Step 3 - Acknowledgement/Response
A good builder will respond well in advance of the deadlines and make a Letter of Claim response. However, should you not receive either an Acknowledgement of the Letter of Claim within 14 days or a substantive Response within 28 days, then you are entitled to issue Court proceedings immediately. It is important you understand that issuing Court proceedings is likely to incur legal costs for the builder, even if you do not use a solicitor yourself. Should you lose then the builder would be entitled to recover these costs on top of any money owed.
You are generally in a more vulnerable position at this stage. The first thing any litigator tries to find out is what assets the other side has. There is no point in taking a case to Court if the other person does not have the money to pay in any event. This is just throwing good money after bad.
The builder will know the address of your property and this is likely to be your main asset. The builder may also know the details of your bank account from any payments received. Both of these are items of information that the builder may be able to use later to help obtain payment.
If your builder is self-employed or runs his own business, then they may have assets too. However, if it is a limited company it is always open to the builder to shut the business down to avoid having to pay you. The builder should also be insured against the work, but the chances are you will have never seen an insurance policy and if the builder does not provide details of this you will not know how to contact the insurer to claim on the policy.
Any Acknowledgment should confirm receipt of the Letter of Claim and set out when a substantive Response will be provided. They may ask for more time than the standard 28 days and you should consider whether to agree to this.
The substantive Response should set out:
- Whether it is agreed the works have been done defectively and, in the event this is not agreed, stating the reason for any disagreement and putting their case forward in support of this
- If part of the claim is accepted, specifying which claim or part of the claim is accepted and whether or not they agree to the amounts being asked for. If they are not agreeing the amounts then they should state why not and what, if anything, they are offering.
If they respond alleging the works were done properly or to standard then you will need to respond, stating whether you agree and if not why not. You need to respond within a further 14 day (acknowledge) and 28 day (substantive response) period. You should also consider having a site meeting within this period.
If there is substance in their response then you will have to deal with it and should proceed to Experts/Pre-action Meetings. If it is meaningless bluster with a view to avoiding paying then it may be appropriate to issue Court proceedings, but if you do, you should write putting on record why you are doing this. We also strongly recommend you seek legal advice first.