One third of homeowners have put off renovation work for fear of hiring a rogue trader, according to new research by online directory Checkatrade.
Rogue traders are renowned for poor workmanship, over-charging and pressuring homeowners to pay them for unnecessary work.
Electricians, roofers, builders and plumbers were found to be the most common jobs targeted by rogue traders.
Unscrupulous: More than four in five rogue traders operate under the pretence of being a qualified electrician, roofer, builder or plumber (picture posed by models)
As many as 13 per cent of Britons claim to have used a rogue trader in the past year alone, according to the trader search site.
But despite the large number of people who may have been taught a painful lesson, one in five Britons would still consider using an unverified tradesperson.
Increasing demand for tradespeople and the ongoing raw materials shortage have placed a huge amount of pressure on the home improvement industry, creating the ideal environment for crooks to step in and take advantage.
Thousands of new tradespeople have poured onto various find-a-trader websites and social media platforms.
Checkatrade’s tips for choosing a trader
1) Be wary of high availability
2) Be careful of cheap quotes
3) Beware of being asked for full payment upfront
4) Never accept work from trades who ‘doorstep.’
Checkatrade itself announced that its membership rose from 39,000 to 44,000 in the past year alone, although its ratings system makes it easier for customers to spot those who aren’t doing a good job.
Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders said: ‘Rogue traders are a menace to consumers and reputable builders alike and consumers need to be careful when choosing a building company.
‘It’s important to get recommendations, check out previous work, speak with other tradespeople and ask for a contract.
‘But do keep in mind this is a difficult time for local builders who are facing unprecedented skills and materials shortages, so patience is needed when seeking out quotes.
‘Any builder who claims to be available immediately should be ringing alarm bells as good builders are busy builders.’
Homeowners ‘must do their own vetting’
More than half of Britons are not confident they could distinguish a cowboy from a verified trader, says Checkatrade.
One way to do this is to ask family or friends for their recommendations. Roughly six in ten homeowners have hired someone based on this, according to research by the field service management software and invoicing app, Powered Now.
This can at offer some peace of mind that the tradesman has at least had the approval of someone you know or trust.
Rogue traders tend to have knack for spotting problems that don’t really exist. But sadly 55 per cent of homeowners are not confident they can spot a cowboy from a verified trader.
In addition, 38 per cent of Britons also claim to have found a tradesperson using find-a-trader sites such as Checkatrade, Rated People and MyBuilder, whilst as many as one in five admit to having found a tradesperson through facebook.
Find-a-trader sites such as Checkatrade and TrustATrader allow homeowners to search for local tradespeople and compare them by the number of reviews and an overall rating.
Other sites such as MyBuilder and Rated People start with you posting a job and then waiting for traders to respond – you then make a shortlist and tradespeople pay to get your contact details.
How do Britons find their tradespeople?
From a survey commissioned by Populous for Powered Now, across a survey of 2075 British homeowners
59 per cent of Britons have found a tradesperson through a family recommendation.
66 per cent have found a tradesperson through a friend’s recommendation.
38 per cent have used a comparison site such as Checkatrade, Rated People, MyBuilder.
17 per cent have found a tradesperson through them advertising their work after a completed project.
19 per cent have found a tradesperson through Facebook
11 per cent have found a tradesperson through Nextdoor
5 per cent have found a tradesperson through Instagram
3 per cent have found a tradesperson through TikTok
20 per cent have found a tradesperson through an internet search on Google, Bing or Safari
Once you have your quotes you can choose based on the quote, the trades’ profiles and reviews.
It’s worth noting that all the review sites charge traders a fee for using their platform, albeit to varying levels, meaning websites will also be profiting from the more traders that sign up with them.
TrustATrader members pay almost £1,000 per year to advertise on its website.
Rated People charges from £42 a month, but also typically charges traders £18 for ‘job leads’.
Tradesmen who use Checkatrade will need to pick one of four membership plans, starting from around £30 a month.
MyBuilder on the other hand charges no monthly fee, but instead charges a fee when a homeowner shortlists a tradesperson and verified contact details are exchanged.
Its shortlist fees typically range from £2 to £35 depending on the size of the job.
Although these sites can be a great way for people to connect with tradesmen across all fields of expertise, there are concerns they do not have the necessary checks and complaints procedures in place to effectively protect people from rouge traders.
Paula Higgins, founder of the HomeOwners Alliance said: ‘Consumers should not rely on online tradesman review sites to do their checks for them.
‘They are a great way to get a shortlist of recommendations, but homeowners must do their own vetting.
‘These online find-a-tradesmen sites are effectively marketing sites, and they are not all the same as some do more vetting then others.
