Each week former trading standards officer Richard Thomson answers your questions.
Q We have a problem with a conservatory and doors supplied and fitted by a local company at a cost of £20,000. The French doors were the wrong size, the thresholds were not disabled-friendly as specified, the builder totally incompetent, the conservatory doors leaked, the soak away flooded the garden and the 10-year guarantee was not worth the paper it’s written on. My solicitor says I should contact Trading Standards. Will they be able to help?
A You described your home improvement as a nightmare, which seems to be an understatement.
No part of the work was satisfactory, the list of defects is as long as your arm and so extensive that it is difficult to draw any other conclusion than the entire job should be ripped out and restarted from scratch.
Whether trading standards can ride to your rescue is doubtful. Without sight of the contract and just what work was specified, I wager that much will depend on whether any criminal trading practices can be uncovered. There is a fine distinction between deliberately setting out to rip you off, and incompetence coupled with unsatisfactory workmanship.
Whatever action you take to have the job put right will cost more money. Money which you have told me you don’t have. On top of that it is difficult to come to any other conclusion that they appear to be trading at the margins. If they’ve no money to compensate you, then you’ll wind up raising more good money only to throw it after bad.
To be brutally frank you’re caught between a rock and a hard place.
Like your solicitor I am unable to point you to a solution that will be effective or painless. Although you shopped around before placing the work, you fell into the fundamental trap of handing over all your cash, instead of insisting on staged payments.
Getting any of it back or the work completed to a satisfactory standard seems unlikely.
Q I’ve just received a settlement letter from a tradesman’s solicitors marked ‘without prejudice.’ What does this mean?
A It means the settlement offer may not be used against you or revealed if you finally have to resort to going to court to obtain an appropriate compensation payment.
Q I’ve been approached by a company that has offered to fit me up with free solar panels they claim will save me more than £1,000 on my annual electricity bills. Is the offer too good to be true?
A Probably yes. You’ll only get the free panels if you agree to sign away your rights to the feed-in tariff payments, which would normally be due to you for the surplus electricity the panels generate and feed back into the national grid.
By agreeing to the free panels, the firm will insist on pocketing these payments which are likely to represent the bulk of savings.
Unless you consume most of your electricity during daylight hours, the Energy Saving Trust reckons you’ll only save about £70 a year.