The fallout from Covid-19 is bad enough without it hitting households bang in the middle of a kitchen extension, a bathroom refit or the dishwasher breaking down. Many families are caught in limbo, as tradespeople can't work, builders have downed tools and there's the worry of them going bust while waiting on normal life to resume.
This week I'm looking at what your consumer rights are if you need to get essential household work completed.
Some tradespeople are considered essential workers. According to Government guidelines, they can carry out 'essential health and related projects' relevant to Covid-19, and deliver emergency services to homes where called out "in areas such as electrical, plumbing, glazing and roofing".
In other words, if you spring a leak or break a window, call someone; if you fancy a new paint job for your hall, don't.
If you smell gas, call the emergency Gas Networks line immediately on 01 920 5050 or 1850 20 50 50.
The Construction Industry Federation says that workers must conform to HSE restrictions for any construction activity. If work cannot be done safely, it shouldn't happen.
If you engaged a builder to do some work before the lock-down it's likely they have not been able to complete it, certainly if you are still living in the house.
This may have implications on two fronts: the delay means that if you have had to move out into rented accommodation during building, you're now stuck there for longer, so you'll need to pay rent.
If you've lost your job, this may prove challenging.
There are new rules for tenants since March 27. According to the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) "A notice of termination cannot be served during the Covid-19 emergency period. All notices of termination which were served before the emergency period and fall within this period [to 27 June], are paused; a tenant cannot be told to leave their rented accommodation during this time".
Secondly, your builders may not be able to return to you for many more weeks, so you need to investigate your options.
According to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), although you have a legal right to a service you have paid for, within the agreed timeframe, "the current circumstances are unprecedented, with considerable disruption for consumers and businesses".
It advises, "As builders are not currently permitted to undertake non-essential jobs, it's important to communicate with your builder to see if you can come to a solution and when you can reasonably expect any work to be completed. When you do so, ensure you put a sensible deadline on when the work should be completed by and make sure it is in writing, by email or letter".
If you have engaged with a building company and they have gone out of business completely, the business will either be in liquidation, examinership, or receivership.
If the business goes into liquidation, you will be treated as an 'unsecured creditor', ranking behind secured creditors, such as Revenue, employees who are owed wages and banks that are owed money.
Check the website of the business and also the website of the liquidator, examiner or receiver to get the latest news on the situation.
Contact the official appointed to look after the affairs of the business for further details. They may not be in a position to return your deposit but it may be possible for you to be given any materials you have already paid for, such as doors or windows.
If you are trying to contact a business, getting no reply and you think they may have gone out of business, you should contact the Companies Registration Office (CRO) as they may be able to give you more information.
If you paid the deposit by credit/debit card, contact your card provider (usually your bank) to find out if it is possible for them to reverse the transaction using a "chargeback".
Chargeback works when you have paid for a service or goods which have not been delivered, so it is definitely worth pursuing.
The only other remedy available is via the courts. The easiest is the Small Claims Court, which costs €25 and requires no lawyer, however the maximum award is €2,000. District courts can award far more, but you will need legal representation and that may cost more than the money you have lost. In any event, you have the added risk of the business you are suing not having sufficient assets to pay you, even if you do win.
It might seen contradictory, but this is an excellent time to start planning works for later in the year. You have time to compare quotes, apply for grants, work out finances etc. The CCPC advises, "Most professionals will give you a 'no obligation' quote before you hire them.
Look for quotes instead of estimates - an estimate is an educated guess with no legal standing, and the price could go up during the job. A written quote is binding as long as you don't make changes to the job requirements.