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Which? Trusted Traders: how we’re helping to improve standards

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Whether it’s an emergency or a planned home improvement, you’ll want to hire someone trustworthy. But if you’re up against the clock or starting from scratch, who do you turn to?

That’s where Which? Trusted Traders comes in handy. But like Ant and Dec, Laurel and Hardy, Morecambe and Wise, a double act never go out of fashion. Well we recently announced a pioneering partnership with Hertfordshire County Council.

Partner up to provide peace of mind

This partnership aims to provide people with the reassurance of knowing the helping hand they turn to has been thoroughly assessed and checked.

The success of the partnership is borne out of the two partners creating something bigger than themselves. Which? Trusted Traders is a free-to-use service that helps everyone, not just our members, find local, endorsed traders. And trading standards professionals assess and interview each trader face to face, and not all businesses that apply are endorsed.

We need to harness the power of partnerships in the trading standards arena to maintain and improve standards. It gives hardworking businesses the recognition that they deserve and provides reassurance to consumers. Anyone looking for a trader or seeking information about home improvements and motoring repairs can search the profiles of endorsed traders on the Which? Trusted Traders website.

Finding a local trader

So how do you decide which tradesperson to use? Would you find a scheme like this useful for helping you with your home improvements?

Comments
Member

Having been recently looking for tradespeople, I was looking at a company’s portfolio and thought the photos looked rather good…. almost too good.

So I did a reverse image search and found the same pictures all over the internet even the world as the same person appeared to do the same job in Australia for a different company!!!

I fully support any initiative to improve trust in tradespeople. I did check Which? Trusted Traders, but 1 review is not a lot to go on.

Member

I’m glad you support the Which? Trusted Traders initiative. Your experience goes to show how valuable an endorsement scheme can be. Before we endorse any trader, we do speak to a random sample of their previous customers to check their experiences. We also encourage traders to get as many reviews on the site as possible. However the onus is on the individual trader to do this and some traders are happy to simply be endorsed and do not use the website to collect reviews, in which case, they may not have many reviews.

Member

I think Which? Trusted Traders is a good service in principle but it hasn’t yet got anywhere enough firms in the scheme. I have just repeated an exercise I did recently to find an electrician and a boiler servicing firm. First the postcode was not recognised even though it’s been in use for over four years now, then the nearest electrician was 37 miles away and the nearest boiler maintenance company was 18 miles away. There are plenty of good electricians and boiler maintenance firms in the local area but clearly they see no particular advantage in joining WTT – perhaps the entry requirements are a turn-off or maybe there is enough business available without getting involved in such a scheme. There are several other trader-finding websites one of which I have used successfully to find a good tiler.

I am intrigued to know how Hertfordshire Trading Standards will be able to carry out face-to-face interviews with firms all over the country. I would have appreciated a link to the announcement of the new partnership mentioned in the second para of the Intro.

Member

Which? Trusted Traders is a growing scheme with new traders coming on board all of the time. If there are any traders in your area that you think should be on our scheme don’t forget to recommend them using our recommend a Trader scheme http://whi.ch/1x21kps to help grow our scheme and give you peace of mind when using the traders in the future.

Trading standards professionals are used for all of our Which? Trusted Traders assessments, and do cover the whole country for us. In Hertfordshire we undertake an extra check with Hertfordshire Trading Standards and a DBS check. The Which? Trusted Traders website will be updated with more information on this partnership in the coming weeks.

Member

Thanks for the clarification, David.

I tend to favour sole traders on personal recommendation and I doubt if they would wish to pay the fees and do the paperwork required to join WTT. Most of them have got an order book many months long. Another point that might disqualify them is that usually they will only do emergency call-outs for established clients.

Member

The Which? Trusted Traders scheme provides consumers with a choice of trustworthy traders, and it gives those businesses recognition. Some use our scheme for leads, some for the endorsement. For traders who are well established an endorsement from Which? may not mean as much, but for others being able to show their customers, regardless of work load that they have been endorsed by Which? is worth every penny.

