Managing tradies

Daunted by the prospect of hiring some help around the house? We look at how to best select and manage a tradesperson and your rights and options if things happen to go wrong.
Image: © Linda Macpherson -

Are you renovating? Perhaps you’re building your own home? Or, maybe you’re just trying to keep your home in good repair.

When you engage an external, third party to do work on your home, just how should that process work?

Engaging tradespeople

Always get written quotes for any work that you need done. It is preferable to get several quotes for a comparison. This may not mean you go with the cheapest quote, but with the tradesperson that you feel the most comfortable with doing the work.

Getting quotes from a number of different tradespeople is also a pretty good way to educate yourself. Ask as many questions as you can and you will soon see that there are often many ways to get to the same outcome. Some of which will be considerably cheaper and simpler or at least offer alternatives that you might not have thought about.

Check qualifications

If the tradesperson says that they have specific qualifications, always check that they do, in fact, have them.

Builders, electricians and plumbers all require trade qualifications before they can operate. Check to see that they have the relevant licence at the Licence Recognition service that lists licensed/registered builders, plumbers, gas fitters, electricians and refrigeration and air conditioning mechanics.

Other tradespeople, for example landscape gardeners and handymen, don’t need trade qualifications to operate. This does not mean they are not qualified to do the work, just that no formal training is required.

In both instances, check their previous work, find their website and, if you feel it’s necessary, ask for references from previous clients.

State authorities

Additional certifications may apply to some tradespeople, especially those in the building industry. State based authorities regulate the building industry across their state, including licensing for builders, and often, subcontracting trades companies.

In some states, these authorities also offer dispute prevention and resolution, and building warranty insurance. These services are usually offered for larger works that cost in excess of $3,000.

State or Territory Agency
QLD Building Services Authority
NSW Department of Fair Trading
VIC Building Commission
WA Builder’s Registration Board of Western Australia
TAS Workplace Standards Tasmania
ACT ACT Planning and Building Authority
SA Office of Consumer and Business Affairs
NT NT Building Practioners Board

If you are in doubt about the specific licence of a tradesperson, check with the relevant building or industry authority. A list of the trade authorities in each state can be found at the Licence Recognition service, provided by the federal government.


If it’s a larger job, such as an extension or building a house, ensure that the contract you sign meets your expectations. It is worthwhile having a lawyer check the contract to make sure you are protected in the case that things don’t go to plan.

You need to understand various aspects of the contract, such as time for delivery, timeline changes, additional costs and how they may be incurred.

Be wary of potential variations that are listed. This means that the builder can vary the specifications if it suits them. This may mean that you are getting different quality of fittings or other elements, and you don’t need to give approval before it happens. The variations may cost more than your budget, so be sure that you understand all elements of any contract presented.

Essentially, you need to ensure that anything you sign protects you, your home and gives you a path for recourse if things don’t work out.

Your rights

The benefit of having a contract, or a detailed quote, is that the expectations of what the tradesperson will be delivering is laid out in black and white.

A national law guarantees your rights when you buy goods and services, including your rights to repairs, replacements and refunds. You have rights under these consumer guarantees even if you do not have a warranty or extended warranty.

To understand your rights, and what services are available to help you, educate yourself at the Consumer Law website. This site, an initiative of the federal and state governments, outlines your rights and the various services on offer to both customers and businesses.

What if things don’t go to plan?

Sometimes things don’t go to plan. Say the work isn’t finished, ever. Or perhaps the quality of the work is not to the agreed standard. You do have options for either getting the work completed, or getting a refund on money spent to date.

Firstly, you should talk to the tradesperson involved, or their boss, if it’s a larger group. Explain the nature of your concern and provide options for how the situation could be resolved – an extension in time, a partial refund, having the work redone to the agreed standard.

Always give the tradesperson a chance to respond, but set the expectation that you want the situation resolved amicably and quickly.

If matters are not resolved, then you need to make a decision. Is pursuing this matter via legal means worth it?

What if things are not resolved?

What you do next depends on which state you live in. Firstly, if applicable, contact the relevant authority, as listed above.

If matters continue to be unresolved, then you can consider engaging a lawyer to pursue the matter through court, or have them seek a mediated resolution.

If the amount of work cost less than $10,000, then you may be able to pursue the matter through a small claims tribunal. Each state has different requirements for this process. The Consumer Law website contains an up-to-date list of relevant government links and legal advice centres that can assist.

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