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  • Writer's pictureGavin Human

'Cowboy' Builder complaints rising – tips on not being caught out.

Homeowner complaints about cowboy builders are increasing, meaning you need to be savvy when deciding who should conduct building work at your homes. How big is the problem and what can you do to avoid being taken in by rogue traders?


The rising complaints

Homeowner complaints about cowboy builders rose by 31% between 2020 and 2021, while they’re on track to maintain a similar level this year, analysis of Citizens Advice Bureau complaints show. A total of 43,359 people in England were scammed by Cowboy Builders in 2021 and made an official complaint, while it Is estimated that the number will exceed 42,000 this year.


The South East of England is hit hardest by rogue traders, with 2,298 complaints made in 2022 to date. The region also had the most complaints in 2019 (5,786) and 2020 (5,387), with most complaints to date in 2022 relating to window frames and doors (367).Conversely, the North-East of England appears to have the most trustworthy tradespeople, as only 749 complaints have been logged so far in 2022. In fact, the North-East has had the lowest number of complaints made to the Citizens Advice Bureau every year since 2019. The North-West had the highest number of complaints made in 2021, with 6,787.


Start off on the right foot

When looking for a tradesperson you should check them out on Companies House to make sure they are actually a legitimate business in the first instance. If you can, speak to previous clients they have worked with or look for independent reviews.

Once you've decided on someone, enforce a watertight contract on when payments should be made, this will prevent any overpayments before work has been completed, and also warn off those less scrupulous builders who are keen to start and get money, but less keen to finish. It is vital to have a full contract in place stipulating a breakdown of payment schedules with which the customer is 100% happy. I recommend doing this even if you know the builder or it is someone that a friend or family has recommended to you.

Every customer should be looking to leave enough money aside so that they would be able finish the project with another tradesperson should their original option leave the job unexpectedly. If there is a breakdown of communication between the homeowner and the tradesperson, then the crucial factor is how much money has been paid by the homeowner


Gavin’s tips on how to avoid being ripped off by a rogue trader.

So, what are the signs that a homeowner should be looking out for?


The quoted price is suspiciously cheap:

It makes sense to secure quotes from numerous tradespeople before starting a job, but price shouldn’t be the only consideration. If the cheapest quote is hundreds or even thousands of pounds lower than the average and sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It could mean they are a cowboy builder or could not be experienced enough to give accurate figures.


They won’t put anything in writing:

If a tradesperson if unwilling to commit to putting a quote in writing, or to write up a contract, then alarm bells should be ringing.


They say they are in a trade association when they are not:

A crucial step is to check if the builder does belong to the trade association. If they don’t, it means they’re untrustworthy and might even be committing a criminal offence.


Asks for money up front:

This is perhaps the most important step. A trustworthy builder won’t ask you to do this and should have enough money as a business to cover materials. Money should only be released according to an agreed schedule upon each completed stage of a job. Do not pay large sums before work has been completed.


Not willing to offer references:

Tradespeople should be open and honest about their previous work.


Too keen to start the job straight away: A common tactic of cowboy builders is to work extensively in one area before leaving without a trace.


There are plenty of trustworthy and quality local builders available so it pays to take the time to properly research and prepare before taking someone on - it could save you a lot of money in the long run and the distress and inconvenience of botched or uncompleted work.


If you're unsure and would like some independent advice, don't hesitate to get in touch via my contact page.


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