Traders can use their website profile to let consumers know the kind of work they do. If they didn’t do emergency call-outs they could explain that, we certainly wouldn’t disqualify them.

Member

John, this is a local scheme only. It doesn’t say anything about how much Trading Standards are involved in the selection of traders. The Which? scheme charges traders for inclusion – an application fee of £60 then from £480 a year upwards. This might put small businesses off, or those who have an established reputation and don’t need to pay to be publicised. Frankly, the latter are the businesses I would rather be recommended to so this scheme may well be limited in its usefulness. Part of the application requires customer references, so who selects these – a random choice from all recent jobs? Since you can join when you’ve only been going 6 months such references might be a little sparse.

“Find a trustworthy trader
Hertfordshire Trading Standards knows how important it is to use a good trader but also how hard it is to find one. Therefore in 2016 we partnered with Which? Trusted Traders to help local people find trustworthy traders and give hard working traders the recognition they deserve.

How to find a business
The Which? Trusted Traders and Hertfordshire Trading Standards scheme provides a list of businesses including electricians, plumbers, builders, handymen and many more that have passed an assessment before they became endorsed by the scheme. Only if all the requirements are met, will a business be able to join as an endorsed trader and the business will be monitored and reassessed every year.

We cannot promise that an endorsed trader’s work will be perfect every time, but you can expect any problems to be dealt with fairly by the business. Plus any business who fails to comply with the code of conduct can be suspended or removed and if something does go wrong, consumers also have the reassurance of an independent Alternative Dispute Resolution service.

Once a business is accepted onto the scheme they will feature on the Which? Trusted trader website and the list is available by following the following link – http://trustedtraders.which.co.uk

Member

I am much obliged Malcolm. There was no indication in the Intro that this partnership was limited to Hertfordshire. Which? Trusted Traders covers the whole country so i am still at a loss to know how the face-to-face interviews are done everywhere else . Perhaps other trading standards departments do the same as Hertfordshire. I noticed on the WTT site that the involvement of Trading Standards in the evaluation process was stressed although both sides seem to be coy about what this actually involves. Norfolk County Council has had a Trusted Trader scheme for over seven years; it seems to be based heavily on references and it has similar limitations to other such schemes but at least it has a large number of entries.

I find limited-circulation ‘district’ magazines [like Norfolk’s Village People as recently exposed in the ‘missing words’ round on TV’s Have I Got News For You] quite good for advertising the better firms in the area – no selection process is involved but I have not found a duff one yet. I tend to notice the state of their vehicles, the turn-out of the operative(s), their general approach to work so far as can be seen from the street, and if the trader is available I ask for their business card and possibly have a chat about my requirements. Good, but not intense, supervision is the key to getting satisfaction.

Member

All of our endorsed traders have been assessed by a trading standards professional before being endorsed, and our trading standards team are able to cover the whole of the UK. Business practices, County Court Judgements and customer references are just some of the things we check before a business can join Which? Trusted Traders.

We select the references at random during the assessment to ensure that we have a cross section of previous consumers. All of our traders agree to follow our code of conduct and are reassessed annually to ensure they are still meeting the required standards. Which? Trusted Traders is an endorsement scheme, designed to provide customers with reassurance.

Member

As I wrote previously, I think it is a good scheme overall and at least has good credentials which none of the other trader-finding websites have.

As a matter of interest, does Which? meet the expenses of the local authorities whose TSO’s are involved with the assessments? We so often hear that Trading Standards are under-resourced and overstretched so it would be good if they were compensated for their contribution to Which? Trusted Traders to ensure that their statutory work was not affected.

Member

@dquinton, David, it is good to have constructive responses to the questions raised. I am reassured that a selection of random customers have references examined before a trader is accepted. Can you tell me whether these references are gained directly from customers by Trusted Traders or Trading Standards, or are they provided by the trader?

You say Trading standards people cover the whole country for you. Are these County TS people?

Member

@malcomr and @johnward
Malcom and John, all of our trading standard officers are engaged by Which? but not directly employed by local authorities, we effectively contract the trading standards officers. This gives us flexibility to cover the whole country. We are the first national scheme to use trading standards officers in all of our assessments.

