Disputes with tradies or builders – What are my rights?

Australia has a highly regulated building and renovation industry to ensure safe and quality work. However, there are some instances where the tradesperson or builder has provided a poor service. Given the amount of money you are paying for the service, this can be infuriating and can lead to disputes with tradies or builders.

So what are you expected to do in these situations? Simply write it off as a bad experience and move forward? Or should you immediately take the tradesperson or builder to Court and sue them for all they are worth?

We suggest somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.

In the event that you receive substandard work, there are a number of steps that you should work through to try and resolve your dispute.

Speak with the tradesperson directly

Direct communication can be the most effective mechanism to resolve a dispute with a tradesperson or builder. By engaging in a dialogue, both parties can articulate their positions and work towards a resolution.

Any claims that you make to the tradesperson should be supported with evidence (any contracts, paperwork, correspondence or receipts that you have in your possession). It is advisable that you keep a record of any contact you make with the tradesperson, including:

  • the dates of contact;
  • what was discussed, including what was suggested;
  • name of the person you spoke with (if dealing with multiple people).

Contact the business in writing

In the event that dialogue has been unsuccessful, you should detail your complaint in writing (via letter or email) and provide it to the tradesperson or business. In this letter, you should include the following:

  • details of previous correspondence;
  • clear description of the problem/issues;
  • options for the resolution of the problem;
  • a timeframe (e.g. 10 days) in which the tradesperson should respond before you lodge a complaint with Consumer and Business Services.

Here is an example of how the letter can be drafted.

Working with the Consumer and Business Services (CBS)

If you can demonstrate that you’ve engaged in the previous two steps, you may request that CBS provide assistance with your dispute. In the event that CBS accepts your request, a CBS case officer will then:

  • gather information and record all the facts;
  • provide relevant information;
  • determine if a report from an expert is needed;
  • offer advice.

CBS will not provide legal advice. However, all information collected by CBS will be confidential.

CBS may also ask that you:

  • arrange inspections;
  • contact other organisations;
  • obtain and pay for reports from experts.

Special needs and concerns

CBS can adjust the way they operate to help people who:

  • are older;
  • living with a disability;
  • have mental health concerns;
  • are more comfortable speaking in a language other than English.

Compulsory conciliation conferences

If the above stages do not provide a solution, the Commissioner for Consumer Affairs can call for a special conference before you proceed with legal action. The Commissioner will decide how the conference takes place (e.g. telephone, video conferencing, in person).

The meeting will consider:

  • the problem and what can be proven;
  • the number of complaints against a business;
  • how the business handles customer complaints;
  • any legal issues.

CBS will act as a neutral third party. Both the customer and tradesperson or business must attend this meeting. A business that fails to attend, without reasonable excuse, can be fined up to $10,000.

If an agreement is reached at this stage, the business is bound by the terms of the agreement. If the business fails to comply, you or the Commissioner can apply to the Magistrates Court to enforce the agreement.

Taking the action to court

If all else fails, please contact our office to discuss your options with respect to legal proceedings.


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