What can you do if a subcontractor doesn’t deliver on what was agreed?

by | Mar 13, 2023

There are plenty of reliable, professional subbies out there, but now and then, you come across a dud.

And what are you expected to do when a subcontractor doesn’t turn up as agreed, fails to complete a project to standard, or makes a complete hash of a job?

You might be lucky enough to have some understanding customers, but their patience will only extend so far. Substandard work has to be rectified, and ultimately, that responsibility falls to the main contractor.

If that’s you, you’ll want to ensure you aren’t left out of pocket, so what are your options if a subcontractor doesn’t deliver what’s been promised?

What to do if a subcontractor’s work is defective

If you have contracted someone to complete a project and they don’t carry out the work to the desired standard or the work is defective, here are the steps you can take.

Find out why things went wrong

Sometimes subbies are just shit, but sometimes they have valid reasons for not completing projects on time or to standard. After all, things don’t always go to plan in construction – even the most straightforward jobs can turn into nightmare projects.

So speak to your subcontractor. Find out what the problem was. Perhaps there was an issue with materials. Maybe they had a family emergency. Maybe there was a misunderstanding or miscommunication over the specifications and expectations.

Give them the opportunity to make it right

If the work is substandard, somebody has to rectify it, and it stands to reason that it should be the person who messed it up in the first place. Give your subbies the opportunity to make good any faulty work.

Refer to the terms of the contract

If there is any ambiguity, refer to your contract (if you have one). Does it specify that subcontractors must make good any defects at their own expense? If so, remind your subcontractor of the terms they agreed to and hold them to account.

Check whether your contract allows you to withhold payment

If you try to withhold payment when you have nothing in writing that says you can, your subbies could threaten legal action for unlawful deductions.

However, if your contract contains a clause along the following lines, you’ve covered yourself:

“Should this Agreement be terminated for any reason, the Contractor reserves the right to retain any final payment due to the Subcontractor for a period of 28 days. Both parties agree that this is to be held as a retention and should any defects in the services provided by the Subcontractor arise during this period, then the Subcontractor shall at his own expense return and make good such defects as soon as reasonably practicable after receiving notification from the Contractor.

Should the Subcontractor not comply in making good such defects within a reasonable period of time, the Contractor shall be permitted to deduct any costs incurred in rectifying such defects from any final payment held and due to the Subcontractor.” 

Take legal action as a last resort

Nobody wants to take legal action if they can avoid it, but it might be the only option in extreme cases. If your subcontractor has defaulted on their agreement and it has left you at risk, you could take legal action against them to recoup some of the cost.  There’s no guarantee you’ll win, but if you have a robust contract, this will go a long way towards supporting your case.

How to protect yourself

Prevention is better than cure, as the saying goes, so it pays to avoid working with substandard subbies in the first place. Here are some steps you can take to protect your business.

Do your due diligence when hiring subbies

This should go without saying but ensure you do background checks on any subcontractors you take on. Do they have the right qualifications, certifications, and insurance? Can anyone vouch for the quality of their work?

Be clear about the terms and expectations

Don’t leave anything open to interpretation. Be clear about the terms of the contract and your expectations for each project. The more specific you are, the less likely it is that information will be misunderstood.  

Put a contract in place between you and your subcontractors

The best way to remove ambiguity and protect yourself and your subbies is to have a contract that documents the working relationship between you and your subcontractors.

Work with HardHats

If you want to work with subbies long term without using a payroll company, HardHats can help.

We can’t guarantee your subbies won’t mess up, but we can help you cover your arse if they do.

We not only create bespoke, watertight contracts that document the working relationship you have with your subbies, but we also do the hard work of getting them all signed for you.  

Our software sends digital contracts to all your subbies by text or email, allowing them to check and sign the agreement electronically. You can check the status of each subcontractor contract at any time.

Plus, all our contracts come with our insurance-backed guarantee, meaning if HMRC ever enquires into the employment status of your subcontractors, we’ll take care of the enquiry for you.

Find out more about how HardHats can protect you here, or contact us to get started.

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