HAVING building or improvements work made to your home is a disruptive experience.

The most frequent areas of dispute relate to the quality of works, the time within the work is to be completed, the failure to work to the specification and of course, the cost.

It is essential to have a proper contract drawn up before the works begin. In my view, the very basics that a contract must cover are: the start date, completion date, contract price and the specification of the work to be done.

Most contractors do not like being pinned down to a specific time period. I think it is a good idea to build into the contract some form of penalty clause, whereby if the work is not completed within two to three weeks of the contractual completion date, then for every month that passes and the work not being completed, the contractor has to offset an amount from the contract price.

The contractor will demand and will be entitled to some latitude in connection with what is expected at the beginning and what may arise during the conduct of the contract.

There is clearly, however, a difference between a supplier not having your chosen worktop in stock for seven days and the contractor simply disappearing from the site.

There should also be provision as to any variation of the contract during the the works. It frequently happens that a client may request a contractor do extra works.

The contract should provide that any variations need to be approved in writing and signed off by both parties. There should be a schedule attached setting out those variations.

The contractor will likely want stage payments. It is useful to get professional advice in connection with this. Stage payments should only be made when crucial stages of the build have been completed. I also consider that a retention of a sum of money should be inserted into the contract for a period of 12 months after the work has been completed. This is to resolve any snagging disputes that may arise.

I also advise that you should check whether the builders are insured before the works commence. It is essential to know that if a dispute does arise, that the contractor is able to satisfy any monetary disputes. If a dispute does arise, then the contractor should be given a reasonable opportunity to resolve the issues that have been raised. It is only after that stage and the matter not being resolved, that you should look for a legal remedy.

In the event of a complete breakdown of the relationship then a report will be needed from an Independent Surveyor to assess the work completed and what is required to remedy the works. If a new contractor has to be instructed, then it will be necessary to obtain alternative quotes. Mediation is the recommended forum.

If mediation is unlikely to resolve the dispute, then the appropriate course would be taking legal action. In claims of less than £10,000, the matter will be resolved via the Small Claims Court in the County Court.