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Dodgy plumbing: women and older customers regularly overcharged

By Rebecca Milligan

A recent investigation found that women and older customers could be charged up to 53% more than a man for the same plumbing job. We look at how to avoid being ripped off, with advice from our Which? Trusted traders.
woman's hands opening an empty purse

Sexism and ageism are alive and well in the plumbing industry, a recent investigation has shown. The investigation by Anchor Pumps, a distributor of industrial and domestic pumps, found that women were quoted on average 16% more than men, with older customers quoted 21% more for the same work.

Researchers asked a middle-aged man, a middle-aged woman and an older man to call 90 plumbers across the UK, to get a quote to change a mixer tap in their kitchen. There was a wide variation in price across regions, as well as by age and gender, with the lowest prices quoted to the man across the board.

The woman’s quotes were higher in every region apart from London, and the older caller’s quotes were higher throughout the UK. The findings have been condemned by representatives of the Fawcett society, which campaigns for gender equality, and Age UK.

Which? Trusted trader Ben Margulies, from BeeXpress Plumbing and Heating, said: ‘It’s completely wrong that men, women and elderly people get different pricing. At BeeXpress we charge the same for everyone, regardless of age or gender.’

How to avoid being ripped off

If you’ve got a plumbing job that needs doing in your home, follow our tips to ensure you get a fair price.

  • Check online reviews for plumbing businesses. At Which? Trusted Traders all the reviews on a trader’s profile page go through a verification process and we publish all the reviews, good or bad, to give you the full picture. Be aware that not all review sites operate in the same way.
  • Ask the plumbers to visit your property before they quote. That way each plumber can see the full extent of the work that needs doing.
  • Get at least three quotes for each job. It doesn’t cost you anything to get a quote. A range of quotes will give you a better idea of a fair price level for the job.

Which? Trusted traders’ reactions

All our traders saw the dodgy practices described in the investigation as self-defeating, as well as being unfair. Which? Trusted trader John Creasey commented: ‘If anything, when it comes to minor plumbing jobs, I’d expect honest, smaller traders to offer discounts to elderly customers.’

AM Plumbing’s Mark Purssell echoed this sentiment, saying: ‘I tend to lower the price for the older generation, as reputation is everything as a sole trader. My work philosophy is ‘you reap what you sow’, and sometimes jobs that take a couple of minutes to fix are not worth charging for, as you get back far more in reputation.’

All our traders questioned how anyone could give an accurate quote without seeing the full extent of the work required. John Creasey said: ‘You need to see the type of system involved, whether there are isolation valves at the existing tap (so a quick job) or whether the house needs to be drained down (a much longer job), plus maybe the addition of isolation valves for future cover.’

Mark Purssell advised that asking for a quote over the phone often inflates the price, as the trader has to factor in any problems or additional parts that may be needed. He said: ‘I never give quotes over the phone, but always offer to view the job first – there’s no charge for quotes – so I can give an accurate price.’

The need for Which? Trusted Traders

Irregular pricing and customers being treated unfairly, in plumbing and other trades, are some of the reasons why Which? established Which? Trusted Traders in 2013. Consumers can feel anxious about being ripped off, and trying to find the right trader can seem overwhelming. The scheme aims to help customers find traders they can trust, with its easy search facility linking people to reliable local traders.

All businesses that apply are put through a rigorous assessment process that ensures traders on the scheme run their business fairly and according to current legislation. Not all applicants are successful. Consumers also have the reassurance that Which? Trusted traders have the backing of an alternative dispute-resolution service if something should go wrong.

There are honest traders out there who take pride in doing a good job at a fair price. Which? Trusted Traders can help you find them.

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