What prevents a tradesman from billing a client an unreasonable fee after the work is done? For example, a plumber may quote provisionally £100 verbally (or not even give a cost estimate as is common here in the UK), do the work, then invoice £10,000 for a minor job that took maybe an hour. What consumer protections are in place for a case like this?

  • 3
    You could investigate if the tradesperson is a member of a scheme or trade organisation with dispute resolution provisions, which might involve some form of arbitration or an ombudsman or complaint procedure. If you employ the tradesperson through a third party, they may offer some form of procedure. Precise details would vary a lot.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 5, 2023 at 10:14

2 Answers 2


The law

It’s a long-standing tenent of contract law that, where a price has not been agreed, a reasonable price is to be paid.


You reply "sue me". Then either nothing happens, or he takes you to court. In court, you state that you had a verbal contract for £100 pound, then you get an expert witness who states that this repair is not worth more than £100, and £10,000 would be a completely unreasonable amount. To make him squirm, you ask the tradesman for tax statements that prove he has charged people these amounts and what profits he made - shall we bet that he isn't paying taxes properly?

The judge then has to decide what is more likely - that you entered a verbal contract charging £100 for a £100 job, or that you entered a verbal contract charging £10,000 for a £100 job. His chances of getting a judgement against you are basically zero.

  • ftr, I did not downvote, but I would have hoped to have quicker recourse than this. Before suing you, they may put debt collectors on you, causing all sorts of hassle even if they have no chance of winning in court. Some people may be tempted to settle just to avoid this hassle.
    – firtydank
    Jun 5, 2023 at 10:09
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    @firtydank They can't put bailiffs/sheriff officers/etc on you or take any other debt collection actions (seizing property, getting access to your bank account, etc) without a court judgment.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 5, 2023 at 10:16
  • @StuartF I don't know the situation in the UK, but in the United States, at least, the debt-collection activity that can happen pre-suit is more than sufficient to deter some people from fighting.
    – bdb484
    Jun 5, 2023 at 12:10
  • Asking for tax statements isn't going to make anyone squirm because nobody has a right to see them apart from HMRC. They would just say "no". Also given it's a hypothetical question, the answer really ought to be about that, not making other assumptions about the case.
    – Tom
    Jun 6, 2023 at 11:14

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