Home makeover pitfall warningTrade watchdog tells how to protect yourself

28 July 2006

A row of terrace houses

All homes with 4 or more bedrooms will now need a HIP

Watch out for home improvement deals where you have to pay everything upfront.

That's one of a series of tips issued by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to try to curb the problem of homeowners being left with unfinished work after paying for the supply and installation of a fitted kitchen or bathroom.

Which? has long highlighted that it can be difficult to get a job finished properly once you've handed over the entire fee - there's less incentive for the company if you can't hold something back until you're happy with the job. 

B&Q, MFI, Moben and Dolphin

The OFT has said that it's unfair for consumers to pay everything upfront if installation is part of the job, and it allowed B&Q, MFI, Moben Kitchens, Dolphin Bathrooms and Kitchens Direct to take full payment only if they promised to refer customers' complaints about such problems to an independent adjudicator.

The watchdog has just finished a review of whether this is working in practice. Some companies have agreed to improve the way they tell consumers that they can use the adjudication scheme, called Qualitas.

If you complain to Qualitas, it will hold 20 per cent of anything you've paid while your complaint is being investigated. And, if the dispute isn't resolved, Qualitas can provide a conciliation service and ultimately adjudicate, making a decision that’s binding on the company.

Another tip the OFT has suggested is paying for goods or services that cost more than £100 with a credit card. Under the Consumer Credit Act, you can claim against the card company if something goes wrong and the seller fails to honour the contract.