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Do you trust your local traders?

Solar panel installer

Our raft of home improvement shows would suggest that Britons are obsessed with DIY. Yet, many of us are more comfortable watching it on the box than attempting to fix our own leaks and creaks.

For those of us not blessed with the requisite skill (or patience) – and I include myself for that category – it can seem much easier to enlist the services of a professional when looking to decorate or solve a problem. But, not all of us have a plumber on speed dial.

Word-of-mouth recommendations are always a good place to start if you know friends or family locally who have had work done recently, but where can you go if expertise isn’t always available for all the services you might need?

The Which? Consumer insight tracker has continually highlighted a disparity between how happy people are with the choice of traders in their area and how confident they feel in actually selecting one to do the job properly.

Vetting and approving trades people

The figures change slightly month-by-month, but the trend has remained broadly similar over the past few months – three-fifths of consumers think there is a good choice of trade services, roughly half believe in their ability to choose one, but under a third expect them to ‘act in their best interests’. In other words, we have no qualms about finding a mobile number for the local electrician, but two-thirds of us have doubts about whether we will be ripped off or not.

This is a damning statistic and is one of the reasons Which? has launched a pilot endorsement scheme (available in London and surrounding counties at this stage) for traders to try and bring confidence back to an area where it is sorely lacking.

Which? Trusted Traders aims to reassure consumers when they are trying to enlist the services of a trader and has upsides for the traders themselves, not least the opportunity to be professionally vetted and approved by an organisation such as Which?.

How do you find traders you can trust?

More than 100 firms have been endorsed in this pilot stage to date – after successfully completing a rigorous, independent assessment process – and with hundreds more entering the application process, we hope to soon be the first port of call when you’re searching for a trader in your area. In many ways the endorsement scheme will build on the success of our popular Which? Local service and bring it to a wider audience.

We’re interested to hear your stories about finding a trader, so let us know what you usually do when you have work that needs doing. Do you know any tradespeople you’ll be recommending to Which?.


After a disasterous experience with a so-called local “handyman” who came round demanding more money than had been agreed and when I refused, emptied the contents of my skip onto the driveway, I decided to use a Check-a-trade registered supplier when I need a heavy mirror to be hung. The company I rang was [trader removed] who sent round a very young individual who proceeded to draw heavy pencil lines across a newly decorated wall, then hung the mirror off-centre so when it was re-positioned, left a rawlplug in view to the side of the mirror.
After endless e-mails to the business owner, and having to get 3 independent quotes for him, he agreed to pay for the wall to be re-papered ONLY if I signed a legal disclaimer telling me to withdraw all comments on the Check-a-Trade site and prohibiting me from making any comments on any media about his company! I refused and so he has not paid.

[Hi Deb, we’ve slightly edited your comment to remove the named trader as we can’t currently verify your experience. Sorry, mods.]

Tell him you are taking the matter to Court and that you’ve been assured by a local Solicitor(name one) who says that you will easily win the case and that Mr Handyman will not only have to pay the cost of re-wallpapering by another reputable ‘Painter & Decorator’ but also the Court Costs and for your costs, so his liability will be much more. This is not a joke because you will win. So go ahead and do this and if he still refuses what you require then your next trip is to The Solicitors.
No Good Luck . . but Period.

So it looks as if Deb has got him to accede to her request. That’s a good income for both parties.

Sorry . . miss-type . . a good “outcome” was meant.

I use something called Free Index (http://www.freeindex.co.uk). I post my job, get a few quotes from people, check them out and pick which one i like the best.

I have just checked my account and the first job I posted on there was for “Plumber required in Leeds”. I have also posted asking for “Joiner / Handyman required in Leeds” “Man With A Van required in Leeds” “Gas Engineer required in Leeds” “Dog taxi / Pet taxi needed in Leeds” “Glazier Wanted In Leeds” and just last week I posted “Guttering Installer required in Leeds”

I love how you can fully check them out, look at other work they have done and get 3-5 quotes all at once. Perfect for me.

When you are only likely to use a trader once – new boiler, double glazing, gutters etc – you need personal recommendations to have the best chance of a successful outcome. Which Local is good in principle, except that few traders get more than one or two recommendations, often out of date. If only members could be persuaded to put a good trader forward as a routine. The pity is you cannot put forward poor traders presumably, in case you get sued, but this would be just as helpful.
Some local authorites have trader assessment schemes.
It is a shame that someone does not combine schemes to get a better assessment of traders.
I wish Which luck with its new scheme and hope it proves successful. Will you integrate this with the relevant services from Which Local so the appropriate ones could be endorsed?

