.

  • Defects – Builders/contractors often offer guarantees on their work and/or materials, which are sometimes backed by insurance. You should make enquiries at the outset as to whether the work undertaken will be backed by a guarantee in the event there are any issues with the work undertaken. 

Joint Contracts Tribunal (JCT)

If you decide you need a written contract and you do not want to deal with this yourself, you can purchase standard forms of contract from the Joint Contracts Tribunal. These standard contracts are widely used in the building/construction industry and your builder/contractor should be familiar with them. At McMillan Williams we can also assist you with any queries you may have in relation to JCT contracts.

We Can Help

At MW, our mission is "To make quality legal services accessible to everyone", including those who are in dispute over a construction project.

If you are in dispute or think your relationship with your builder is deteriorating or would like to take advice at an early stage in order to prevent the dispute escalating in the future, call our team of experienced solicitors on 0203 551 8500 or email us at enquiries@mwsolicitors.co.uk.

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