Preventing problems checklist
Follow these rules to reduce the risk of problems later on:

  • whatever you agree on put it in writing! Do not rely on oral assurances, especially if made in a conversational style ('oh, by the way, we guarantee our work will be completed on time');
  • put as much detail as possible in the contract, including the starting time for the job, the materials to be used, how the cost is apportioned between labour and materials, the price and how it will be paid etc.;
  • if the contract is for a significant sum (that's up to you), get it checked by a solicitor;
  • sign the contract in front of at least two witnesses;
  • if you agree to a change in the contract conditions, get it in writing – sign the changes to the contract in front of at least two witnesses (who also sign);
  • don't pay for the work before it is completed, although a ten per cent deposit is reasonable. If in doubt about pre-payments get in touch with the trade association and get advice.

If you receive a contract
If you receive a contract prepared by the tradesperson, or their company:

  • read it, including the fine print;
  • make sure you understand it, and that you have read all the clauses, including the fine print – if you don't understand it, get legal advice.

Qualifications
To ensure the tradesperson is qualified to do the job:

  • check that they have references from other jobs and are prepared to offer the names and contact details so you can speak to the referees;
  • if there is a professional (or trade) association, ask if they can recommend a tradesperson, or get a recommendation from someone you know who has had similar work done by the same tradesperson;
  • check their qualifications. An industry association may be able to give you details of membership and the codes of conduct by which they are bound.

Quotes
It is best to get three written quotes, but first ask if there is a charge for the quote. Make sure the quotes are for the same job – to do this ask that the quote be itemised, especially into labour and materials.

Insurance and guarantees
Check that the tradesperson carries insurance, and that the cover is sufficient for the job. An industry association should be able to tell you whether the insurance is sufficient.

Also check the length and details of guarantees and warranties.

Licensing
Most tradespeople must be licensed if they are working in renovations, plumbing, electrical work, gasfitting and household building.

You can ask to see the license and ask whether they are required to issue a safety/compliance certificate following the completion of the work.

Itinerant tradespeople
This refers to people who go door to door, seeking work (for instance roof painting). Usually they want the work to begin immediately and to be paid in cash, and often they look to exploit elderly people who are home during the day.

Sometimes they will suggest that they have been working nearby, and have left-over materials that can be used at a significant discount. Or they may say that a job nearby has been cancelled, and so they can offer you a "one-day only" price.

Often they will leave as soon as cash has been paid. You can protect yourself by checking credentials, asking for company identification that can be checked (don't accept only a mobile number), demanding a written quote and the time to think about it, and references from other jobs. Call your Consumer Affairs or Fair Trading Office if you want further advice.

Resolving disputes
First and foremost, stay calm! Here are some steps you can follow:

  • outline the problem in writing, including your attempts to deal with it, in the chronological order that it occurred – have this in front of you when you make your complaint;
  • keep all relevant documentation (e.g. warranties and receipts) and have them available when you speak to the tradesperson;
  • take notes of the conversation, including the time and date, the full name of the person you deal with, and the details of the conversation – then sign and date it;
  • if the outcome is not satisfactory, get in touch with your State/Territory Fair Trading or Consumer Affairs Office;
  • if you continue to be dissatisfied with the outcome, you may be able to approach a tribunal/court that deals with consumer issues, and/or visit a lawyer.

Implied conditions of quality
From 1 January 2011 the law changed so that all States now have consistent consumer protection laws covering issues such as unfair terms and implied conditions of quality.

If you are unhappy with the quality of services provided by a tradesperson you may have a claim under the new law (Australian Consumer Law) – see our Consumer Protection Laws fact sheet for more information.

Last Updated – June 2012