‘These sites get paid by the tradesman getting referrals and it can be easy for rogue tradesman to close down one company and open up another.’
Credentials to look out for
A great first step for homeowners is to always demand proof of a trade body membership from any tradesperson they are considering hiring.
Industry bodies for electricians include the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC) and National Association of Professional Inspectors and Testers (NAPIT), whilst with gas engineers, look for a Gas Safe Register certificate.
It may also be wise to check the firm out on Companies House to see how long it has been trading and assess its financial situation.
Many people can be taken in by a rogue trader and once work has begun it can quickly become a very disruptive and expensive mistake.
‘It’s a good idea to check whether your preferred tradesman is a member of a trade association, but don’t take their word for it,’ said Higgins.
‘Most trade association sites will have a directory of their members on their site or give them a call to check.
‘Find out their company name and take a look on Companies House to see how long they have been trading. I would be wary if they haven’t been trading for very long.
‘For bigger jobs it’s important to have a building contract in place and avoid paying 100 per cent upfront.’
It can also help getting multiple quotes for any major job, all the while asking each tradesperson questions to assess their expertise and perhaps more importantly, decide whether or not you trust them.
Simon Ayers, chief executive of the Government-endorsed find a tradesperson site, TrustMark, said: ‘Start planning and obtaining quotes as early as possible – we suggest a minimum of three – because good quality tradespeople are often busy months ahead.
‘Talk things through and ask questions, no matter how trivial they may seem. That way you’ll both have a common understanding of what’s required or any limitations.
‘And don’t just select the cheapest option: question whether the quotation matches what you’re asking for or expecting.’
What to do if you have already hired a rogue trader
Many people can be taken in by a rogue trader, and once work has begun it can quickly become a very disruptive and expensive mistake.
‘It’s a good idea to gather any evidence, for example photographs, and to make a note of dates when conversations took place and the names of people you’ve spoken to,’ said Ayers.
‘From planning to completion, good communication is vital and can often prevent issues arising in the first instance.
‘If this fails, you can check whether the tradesperson or company belongs to an Alternative Disputes Resolution service which may offer a way to resolve your problem.’
Ultimately, if things are quickly going sour, perhaps because the work isn’t up to a good standard or the tradesperson keeps leaving to take on other work, sometimes you may have to cut your losses.
‘If you are very unhappy with the work you may decide to terminate the job early and get someone else in,’ said Higgins.
‘Although this may cost you, it’s often better than the alternative. Go with your gut feeling; you may want to quit while you are ahead.’
TrustMark’s advice and tips for hiring a tradesperson or business
Really think through the work you’re looking to have done and take expert advice if needed. Know how much you want to spend and set your budget. Bear in mind that currently, prices may go up before the job is finished due to increases in the price of materials and supply issues, so factor this in.
Be specific about the work you require. If you want a certain type of material, colour or finish, explain this in your brief.
Start planning and obtaining quotes as early as possible: we suggest a minimum of three. Good quality tradespeople are often busy months ahead.
Seek references, read reviews, ask friends and family for recommendations. Speak to previous customers and if possible, visit previous jobs. Use TrustMark’s ‘Find a Trader’ facility.
Always use a written contract as it offers you protection if anything does go wrong. Make sure it includes the cost, expected timescale and how they will deal with any disputes that may arise.
Check what guarantees, warranties or other protection are included. TrustMark Registered Businesses must offer a minimum two years’ financial protection mechanism for all works carried out in and around the home. It will also cover you for certain risks if the business were to cease trading.
If materials need to be bought in advance by the business, it is reasonable that they may ask for a deposit or percentage of these costs as the job progresses.
Only pay for work that has been completed, unless using a service like the TrustMark Payment Protection service which releases funds to the business at key project milestones.
Be flexible. You may need to wait a little longer for the tradesperson of your choice to be available or materials may take longer to source. Good communication is key.
Just select the cheapest option. Does the quotation match what you’re asking for or expecting? Are you happy with references and reviews? Consider how you’ll communicate with the business and they with you.
Be nervous about asking to see their credentials and insurances – all good tradespeople, including TrustMark Registered Businesses, will be happy to show you.
Be frightened to talk to your tradesperson. If you’re unsure about something or unhappy, the earlier you raise the issue, the easier it is to rectify.
Forget to make the necessary access available. Is there adequate parking or provision for offloading materials? What about pets, children, neighbours and toilet facilities?
Assume anything. Talk things through and ask questions, no matter how trivial they may seem. That way you’ll both have a common understanding of what’s required, and any limitations.
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