Clients often come to our Debt Collection service (“Prompt Pay”) when they are owed money and want to “go legal”. They sometimes have problems, however, with our first question which is “can we have all your papers?”
They often are so focussed on doing a great job for their customers that they lose sight of the need to keep good records as the job goes on. They can’t imagine it might go horribly wrong further down the line and they will need to issue Court proceedings. This is often the case in the building trade – not so much in the very large contracts but more often than not in the smaller projects such as extensions, kitchens, conservatories etc.
I’ve heard it said before…. “we don’t have a contract, it was just verbal”. This is a popular mistake – a contract can certainly be formed verbally but the problem is that when it goes wrong, it’s much more difficult to get convincing evidence, which is why solicitors advise contract terms and conditions should be in writing.
We always advise starting as you mean to go on – with good paperwork from estimate onwards, with details of any extras (there are always extras!) signed off by the customer as you go along. One useful tip – if you have two customers, say joint householders, either get them both to sign off extras or if one is giving instructions and taking the lead on the project, get an authority from the other one – believe me, it will save a lot of grief further down the line.
One last note of caution – it’s so easy nowadays to slip into over-familiar language in emails and, as a contract goes wrong and perhaps tempers get frayed, it might be tempting to fire off a heated email without thinking it through. Remember, if the case goes to Court, all that documentation will at some time be seen by a Judge who will be reading it in the cold light of day. Wouldn’t you like to be the one who sounds the most reasonable in how you dealt with a dispute? Just count to 10 (twice!) and edit before hitting “send” !