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April 17, 2008 MOST READ MOST COMMENTED MOST CURIOUS
How to find a good tradesman TODAY
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How to secure someone reliable - and what to do if it all goes wrong
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EXPLORE CONSUMER Why the great British breakfast is a killer
My last plumber arrived in a Mercedes, invoiced me for £500 more
than his quote and dumped the steel tank he removed on the PROPERTY & MORTGAGES
street. Not a happy experience, but not unusual. Problems with SAVINGS
home maintenance tradesmen, including plumbers, electricians, BORROWING
builders and decorators, were the main source of complaints to FOCUS ZONE
Consumer Direct, the government helpline, last year, generating
more than 70,000 calls. FUNDS Alternative Investments:
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But most cases, including mine, go unreported and experts believe your own racehorse or a beautiful
that this figure represents a fraction of all botched jobs. So how painting?
can homeowners find a reliable tradesman, ensure that the job is TAX
done well and seek redress if things go wrong? PENSIONS
Steve Playle, of Trading Standards, says that recommendations
from friends and neighbours remain the best starting point, but he
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Alternatively, Mr Playle suggests that you contact your local
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council to ask whether an assured trader scheme is in place.
These list tradesmen approved by the local trading standards Survive the downturn
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South of England, which vets applicants for “high standards” and
“value” and steps in to help to resolve customer complaints. SU DOKU
If a tradesman claims to be a
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answers your questions COMPARE & BUY
anyone who sends a cheque. The best bodies are members of the
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READERS TO THE RESCUE
Cold-calling tradesmen should be rejected out of hand. One elderly
man whose case was investigated by trading standards last year Credit Clinic
lost £82,000 after a rogue trader offered to fix a few loose roof tiles Worried about credit card
for £400. In a standard confidence trick, the trader then told the scams? Visit our Credit
client that the roof and much of the building were unsound and Clinic for help and advice
needed to be replaced immediately.
A helping hand
Solve a reader's problem to SERVICES
Once you have located a handful of candidates, ask for written win John Lewis vouchers
quotes based on a fixed timescale or deadline. But Mr Playle says Free Credit Report Utility Switching
that a tradesman's readiness to start work straight away may be a GUIDES Business Finance Business Insurance
bad sign because “a good builder is a busy builder”. Each quote
should be based on an on-site assessment of the job and the price CLASSIFIEDS
must include VAT unless the document states otherwise.
Before choosing between options, you will need to consider
insurance. A tradesman should have his own specialist cover, but How to complain
home insurance is an important back-up. Make your voice heard with
our guide to getting redress
You should also agree a payment schedule. Frank Shepherd, of
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Consumer Direct, says that payment by instalments is best, luxury
keeping back at least 30 per cent until completion. He adds that MORTGAGES
SAVE £1200 per person
credit cards are the safest method, providing free basic insurance £2250 per person
for all purchases between £100 and £30,000.
Once you have selected a tradesman, it is important to ask for a
written contract. This should be jargon-free and spell out what he Ramblers worldwide
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will do and when. It should also give a fixed price. The Federation
For the latest news and in- Over 200 totally amazing
of Master Builders (FMB) offers free templates at worldwide guided walking
Findabuilder.co.uk. If a job is expensive - £10,000-plus, say - it holidays
may be worth asking a solicitor to check the document. Small groups, singles
After the work has started, it is important to monitor progress -
looking over small jobs immediately after completion and checking THE GUIDES
bigger projects daily, if possible.
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Mr Playle also suggests hiring a surveyor to make occasional Toronto City Breaks
checks on big projects. He can advise on a builder's claims that from £539 per person!
unforeseen extra work is necessary. Such incidental costs are a
hazard of maintenance work, too, but should not affect small jobs Improve your credit
where the tradesman could be expected to assess the situation in How to get a better score from Travel insurance
advance. “The price you are quoted should be the price you pay,” the reference agencies Great travel insurance
he says. deals online
Under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 a tradesman
must act with “reasonable care and skill”, in a “reasonable time”
and at a “reasonable cost ”. If the terms of your contract are broken Search for more
or the tradesman fails to meet the Act's requirements, it is crucial holidays
to move fast.
Mr Playle says: “Give him seven days to fix it, then phone Worried about credit card
Consumer Direct [on 0845 4040506]. An adviser will go through fraud? Visit the Credit Clinic Search Ad Reference:
your options and, as a last resort, explain the civil court process.” for advice
When a tradesman causes an emergency problem - a leak, for
example - there is no need to give him a week to fix it. “Call in
anyone and ask the original tradesman to reimburse you,” Mr
Playle says. “If he won't, call Consumer Direct.”
If the tradesman is a member of an assured trader scheme or
trade body, remember to contact this, too, as it may have
procedures to help. If you are advised to go to court, claims up to
£5,000 are handled on the “small claims track”. These can be
registered at Moneyclaim.gov.uk and handled without a solicitor.
Most claimants must pay a fee of up to £120, which should be
refunded if you win. Successful claimants are also awarded the
money to make things right, plus limited compensation in some
cases. However, there is a small risk that you will not be paid if
the other party is bankrupt or “unable to pay”.
Consumer Direct redirects the most serious complaints to trading
standards, which will investigate and may prosecute on your
behalf. Mr Shepherd says: “Trading standards also monitors our
records to spot patterns of bad behaviour. That is why it is worth
reporting all bad practice, even if you do not intend to take legal
A helping hand at your fingertips
A number of websites can help consumers to find local tradesmen,
but the usual homework - comparing quotes, checking references
and so on - still applies.
Anyone can send their requirements to Quotatis.co.uk, for
example, to receive up to five free quotes from the site's “vetted”
tradesmen. But note in the small print: “Although the Quotatis UK
database has been compiled in good faith, all data appearing
thereon has been provided by third parties and the contractors
themselves and Quotatis UK can accept no liability for the
inaccuracy of any such data”.
Further, users cannot tell before completing a request form
whether it lists traders in their area.
An alternative, RatedPeople.com, which makes no claims to “vet”
listed tradesmen, provides up to three quotes after the initial
request. To help others, users are asked to rate any contractors
they take on.
Listings sites, such as Gumtree.com, are more likely to produce
numerous matches in your area. Again, be aware that advertisers
are not vetted.
The Federation of Master Builders' website, at Findabuilder.co.uk,
lists its members and is packed with advice on finding a reliable
operator. It has links to useful sites such as
PlanningPortal.gov.uk, which explains building regulations -
something to look into before commissioning building work.
Case Study: Once bitten, twice shy
Georgie Upton, of West London, was stung last year when she
and her husband failed to take basic precautions before hiring a
local builder to fit a new kitchen. “Someone told us he was good,
but we didn't check references. Our big mistake was to not ask for
a written contract. We ended up paying about £500 more than the
verbal quote because of extras he had not warned us about. Also,
the job dragged on for three months.”
When the 31-year-old marketing manager wanted a plumber to
connect a new bathroom suite this year, she took no chances.
She obtained five quotes - one from a plumber recommended by
friends, one from a local plumbing shop and three from
advertisements on Gumtree.com. “I checked references, got a
written contract and paid £200 for a good, quick job,” she says.