Banter Nightmare customers War stories

What to do when your customer refuses to pay

When Builders Destroy

What do you do when a customer refuses to pay for work done?

Take them to court? A lengthy and costly process. Ask nicely and hope they pay? A reasonable yet most likely fruitless approach.

How about knocking down all your work? Sounds a bit drastic, but might at least give you that delightful release. 

Ever since people started paying others to build or fix things, people have also been refusing to pay. It’s an age-old problem and one that comes with a few pleasant options. Legal proceedings can take months and often end up costly for everybody involved. There is a degree of trust involved on both sides and when one of those sides doesn’t deliver, things can get ugly. 

After failing to pay a £7,300 bill, a woman in Cheshire watched in horror as this group smashed apart their own work in her garden.

The video which was uploaded to Facebook includes this somewhat Godfather Esque statement from the ring leader before the destruction unfolded. Watch our video here on You Tube

‘This is what happens when you try and have me off for £7,300. Smash the whole place to bits.’

According to reports, the police were called to the property but no arrests were made. 

A firm favourite from 2008 is this clip that appeared on Sky News, in which builders destroy a conservatory and a front porch after the owner refused to pay the agreed £15,000. The highlight of the news piece is undoubtedly the interview with the builder with his sledgehammer casually slung over his shoulder. His take on things is wonderfully honest while also being slightly unsettling.  

‘Very satisfying to knock it all down and see the lady get what was coming to her – but gut-wrenching at the same time’

The internet is awash with these tales of woe and blind rage. But the problem is that legally it’s still a very grey area. While builders are technically within their rights to reclaim materials used, wanton destruction can easily lead to a court case, as was seen in this story in which a builder’s crazed demolition of a conservatory was captured on CCTV and played in court. 

Look, we get it. When you feel like you’ve been cheated it must feel truly amazing to destroy something with a sledgehammer as payback. In fact, I can’t think of too many better ways of relieving tension than swinging a giant hammer through a wall. But the police tend to take a fairly dim view on crazed assaults on houses these days and while it might be the greatest two and half minutes of your life (insert sexual innuendo if needed) that release will soon be over and you’ll probably be left at the start of a lengthy legal journey. 

So what can be done instead? 

We’d love to be able to offer a new and satisfying alternative, but dealing with customers who don’t pay is a difficult situation to address.

Your best bet is documenting and record the work carefully then seek mediation or other legal alternatives. It’s not nearly as satisfying as swinging a sledgehammer, but let’s be honest, what is? At least this way you’ll have a fighting chance of getting paid without falling into legal problems yourself. We wrote a good post on how to protect yourself from getting knocked here. 

And if you really feel the need to smash up a room, try Wreck Room. The legal way to get out that wild destructive side that lies in us all.    

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Banter Nightmare customers War stories

Ever walked off a job mid-way through?

The time a customer went nuts & we walked.

I remember a few times I was close, real close to losing it. The question is; should we lose our rags and just walk out of a job? Or even going a step further and telling a customer where to go!

When I look back to those days, I was young and had limited people experience.

I’d often find myself quite defensive if I felt anyone using any sort of ‘tone’ with me or if they were over demanding…..

Of course, most customers are alright and I used to bend over backwards to do a good job the majority of the time, as I’m sure all of you reading this do too.

But…. There are those customers who push you to the edge… 

One particular time in Barnet North London stands out

I remember me and my mate installing a heating system for a guy, his wife was heavily pregnant, it was freezing cold out and he had no heating.

The dispute: He wanted us to run the pipes a really awkward route, which caused tension on the job when we told him it would be extra.

Fuel to the fire: We nipped out for a sandwich and some water from an old dormant pipe had leaked through the downstairs.

When we walked back in the house he started shouting at the top of his voice.

At that point, we just said; “listen, we’re done here, mate.”

That riled him up even more, he forced us out of the house, with our tools locked inside. 

Being around 21 years old (13 years ago now) and we’d just gone self-employed, we wanted our tools back and looking back we could have handled it better by being more understanding to his situation.

My mate in an instant jumped over the fence, ran back into the ‘war zone’ through the back door and got our tools.

We ended up having to call the police to calm it down. What a day!

The key is to avoid being in situations which could lead to you a.) wanting to walk off a job. b.) losing it completely and telling someone where to go.

Communication and planning is the secret sauce.

Yep, that sounds like the sort of thing someone very mature and annoying might say, however when tensions fray, threats are made, money is on the line, you’ll wish you got this right.


Let’s break it down below. 

Quoting – job run down

You and your customer would have agreed on what you’re doing and for how much.

In trades, we love having a quick friendly chat agreeing on a price and leaving, then the customer calling up or texting us a few days later, saying yep, let’s go for it!

We then go there and crack on with nothing on paper and expect to be paid at the end.

Let me just tell you, that’s a really good way to come unstuck.

You need to quote properly and run the customer through the quote, then get the customer to agree by signing or replying to an email or text at the very least.

This also applies if you work for a company.

Be sure to get your customer to ask any questions they’re unsure of before you start and keep them in the loop the whole way through the job.

Always be clear on price, timelines and be as specific as possible in every area.

I literally can’t emphasise this enough, laying out a really clear quote and running through it, is the best thing you can do to avoid trouble. I used to use some software called Quotient. I’ll discuss that in another post.

Once a customer has signed a quote and you have done what it says to the letter, there is a dispute and you can take them to court if they don’t pay it.

Problems on jobs

Let us be honest, this happens, a hole drilled in the wrong place, something not straight, etc, etc.

Don’t ignore it and don’t let the customer spot it before you tell them. Just say; “hey, this has been a bit more complicated than normal, I can see this isn’t quite where we want it, leave it with me, I got it!”

If you leave it, the customer will think there are more problems lurking and they’ll lose trust in you.

Collecting payment/Finishing the job

Always tell the customer at the start of the job or whilst quoting, when and how you want to be paid and ask; is that OK? There’s a lot of psychology in getting people to say: ‘YES‘ and getting that YES is an important one for everyone, as often customers are anxious to know how and when you want to be paid and calling it out at the start reduces tensions for everyone.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and even if you’ve been in a similar situation!