No contract, no payment

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By Poppy Hynam, Which? Trusted Traders:

Having a contract in place before starting work seems obvious.

But regular complaints from customers and traders seem to indicate that the obvious doesn’t always happen.

Most of the time, you quote for a job, do it to the best of your ability, the customer is happy and they pay you. However, things can go wrong and we often hear complaints from customers and traders when there has been no quote or contract in writing.

This leaves both traders and customers dangerously exposed, because it is one person’s word against another if something goes wrong. You wouldn’t take out a loan without a contract, why would you enter into a business relationship without one?

We know you’re thinking, ‘I don’t do that.’ But what about when you’ve got a contract in place, start work but then another problem crops up which will require additional expense? In this situation, it is essential to re-quote and get the go-ahead in writing, even if that means a delay in getting the work done.

The importance of re-quoting

As Lynn Vallance, Company Director of JTM Plumbing and Heating Services Ltd points out, problems requiring additional expenditure will only come to light once the job has started, ‘sometimes with bathrooms you get different levels of flooring, walls that aren’t square – it makes tiling difficult when things don’t line up’.

The danger of not re-quoting is that the customer often doesn’t realise the job is going to be more expensive. When the work is done, they may expect a bill that matches up to the original quote, having not taken into account any extra agreed work which may involve an additional cost. That can lead to a relationship breakdown, negative feedback and sometimes damage to your brand.

Lynn told us that customers are often hyper-vigilant when dealing with traders, because of the fear of being taken for a ride. This means misunderstandings can escalate when the written evidence is not there to back up the bill.

Protect yourself by following procedure

The best protection for you and your customers is to have all your processes clearly laid out in writing and to stick to them.

In Lynn’s case, she found the Which? Trusted Traders assessment process helped her business ensure that all the right policies and paperwork were in place.

– Do not start any work without a full and signed contract.

– Always take a deposit.

– Make sure you have all agreements in writing, including an agreement by the customer to abide by your terms and conditions.

– Keep records of all communications and amendments to any agreements.

– If anything changes as the job progresses, re-quote and reissue the paperwork and do not continue until it has been signed off by the customer.

– Think about the worst case scenario and have a procedure to deal with it.

Some top tips to avoid disputes with customers

I asked our team of complaint handlers at Which? Trusted Traders if they had any top tips for ensuring jobs went smoothly and they had a top 3:

1. If the quote changes mid-job, be sure to get a confirmation in writing from the customer that they are happy with new price before you continue – even if it delays the job.

2. If you use T&C’s, ensure that the customer has read these prior to the job starting and get an email confirmation to confirm they have read and understood these fully before signing the contract. This way, there should be no unexpected surprises later on during the job.

3. Take before and after photos of each job. Email them to the customer at the start and end of the job and get confirmation that they are happy in writing. This then ensures that if any damage to the property happens, you have the proof in photographic evidence that you were not to blame.

For more advice for businesses on a range of topics or to find out more about Which? Trusted Traders and the unique offer available to BIKBBI members click here or call us on 0117 456 6032 lines are open Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm.

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