Our standard Which? Trusted Traders assessment includes a visit and assessment by one of our trading standards officers. This is then signed off by one of two trading standards officers employed directly by Which? in our Bristol office. As Head Assessor for Which? Trusted Traders I oversee all of this to ensure that they meet the scheme criteria. I have been a trading standards officer for 37 years, and I worked on setting up many of the local authority schemes. I put the criteria together for the Which? Trusted Traders assessment and ensure that everyone in the scheme maintains the standards.

Member

Thanks David.

I am still a bit baffled. If the TSO’s are not employed by local authorities then they are not Trading Standards Officers. They might be former local authority officers who have obtained the trading standards qualifications but that is different. If my assumption is correct the description could be held to be misleading. If they are ex-TSO’s it would better to say so.

Member

Having been responsible for using tradesman an multiple blocks of flats, and on using tradesmen when doing up my own properties I have taken an interest in finding quality tradesmen for some years.

I have done some research on this matter going back to the days of Which? Local . This still exists and in a sense competes with Which? Trusted Trader scheme but it is only for the use of Which? members.
local.which.co.uk/
Last year I found that those traders in Which? Local did not automatically appear when one searched for local traders using the Trusted Trader site – which was annoying where you knew they existed and were closer than those who paid to be included in the Which? Trusted Trader scheme. However the Trusted Trader Web site now provides a link to a list of Local Traders down the bottom of the results page which you can view if you are a member.

Last year I also spoke to the people running the Trusted Trader scheme for two Scottish cities which was illuminating on how strict they were on what Local meant. However it is no secret that Trading Standards departments are being cut and obviously departments are stretched throughout the country. Bear in mind that this WTT scheme is the same pretty much as any existing Trusted Trader scheme run by your local borough or county council. It is a useful service to make sure they have all the paperwork necessary and most importantly belong to some dispute resolution mechanism.

Most people can use carpet-cleaning firms, TV aerial installers etc as problems are easily visible but when it comes to extensions etc most people do not have a scoobydoo about the quality of work or what is required.

The article mentions home improvements and I my preference is to look at a body where the professionals checking up are people versed in the work rather than TSO’s . The Guild of Mastercraftsman body does actually require 20 jobs to be offered and ten are inspected before membership is approved. It took a friend of mine 7 months to be accepted simple because of the logistics of the necessary visits etc. He is quite entertaining on the numerous bodge jobs he sees or is asked to rectify.

Member

Thank you for your comments regarding Which? Local traders. We value our Which? members recommendations and as you have stated now include the Which? Local traders on the Which? Trusted Traders website. However, it is worth bearing in mind that the Which? Local traders haven’t gone an assessment and are not endorsed by Which? Trusted Traders.

All of our Which? Trusted Traders also have access to an independent Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service should a problem arise. One of the conditions of being an endorsed trader is having a complaints procedure in place, as we appreciate that sometimes things can go wrong. Many Which? Trusted Traders also belong to professional bodies, providing extra peace of mind to their customers.

Member

I do have a concern over the Which? Trusted Trader logo being granted to Stannah Stairlifts as they actually sell and make and provide the product. I am worried that most people will assume that the Which? logo implies that the product/price is acceptable to Which?

This is not the case
” Businesses wishing to become endorsed as a Which? Trusted trader must undergo a rigorous assessment process. This includes credit and customer reference checks, and a visit from a Which? Trusted Traders assessor. The visit includes an assessment of various aspects of the business such as administrative processes, documentation and complaints procedures.
Only traders who satisfy this assessment process are awarded Which? Trusted trader status.”

I am also concerned that whatever Stannah paid, the basic charge is £400+VAT, they are perhaps benefitting too much from what is after all is paperwork exercise.

Member

That last paragraph diesel , is that the standard Which charge to a company ? if so they are getting cheap publicity for the prestige of Which,s name have you checked out what advertising agencies charge or TV adverts ? . There should be an ascending scale on the companies worth £100,000 — several £100 million

Member

Well the chart goes to £840 a year for up to 19 staff – which apparently includes subbies. Over that many employees you contact Which? for a special price. If you are a heavy national advertiser it must be manna.