Stephen McCluskey, MD, Which? Local & Which? Trusted Traders says:
28 November 2013

Hi Malcolm,

Thank you for your comments. You are right Which? Local is good and much appreciated by our members. Many members do leave reviews but they can be out date as you say. Indeed, many traders have been put on Which? Local without reviews.

So, it’s sometimes difficult to know how reputable a trader is. It is partly for this reason that we are piloting Which? Trusted Traders. All endorsed traders on this scheme have been intensely vetted so that consumers can have more confidence in the trader they select.

Of course it might seem like a good idea to blacklist poor traders publicly but we can’t do that (and for good legal reasons). However, we do turn traders down, suspend them and ultimately take them off the programme. I want consumers to know that the traders on Which? Trusted Traders are carefully vetted and monitored.

Of course there are similarities between the Which? Local and Which? Trusted Traders. We are looking to ensure that the best of both is available in the coming year. Rgds, Stephen.

Around seven years ago I asked the local Trading Standards Office if they had a list of traders/firms they had taken action against. Essentially the answer was they did not keep a record for public consumption and if I wished for that detail I would need to attend the relevant courts where judgements were delivered.

A highly unsatisfactory system and of course cases that are settled pre-court are not available. I would imagine that that FoI may raise some information, or possibly some TSO’s are more forthcoming. Regrettably the cuts in TSO staffing are not helping.

NOW there is a problem. There are litigious or just plain cantankerous people who have unreasonable expectations and an antipathy to reasonableness who can make a traders life hell.
Using the threats of legal action or a blacklist on the basis it is an easy threat to make a trader miserable or pay-up. I speak only as an employer of tradespeople, some of who are now friends.

The flipside , which is a bit more difficult, is normal people who have little or no understanding of what a good job is. Very likely to recommend the helpful tradesman who fixes the roof but does a not realise it was a minimal job which they have overpaid. This I fear is the more likely danger in a recommendation scheme.

Just for the record over the last 20 years I have had, a combi system, a hot air furnace[ life span 40 years plus] three kitchens, five bathrooms, re-modelled twice, one very large extension. Two boiler guys, three builders, three plasterers, five electricians, two painters.

There is a local bathroom firm who I think are rubbish and the planner was not very good at all, and the fitters poor. Also a local carpet shop and their fitters. The carpet was very good value but the recommended fitters not so good.

I will be interested to see how Which? pull this off. My version would be to use Which? members as there is an inhibition to trashing a traders reputation falsely and could also mean listing length of membership would provide an idea on giving a weight to contributors views. Essentially a member for a year trashing an otherwise well rated trader might give pause for thought.

Having a Register open to the public without a method of checking they are genuine complaints or trolling is a concern. In the US the Consumer Report body looked at the reports on four trading recommendation registers – they chose a trader in SF and found rating from 1 to 4 on the same trader. Helpful or not!

Would Which? be making any charges for the service?

My experience with most traders has been good, but I only attribute that to luck. Although I did get a plumber round for a new stop c**k, I then discovered a soaking carpet 2 days later because he had loosened a bad bad pipe linkage. Not entirely his fault, but as a DIY’er I would have spotted and prevented this.

Sometimes I think people are too critical of traders and can complain about very minor things which would take hours to remedy and then the same people would complain of high prices.

As a general rule I avoid all check sites. Sorry but this includes the Which local traders scheme.
I have had many quotes done by the recommended companies and they are always at least 2x more expensive and sometimes more. Being on check website is an excuse to triple your prices.
Most of these site also tend to give you the choice of a trader with 9.9/10 or 10/10 all lower reviews are removed using various legal or evasive techniques.
I have seen a couple of trader forums which explain quite well the techniques companies use to ensure they are given high check site ratings.

In fairness most traders I use do point out that it tend to be companies on check sites and therefore are larger and VAT registered. The individual trader can automatically be a lot cheaper for many jobs.

If I have a good trader round I always try to get other phone numbers off them for friends they may know.
Finally, I would say that for little jobs around the house I am keen to do the work myself. For a fraction of the cost I can buy the best components as labour is normally the most expensive part of any job. Also for simple low tech jobs I can do a better job, Not because I am more skilled but because I can take a lot more care and take 2 weeks to do a job which takes a tradesman 2 hours.

joeanum says:
19 July 2014

Trusting local tradesmen should be done case by case basis. While there are some tradesmen who are honest and can provide the best possible service needed by customer, there are a lot of rogue tradesmen who are just only after the cash from customers and nothing else. [This comment has been edited to align with the Which? Conversation guidelines]

N Khan says:
9 November 2016

I’ve used a plumber from your website and the problem wasn’t resolved. Very disappointed. What recourse do we have?