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Updated: 7 Oct 2021

What to do if you have a dispute with a trader

If you've been scammed or had a dispute with a trader, understand your rights and find out how to reach a resolution.
Liz Ransome-Croker
Couple arguing with tradesman 476864

Falling foul of a rogue trader or company is the last thing you want from your home improvement project. But it's important to know how to rectify the situation if it does happen to you.

In this guide, assessors from Which? Trusted Traders and our Which? Legal team have come together to explain your rights if you have an issue with a trader or have lost money.

Plus, you can read real-life experiences from Which? members who've had trader disasters, including a roofer who left a roof in a worse state than it began and a bathroom installer who hiked the price up during the installation.

If you're currently in a trader dispute, visit our Consumer Rights guide to complaining if you're unhappy with a trader for a breakdown of the complaints and resolution process in full. Scroll down to resolving a dispute with your trader for a summary.

Criminal vs bad practice

It is illegal for a trader to harass or threaten someone, take money without doing the work, lie about qualifications and competency, or falsify documents, such as building regulations or electrical certificates.

But there are many scenarios in which the lines between what is criminal and what's just bad practice can be blurred, especially when it comes down to whether or not a trader has met the standards of work you were expecting.

In June and July 2018, we asked 1,645 Which? members what problems they had experienced when using traders. Of those who had had issues, the most commonly cited was ‘leaving a job unfinished’ (32%), followed by ‘not carrying out all work agreed’ (25%) and ‘skipping important steps’ (20%).

Each of these could be open to interpretation, depending on your agreement with the trader or company.

Your rights with a rogue trader

So where do you stand legally if you’re not happy with the outcome of a job? By and large, your rights are protected by the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

If you have entered into a contract for goods and services, you can expect these to be supplied with reasonable care and skill using materials that are of a satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and meet the description given. 

This is true whether you have a verbal or written agreement. Where price and timescale are not agreed in advance, the service must be carried out at reasonable price and in reasonable time. 

If your trader fails to do this, they have breached their contract and you have the right to claim against them.

Services should be supplied with reasonable care and skill using materials that are of a satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and meet the description given

It can be notoriously tricky to get a resolution, particularly when it comes to getting your money back. 

Resolving a dispute with your trader

Follow these steps to move forward with a trader dispute and possibly recoup your costs: 

1. Talk to your trader

For 32% of people we spoke to who had a trader dispute, the resolution was asking the trader to repeat the job to a satisfactory standard.

Explain the problem, how they can resolve it and agree a reasonable date by which you'd like them to rectify it. If they have an official complaints procedure, follow it. Make sure you get anything you speak about in writing by either letter or email. Don't use WhatsApp or text messages. 

2. Get a third party involved

If you reach a stalemate, you may need to use an Alternate Dispute Resolution scheme (ADR), an ombudsman or liaise with a trade body.

Traders and businesses aren’t required to be part of an ADR scheme, but they are legally obliged to point you in the direction of an accredited one.

Which? Trusted Traders is partnered with the Dispute Resolution Ombudsman, so all of our traders automatically agree to use this service should they need to. 

3. Try to get your money back

Section 75, a chargeback scheme or the Financial Ombudsman Service could enable you to get your money back if you paid by card. 

Visit our guides to card protections and the Financial Ombudsman Service for a full run down of how to use them.

4. Consider taking legal action

As a last resort, you may decide to take legal action. In this case, Which? Legal can help you through the process. You can find out more about how to use our Which? Legal service on its website. 

If you're currently in a trader dispute, don't forget to visit our Consumer Rights guide to complaining if you're unhappy with a trader for a breakdown of the whole complaints and resolution process in full.

Which? Trusted Traders

If you're looking for a reliable trader, visit Which? Trusted Traders to find one in your area. 

All our Which? Trusted Traders have been through our rigorous background checks. We ensure they're an established business, financially sound, do not cold call and have no previous convictions.

They must also be adequately insured, have the relevant qualifications to do the work they undertake and have paperwork that adheres to all the legal requirements.

Trader problems resolved - member stories

We've heard lots of tales of trader-related disasters. It can be difficult to know what to do if you fall victim to a fraudulent trader, and it can be even trickier trying to get your money back.

We've asked our Which? Legal team to explain what you should do if you find yourself in a similar scenario to the case studies below.

Which? members can log in to reveal the real-life stories and expert advice from our legal team. If you're not yet a Which? member, get instant access to this and thousands of reviews by joining Which? now.