Dispute Resolution

What if something goes wrong?
How to resolve disputes
How can I get paid?

One of the most common problems, even for good tradespeople, is getting paid. How can you maximise your chances?

Always use a legal contract.

Verbal agreements are fraught with danger. Always put your quote in writing, even when working for friends, or people you trust. Its easy to misunderstand or forget what someone said, so its good policy to always put the deal on paper. What things should be included?

The written contract you sign should contain:

  • the date and signatures of both the contractor and home owner
  • the home owner’s name and the exact name on your contractor’s licence and licence number
  • a sufficient description of the work to be carried out
  • attached plans and specifications
  • the contract price, which must be prominently displayed on the first page and a warning with an explanation if the contract price is not known or subject to change
  • a clause that states that any agreement to vary the contract or any plans and specifications to be done under the contract (including variations):
  • i) are taken to form part of the contract
  • ii) must be in writing and signed by both the home owner and contractor.
  • a note about the home owner’s entitlement to a copy of the signed contract within five days of signing
  • a 'work compliance clause' that states the work will comply with
  • i) the Building Code of Australia
  • ii) all other relevant codes, standards and specifications that the work is required to comply with under any law
  • iii) the conditions of any relevant development consent or complying development certificate.
  • a clause that states that the contract may limit the liability of the contractor for failure to comply with the above work compliance clause if the failure relates solely to:
  • i) a design or specification prepared by or on behalf of the home owner or
  • ii) a design or specification required by the home owner if the contractor has advised the home owner in writing that they go against the 'work compliance clause'.

Download NSW Contracts

Work to Australian Standards

Always follow Australian Standards, or manufacturers directions. Use the right primers and undercoats. Cutting corners is not worth the risk, and will invalidate any insurance claims or warranties.

The Victorian Building Commission, in collaboration with the NSW Office of Fair Trading, the ACT Government and Tasmanian Government have produced a guide for builders and trades working in the building and construction industry. The Guide to Standards and Tolerances 2007 is a must have document if you work in the building industry, and is relevant on a national level.

Download Guide to Standards and Tolerances

The guide provides a technical outline of the tolerances that a builder or a painter may consider in working out whether painting work has been carried out to an acceptable standard.

Ask for a deposit, or progress payments.

If a client or builder declines or misses a payment, it should signal to you that something is wrong. Don't fall for the 'I'll pay you when I get paid' line, or 'Do you really need a deposit?'

Stick to your contract

If your client changes their mind about something half-way through the job, make sure they understand how this will affect the final price. Any changes are called 'variations', and they should be put in writing and signed by both parties.

Also, make sure you give the client what you agreed on. No-one likes a dishonest tradie, and if you cut corners it will eventually ruin your business.

Dealing With Difficult Customers

Your aim should always be to make the customer happy.

When dealing with difficult clients:

  • be professional, polite and courteous
  • listen carefully to the complaint
  • do not attempt to lay blame or be defensive – politely provide the customer with your perspective
  • make a record of the complaint and confirm the details with the customer
  • explain the courses of action available to address their complaint
  • check if the customer is satisfied with the proposed action and if not, discuss alternatives.

However, if you have fulfilled the requirements of your contract and it looks like your efforts are failing, and the client is being unreasonable, then you may need to engage the services of a dispute resolution professional. The government usually has affordable methods that don't involve expensive legal bills. Don't delay.

In NSW the Department of Fair Trading has a free service:

Call 13 32 20

In WA contact the Building Commission

In Victoria contact VCAT

In QLD Contact BSA

In ACT contact Department of Environment and Sustainable Development

In SA contact Consumer and Business Services

In TAS contact Workplace Standards Tasmania

In NT contact Consumer Affairs