/ Home & Energy

How to avoid being hit by a dodgy trader

Electrician fixing fuse box

If you want someone to build your conservatory, fix your electrics or plug a leak, it might be best to do it yourself. A recent survey puts electricians, plumbers and builders in the UK’s top 10 most distrusted professions.

Co-op’s survey may not put them in the top three – that dubious distinction goes to politicians, bankers and journalists (not Which? journalists, obviously). But it’s pretty worrying when we rely on these traders to fix our most expensive asset – our home.

A special mention also goes to estate agents (fifth place), who may well have sold us our house in the first place.

The steady stream of stories about ‘cowboy builders’ ripping off homeowners and doing bodge jobs has made many of us understandably nervous about getting someone in.

Unfortunately, if you (like me) think ‘AC/DC’ is a rock band and that a ‘socket wrench’ sounds painful, then you really have no choice. DIY just isn’t an option for me because I enjoy all 10 of my fingers.

Ways to find a decent trader

So what do we do when our trust in trades breaks down? Thankfully, one option is to turn to Which? Local. This contains listings for most tradespeople recommended by Which? members in their local area.

There are also numerous other methods to ensure your trade is trustworthy:

However, the fact remains that the cowboys are still out there roaming free and the law needs to come down hard. The government needs to put effective legislation in place to make sure that these traders can’t operate outside the law.

Or am I being too harsh? Is there already enough legislation? Are the majority of builders brilliant and just being let down by a few bad apples?

Harold Hall says:
24 September 2010

Just back from holiday and catching up on e-mail ! The first tells me of a string of local traders in whom you feel I can trust and many get 5-star ratings based upon a single review. I have no reason whatsoever to question the value or reliability of any of them but the process appears to be so devoid of reliable, objective assessment that I cannot have any faith in the assessment offered by Which? Local either ? You won’t need me to draw the parallel with dodgy claims made in tv advertisements e.g. “… 88% of women (44 women, that is!)…..” and the ease with which it would appear one can get a favourable rating from Which ? And if I cannot have faith in Which? Local then why trust Which ? ?

Hmm…the trouble with percentage ratings is that statistic can prove anything.
For example: 98% of people have more than the average numbe rof legs”

It’s true! The average number of legs a human has is 1.94 and 98% of people have 2 legs, but doesn’t it just illustrate how we can’t really rely on percentages and statistics.

However, this conversation is meant to be about traders and their reliability and I have to say that my own opinion is that the ONLY way to get a trader you can trust is personal recommendation from someone whom you have known long enough to know if their standards and expectations match up to your own, and who sill let you see a sample of the tradesman’s work.

Having seen the utter mess that my “new” neighbours have had made of what had been a very good house by using Bodgit & Scarper et al, I feel that my view is justified.

Hi Harold and Dave
You’re both right. You should take a single review from a member with a pinch of salt, and the best way to find a reliable trader is to get a personal recommendation from someone you know and trust.

But if you’re not fortunate enough to have a network of friends/family where you live then W? Local can be a great way of finding a good trader – as many many W? members have told us.
Some W? members inevitably don’t have a good experience of using a recommended trader – but when they tell us we take action and either post their negative feedback or remove the trader from the site.

We would like all W? members to add recommendations for traders they’ve used and trust. We would urge all members who use traders on the site the site to to feedback their own experiences.

If everyone did this, then pretty soon you would see several reviews for individual traders and you would be able to make a well-informed choice.

Remember that customer feedback also helps keep the good local traders in business and drive out the bad guys.

Thanks Pete – I have made a start by listing reviews and recommendations for my Plumber, Electrician, Burglar Alarm service contractor and Domestic Appliance service centre!
I have also noticed listed at least 2 plumbers that I know are rubbish, so when I have a moment I may look at their reviews and offer some comments!!!

Huw Price says:
9 October 2010

The first time I looked at Which local there was one 4 star recommendation for a tradesman I can’t give house room too, but at the same time don’t feel I want to write this one up.
When the tradesmans braised a copper pipe near the hot water tank on the top floor it sprang a small leak. I spotted the water coming from the pipe, but he declared this to be condensation. It then spread overnight down conduits in the house, ruined paintwork in the middle floor & spread down to the basement damaged a ceiling and ruined a carpet and the underlay. Cost quite a lot to get this damage restored.
Now as said I would not give him house room, but I’m loath to write this up next to his 4 star praise. The comment boxes don’t seem to be set up for adverse criticism and I’m not sure what would happen if I did criticise him and he took legal umbrage.
Whats the position please, Which Team?
all the best Huw Price

Many people may not be aware of the fact that many “tradespeople” are anything but …. having little (or no) training, experience or relevant qualifications is no obstacle to making all sorts of bold claims.

I have extensive knowledge of the electrical contracting industry and the low standards accepted by the industry with regards work in domestic property is astounding – the public seem to have no rights WHATSOEVER to know if an individual entering their property is trained, qualified and experienced, yet are expected to pay for a service in the blind hope that they are lucky enough to get a real electrician, rather than someone deemed “competent” by an organisation with a vested interest in doing so ….

Beware the “spark” at your front door – they may well have LESS knowledge than a mediocre DIY-er!

If you have any doubts – ASK your “electrician” for their qualifications etc – you may be very surprised by the response that you get.

Remember, it`s YOUR HOUSE and YOUR MONEY.

If you would prefer to employ a real electrician, ask the right questions to the person who actually CARRIES OUT THE WORK, not the person who may supervise from the other end of a phone line.

The old saying “a job is only as good as the person that carries it out” has never been more true – it`s up to you to find out what that person really is – and should they be doing it?