I may be hallucinating but I am sure I saw a Stannah advert saying they were the only stairlift company to achieve the honour. I thought that is a little cheeky.

Member

Well obviously Which is still not “Americanized ” the US equivalents know their own worth to the last red cent . No wonder the US website where I posted a good report of a company now wants me to do another —big bucks !

Member

Thank you for your comments, Stannah’s installation services have passed the assessment that we put them though so we have endorsed their installation services. We do ask that companies make it clear, especially where they have a successful product or retail operation, that it is their installation arm that has been endorsed. We are looking into whether an enhanced logo could make this clearer to consumers.

All businesses must pass an assessment, regardless of size, however once they have met our standards they are eligible to join and become an endorsed trader. We assess large businesses like Stannah and pricing is adjusted according to the size of the business. A larger business does pay more to be endorsed.

Member

Firstly I was not hallucinating as it is a half-page advert in the Weekend section of the Saturday Daily Telegraph. It has been in several weeks running.

“Which TT logo Peace of Mind Guaranteed

As the first national stairlift
manufacturer to have gained
the Trusted Traders badge
you can put your trust in Stannah.”

My own understanding of Stannah is not favourable or unfavourable but I do have problems with the logic that – because they are the first to sign up you can put your trust in them.

More to the point the Which? name is linked to a manufacturer and any problems with the product is going to reflect on the charity mostly known for its product testing role. And generous salaries to its top executives.

I simply think this is not a trader in the accepted terms. Exports to 40 countries ….. what charge are they paying?

Member

Try as I might I cant find anything really negative ,so far, on Stannah .Thats its a multi million £££ company there is no doubt , nor its International status in the US/Canada and elsewhere . It still seems to be owned -in house – by the family and is still based in England . No company is perfect but could you point out any negatives for me diesel ? as compared to many it doesnt seem too bad a company ,even endorsed by a Canadian medical organisation . There are many companies that Which “approve of ” , and I have criticised several on Which but this one seems “above board ” . Any comments ??

Member
dieseltaylor says:
3 June 2016

I ama great fan of the charity RICA, once part of Which?, and this is what they say and note particularly the last sentence :
” 1. Contact more than one stairlift company
Prices vary a lot, so we recommend trying at least three companies. Different manufacturers offer different ranges of stairlifts, too, so you may have to try more than one to find the lift that works best for you and your home.
It’s best to contact firms that aren’t tied to any one make of stairlift, so you’ll have a wider choice. ”

So ask yourself the question whether the Which? logo on a site might give an elderly person a misplaced belief in a superior product /price offering and they will simply plump for Stannah.

BTW I do have two contacts who have purchased a stairlift in the last 18 months and neither AFAIR bought Stannah – on cost grounds. However I will check that out.

I am actually in favour of a white list approach and I would actually be much more supportive if Which? were a silent partner in establishing it widely and on a non-profit basis. The use of the charities name/reputation I strongly believe will mislead people into believing too much of the extent of the endorsement.

For instance I have lost some respect for JCB giving its name to batteries and workboots as one doubts the quality control over time.

Member

diesel – are we talking ethics here ? its a lot to ask of an organisation that deals with consumer products as those products in some cases prove to be below par but you think ? that Which should not be so “deeply ” associated with them in case they prove to be not as kosher as they seem . It seems to me that Which is straddling two fences but it isnt an easy job in this day and age where commercialism rules there are not many organisations that could be granted Sainthood , its the “name of the game ” now . If you take my own experience most of the radical US websites I have visited in the past all have to be crowd funded as they get zero money from businesses and certainly not the US government because they show up the lies of their own country . Which needs money to survive so some comes from ,well, if not from fully endorsing a product , at least giving it an “approval rating ” many US equivalent companies do the same but what stands out is that Which is willing to shift its “approval ” after many negative posts by the public and a public clamor to condemn the product in which they contact the said company to complain and get their answer to the criticism which they relay back ,which is democratic . many in the US dont do that as they know it would lose revenue but just keep quiet on the subject . I know you are saying –its a charity so it should be the the “purest of the pure ” with highly idealist values but even churches have been highly criticised because of priests/ ministers behavior . I have more faith in the Salvation Army as it ,in practical terms does more to help the poor than many churches so Which ,not being “perfect ” in a charitable sense still does help the public even though the coat it wears might not be the colour or style you like.

