Avoiding rogue tradesmen

Summary: The checks to make and the questions to ask to avoid using rogue tradesmen and cowboys

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Rogue tradesmen (or cowboys) can be filtered out of our Industry but the only people that can do this are the public. Government could step in (and DIY Doctor is campaigning for them to do so) by introducing a National Building Register where every single tradesperson in the UK has to provide valid Public Liability Insurance and a credit or Trade Association Check.

New builders or Tradesmen could be given "Green Status" just as new drivers are given a green P

For now however, it is up to us to stamp out Rogue Tradesmen and take full responsibility for our homes.

One of the ways we can do this is by using an agency to get our quotes for work we would like done in the home. The agency is usually a lead generation agency which takes your request for a job quote and sells it to builders who have been vetted and checked.

You win because the builders and tradespeople who quote have been checked out. The builders and tradesmen win because the cost of buying leads is infinitely smaller than the cost of advertising and the builder or tradesman knows they have got a genuine enquiry when it has come from a reputable agency.

Other ways to avoid rogue tradesmen are:

  • DO EXPECT TO PAY MONEY UP FRONT. If you order a settee you would not expect the delivery man to pay for it until it was placed in your lounge, so why should you expect the builder or tradesman to buy the materials he is going to use on your home. Stage payments are a part of having building work done and a figure of 30 -40% in advance of work is to be expected and fully justified. However; make absolutely sure this sum is receipted and dated and the date for the next stage payment is cast in stone in your contract. You may agree with your builder to make weekly stage payments to help his cash flow but make sure you have also agreed that the build must have have reached certain stages of completion before these payments are made. For example, money for week 2 will only be paid when the decorating to the bedrooms is 100% complete. This is a good way of keeping track of the work and will focus the builder on an organised way of working round your house.
  • Question companies that will only give you a mobile phone number. Any reputable business should be contactable by land-line and have a static, central point of reference. If they have started on a wing and a prayer they will behave that way. It may be of course that they work from home as a new(ish) company. If they explain this, fine.
  • There is no reason in the world why every tradesperson should not be a member of a Trade Association. It protects them as all Trade associations have an arbitration service should things go awry with the job. If your tradesman is not a member of a trade association, ask him why not.
  • Never work with anyone who will not take cheques or bank transfers and get a full receipt for every penny you spend.
  • Look at the vehicles your tradesman drives. Look also at his tools. Worn out vans and tools are signs of poor quality. Brand new tools are signs of inexperience.
  • Always ask for references and always follow them up by a physical visit to the site to actually view the work done by your chosen Tradesperson.
  • Always ask to see (and photocopy) the tradesman's Public Liability Insurance
  • Never employ anyone who calls themselves a "Handyman". It means they have no specific skills and generally their work is little better than an experienced DIY enthusiast.
  • Always get an address from your tradesman. The address can be verified here
  • Always work to a contract. Small and Medium (Up to £50,000) works contracts will be available from DIY Doctor in July 2010.
  • The turnover for VAT registration is £70,000 in the UK. Companies must register for VAT if they expect to turn over this amount in their next trading year. The average cost of a home extension is between £22,000 and £30,000. If your builder is quoting for an extension and he is not VAT registered (I.E. Has a VAT number) it means he has either done very few extensions or he is avoiding VAT. If he is avoiding VAT and you use him, you could be prosecuted for VAT fraud, especially if you have paid any of the money in cash.
  • Make sure the desired outcome of your project is agreed and in writing on the contract. For example, if you are having a bathroom fitted the desired outcome would be:

A clean and tidy room containing the specified equipment which is fit for purpose and installed without fault. Surfaces would be leak proof and all service pipes and valves would be fully operational and without leaks. All waste would be removed from property to appropriately services external drainage system. Service valves would be easily accessible and all moving parts would be easy to operate.

Putting the Desired Outcome on a contract, and having it signed by your tradesman, will relieve the need to list every single item which is required for a quote. To get water into your bath it is obvious you need a tap, so the section about service valves and pipes covers this scenario. It is therefore impossible for your Tradesman to come back and say that he did not realise he was quoting for taps because he thought you were buying them.......It happens a lot !!

  • Ask your tradesman what he did before he became a builder/plumber/carpenter etc and how he learned his trade. Not everyone has written qualifications for what they do but this does not mean they are not a good tradesman. If there are no qualifications however, some considerable time must have been spent learning the trade. It is impossible to become a good tradesman in a few weeks.
  • Never use a tradesman who will not guarantee his work. This does not mean the standard Manufacturers guarantee for the materials he uses, this means a guarantee on their workmanship and the way they have installed any item in your home. If they will not guarantee their work it means they do not expect it to last.

There may of course be some "provisos" here. If your tradesman has fitted door handles and you have kids who swing on doors, it will not be covered. If you have a patio laid for BBQ's and then drive cars on it, it will not be covered.

  • Make absolutely sure your builder understands (and it is in writing) what you are asking him to do. Never say things such as "It's up to you as you probably know best". The chances are that the tradesman does know best, but he cannot possibly know what it is you are hoping for. Disappointment in this way leads to complaints against tradesmen when it is not their fault.

Finally, take responsibility for your home. Use an insured and vetted tradesman and sit down with them to ensure you have the correct contract in place with a desired outcome agreed for an agreed sum of money. If you add work to this contract, expect to pay for it and agree the additional costs before the work is done. It is your house, not the tradesman's. You make the decisions about what needs doing and he makes the decisions about how best to do it.


Don't fancy doing this project yourself? We work with Checkatrade to ensure that we recommend only reliable and trustworthy tradesmen.

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