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Five ways to avoid cowboy traders

Great at a rodeo but ghastly on your guttering. How can you avoid cowboy traders? Here are our top five tips for keeping the rogues at bay:

Cowboy traders are the scourge of the building industry – overcharging, under-delivering and undermining our trust in honest traders. A 2015 Ipsos-Mori survey found that only 42% of the public trust builders to tell them the truth – only a shade above bankers at 37%. So how can you make sure that you are dealing with an honest and trustworthy trader who will tell you what’s what?

Here are our five Which? Trusted Traders top tips.

1. Find recommended local tradespeople

At Which? Trusted Traders we have a large number of tradespeople on our database from across the UK. The scheme covers everyone from electricians, plumbers and roofers to gas fitters, upholstery cleaners and mechanics. All accredited Trusted Traders have been fully vetted by trading standards officers. They will abide by the Trusted Traders Code of Conduct and you have the reassurance of an independent dispute resolution service as well.

If there isn’t a Trusted Trader in the industry or area you need, there is no substitute for personal recommendations. Ask friends, neighbours and on local internet forums for independent advice to find reputable tradespeople.

 

2. Shop around

Get three detailed quotes for the work to be done. Seek assurances about the quality of work too – ask for references and testimonials. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. You might ask how long they have been trading or to see recent examples of work they have done.

You can also check that your trader is a member of a regulated trade body, such as the Gas Safe Register for gas engineers for example.

What's the difference between a quote and an estimate?

Which? Legal Service says: There's no legal definition separating the two but generally a quote will be seen as a fixed price, whereas an estimate gives you a rough idea of the costs. For standard works, you would always ask for a quote rather than an estimate.

3. Prices and paperwork

Where possible, agree a fixed price. Research the likely costs for the work and remember, if a price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Get a signed contract—that fully lays out the costs, full details of the work to be done and start and completion dates—so there is no dispute about what is and isn't included in the price.

Where the trader genuinely can't tell exactly what's involved until work starts, agree fixed prices for as much as possible and say in the contract that the cost of the other work must be agreed before it is done.

Don't pay all the money up front. The final payment should be made on satisfactory completion of the job. Agree a written schedule of when payment instalments will be made.

 

4. Know your rights

Consumer Contract Regulations give you the right to cancel any order made over the phone, online or in person. A trader should give you the paperwork to allow you to cancel work within 14 days.

If you can demonstrate that a trader has done a job for you WITHOUT reasonable care and skill, then you are entitled to ask them to redo the work, for no extra cost under the Consumer Right's Act. Any reputable trader will take any complaint seriously and do their best to resolve the matter. 

If you are concerned that you are dealing with a rogue trader, contact the Trading Standards Office at your local council.

5. Protect yourself against problems

There are a few simple actions you can take to protect yourself:

Check that your trader has a landline number and a business address, not just a mobile phone number.

Check your trader has the appropriate insurance – they need public liability insurance in case anyone is hurt on site or to cover any damage to your property.

Don’t accept business from people who approach you in the street or on the doorstep.

Don't go for the cheaper option of paying in cash rather than a properly invoiced job that may include paying VAT. You would need the contractual paperwork if you wanted to pursue any issues.

Paying by credit card where possible may, depending on the circumstances, offer extra protection if things go wrong too.

Which? Legal might be able to help you with any disputes you've had with traders in the past. 

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