Member

It is open to any other stair-lift company or installer to seek Which? Trusted Trader endorsement. I don’t see it as product approval but as an acknowledgment of satisfactory business practices that the customer can take some comfort from. To the extent that it will encourage competitors to raise their game and qualify for the endorsement it is positive and, in my opinion, not in conflict with any charitable objectives.

I feel, Diesel, that you seek to put Which? on the skewer all the time when the enemy is elsewhere.

Member

The vast majority of Which?’s income comes from its members through subscriptions. Its commercial activities seem to contribute little, or are loss-making. So Which? could do what it was originally set up to do – use members substantial subscriptions to fund its activities. It could also cooperate with European consumer organisations to share knowledge, costs and benefits without any necessity to risk an conflict of interest with the commercial or political sectors. Deiseltaylor is, in my opinion, quite fair in pointing out the difficulties in the current blurred line that exists between the charity and the business. We have seen how Age UK abused this. I do hope this will not happen with Which?

Member

I suppose I don’t see Which? Trusted Traders as a commercial operation but as an extension of its consumer service role and a legitimate activity for a charity to participate in. I also don’t see my Which? subscription as much different in essence to our subscription to the Radio Times. All charities that make money out of charging for something are at risk of blurring the lines but thankfully the scope is broad and little harm is done in the overall scheme of things.

Age UK’s actions were controversial because its trading arm was acting as a front for big commercial businesses and its client base – the elderly – were particularly susceptible. I know of no evidence that Which? is in that position.

Member

Thank you for your comments regarding the use of the Which? brand name. It is rare that we have a proper discussion !!

I fully appreciate the fact that other stair companies are able to acquire the logo. You may well consider that in fact that one of them acquiring perforce makes it a necessity for the others and this is a benefit to the community.

Neither of you has played with the idea that Which? anonymously facilitate /support a national programme that would unite all or most existing schemes. All the benefits without compromising/confusing the product testing USP [unique Selling point] of the charity

There are two interesting but minor points to this.
1. A problem that exists and has been discussed in Germany where the awards by Test.de are highly regarded is the disproportionate benefit gained by large firms versus small firms in the advertising spend field. If the charge was levied per job that would be an interesting counter.

2. We already have a legal system and it is almost that we users will pay the tradesman more so he can pay a fee for the logo and an arbitration system

Member

John, maybe not but Which? Mortgage Advisers charge a fee at the beginning of negotiations (£399-£499) and then receive commission from the lender when a mortgage is completed. (I thought Which? were against financial advisers working off commission as it might give a conflict of interest). Trusted traders brings a regular annual income of £480 or more per business depending on its size. Which? Best Buys bring in substantial income. The danger is that the wish (and incentives) to try to raise income might endanger its impartiality. As Which? is our only accessible consumer voice (CAB is now part of BEUC but I don’t see them as a substitute) I want to see its impartiality and championing of consumers retained.

As far as my subscription goes I am classed as a “member” (ordinary one in my case) and not a customer. Only members can receive Which?’s publications, unlike the freely-available Radio Times. So when i joined I was led to believe I was contributing to an organisation for members that gave them information on, in those days, in-house tested products and so on. If it operated as a “business” I’d expect it to put its regular publications on the news stands for all to buy. No – it relies on members financial support in return for privileged information; I pay for its work. Has that ethos somewhat evaporated? I’d expect constructive dialogue between Which? and its supportive members but I find sometimes a little like walking through treacle 🙁 .

Member
Member

@dieseltaylor, we spent a long time assessing Stannah’s installation business to ensure it was performing to our high standards and I was happy to approve their endorsement at the end of the process. I can’t say how much they are paying as that is confidential but I can say it is an appropriate fee.

I do have to think about the type of businesses we endorse. While Stannah may not feel like a ‘trader’ in the purest sense, it is still important to provide reassurance to consumers having work done in their house by an installer, that the installer will behave in an appropriate manner. It’s far from a given that a large brand will have great customer service and installation practices, and that is what our assessment checks and endorses for consumers.

I agree that the language you’ve described in Stannah’s advert could be confusing. We’ll contact Stannah and ask them to ensure that the endorsement doesn’t seem to be relating to their product.

Member

I agree it is a very fine line, Malcolm. I was not terribly happy with allowing products to be advertised as Best Buys and I thought that went against all the founding principles, but the world moves on. I see commercial sponsorship on BBC 4 TV programmes now. It seems there is a further, non-financial, price to be paid nowadays for the the things we like. So far, what Which? has done has not offended me deeply but that is because it is being reasonably careful with leveraging its franchise in order to enrich its overall output. I realise this is a creeping process with no defined finish line but it might not be all bad and much good could come of it.

At the end of the day the trustees are the guardians of Which?’s good name and reputation. If that becomes devalued the organisation is sunk and they know it. That to me is the chief inhibitor of wayward commercialisation. If Which? Mortgage Advisers start placing a lot of business in the wrong hands purely in pursuit of higher commission then that would be widely condemned and it would undermine the entire organisation. Perhaps I am naive, but I hope that thought is enough to keep things on the straight and narrow and enable Which? to continue to offer a model advisory service and responsible loan-finding facility for people who find the usual commercial pressures and behaviours not only unacceptable but, in many cases, impossible to negotiate. So long as Which? keeps the purpose of raising standards throughout commerce, and setting the test for proper business practices, as the paradigm I feel these extensions into new areas are justified. Most of our consumer issues will not be resolved by product testing so new directions need to be explored.

Member

Hello Malcolm, I just want to clarify that Which? Mortgage Advisers are salaried members of staff, so like you said this means advice offered is impartial. As they don’t receive commission they will only recommend a mortgage that is right for the person they’re advising. Which? Mortgage Advisers is funded through the commissions received from mortgage lenders and the small administration fee for arranging mortgages. Any profit from our commercial operations is ploughed back into funding all the work we do on behalf of consumers.

Your feedback is very much valued, it’s member feedback that drives improvements to our products and services. So I’m sorry that it feels like dialogue with us is like walking through treacle – we try our very best to reply to as many comments on convo as we can, but we do also share your views with the relevant parts of the organisation. The member forum is also a great place to discuss feedback like this.

Member

I share your optimism John with reservations. it just seems members have no influence over the way their organisation behaves and that might not be for the best.

Many of these Convos revolve around product deficiencies – glass doors on washing machines, fire risk in tumble driers, breaking screens on Sony phones, unsafe pushchairs and child car seats, poor quality domestic appliances, telephones tvs, LEDs that interfere, garden hoses, ………I could go on (you’ll be relieved I’ve stopped 🙂 ) so I think Which?’s role in product testing should be undiminished. It is, if I recall correctly, how it started and for me remains the only source of essential (and hopefully correct) information that allows me, as a consumer (literally) make a choice.

To become a social campaigner is an extension, I think, of its original activities and if it can do that without being at the expense of protecting us from dodgy products then fine.

I still maintain in consumers interests it should take an initiative and cooperate with other consumer organisations to bring us more, better reviews. I hope its commercial aspirations do not get in the way of achieving this.

Member

” Most of our consumer issues will not be resolved by product testing so new directions need to be explored.”

Sorry I thought durability was a trigger for many consumers and I am not quite clear who you think will cover this area. Any number of sites will tell you it works wonderfully when new but and almost all reviews by “owners” are generally very early in the ownership cycle.

And even now “Which?” testing of sunscreens has brought out information not included in the articles such as a 10% allergy to a common sunscreen chemical. The alternatives. And that EU sunscreens are superior to US sunscreens. Perhaps you would like to reconsider that the extent of testing is actually not that important.

However if you have other areas where Which? might usefully be active please advise.

Member

Malcolm and Diesel – I am sorry if my meaning was less than clear. I am not in favour of reducing any of the product testing at all; I agree that it is the staple around which the rest of Which?’s activities are structured. My view is, though, that there should be room in a consumer organisation of the 21st century to examine things other than consumer goods just as rigorously and to pioneer ways of developing and improving the markets for services by innovative interventions. I don’t wish to over-emphasise this as it would distort the fundamental focus which should be based on testing. One of the advantages of in-house testing is that it cultivates throughout the organisation an empirical approach to the observation and performance of articles and functions, and this culture should infuse all other forms of product or service examination. Which? must hang on to this so product testing must remain the core activity. Therefore mechanisms need to be in place, in my view, to ensure that when testing is outsourced [as is now routinely the case] the objective scientific approach to testing is still recognisable in the reports and conclusions that flow from it, and that the people who specify the research and testing are just as disciplined in their engagement to it as if they were in the laboratory or workshop themselves. Moreover, the analytical and investigative processes involved in product testing should be applied just as rigorously to the study of other consumer concerns albeit many of the deductions might be of a subjective nature.

Member

Understood, John.
Back to Trusted Traders. I wonder if ongoing assessments of registered Trusted Traders will include customer experiences provided directly from randomly selected customers and, if so, will these results be published as a score of some kind for each trader? I don’t really like the 5 star system – a % is more useful. And at what point might a trader be removed from the register?

Member

@ldeitz, Lauren thanks for a speedy reply. I’m not sure that because Which? Mortgage Lenders receives commission rather than its employees addresses the point about possible conflict of interest. Maximising the company’s income might well figure? Does commercial income not contribute to the bonus scheme for example? In the past I believe Which? has criticised financial Advisers (firms) receiving commission on the products it sells. Personally I would rather see the whole business done on a fee paying basis – the client ends up paying the commission indirectly anyway.

Sorry about the walking through treacle, but I have listed on a conversation elsewhere some of the questions I have raised over a longish period that simply required a factual response, where none had appeared. I know you and Patrick have your work cut out dealing with Convos, so no criticism there. But I do expect Which? to respond fairly promptly when facts, or expert opinion from their staff, can clear a point.

I do use the Members Forum, and emails, with mixed results. I have been fobbed off with standard-sounding replies in the past, and getting a view on a point of fact or a Which? opinion seems to take a long time. I am currently asking about the legal view on the Whirlpool fiasco, and I’ve had a long-running discussion about Which?’s campaigning on car emissions that they agreed was misleading – eventually – but have not altered appropriate text. It does seem sometimes that interested members are seen as a nuisance, rather than as entitled to reasoned responses when reasoned questions are asked.

Nil desperandum however. Keep up the good work!

Member

You are right, Malcolm – there needs to be some form of ongoing customer satisfaction appraisal because, apart from anything else, and like athletics, one would expect one of the benefits of such a scheme is that standards are continuously improving across the competitor field such that last year’s winning performance is no longer good enough. It would be interesting to know how this theory is incorporated in the process [and communicated to the participants]. There is no doubt that consumers will increasingly regard the Trusted Trader scheme as the gold standard such is the reputation of Which? and what it stands for [notwithstanding our occasional personal disaffection].

One of the criticisms of quality assurance procedures [rather than quality control] is that it is all about process and not about the quality of the goods or service supplied. Not entirely true, of course, but if a company specifies and sets out to supply a cheap and basic product using poor materials and production processes then so long as it does that consistently it is compliant [and indeed any deviation from that specification in the form of an improvement in the product or service could be regarded as a non-conformity]. We must hope that the WTT assessment method does not concentrate on company processes to the detriment of knowing what the customer experiences and feels, and another aim as the scheme matures should be to ascertain the extent to which firms are researching and developing new ways of providing a better service based on feedback as well as their own innovations.

I agree with you that percentage scores are better than stars for indicating customer satisfaction, and encourage a more thoughtful and methodical approach by customers in their reviews.

Removal from the register? – Good question!

Member

@ldeitz, Lauren – I have an email today from Which? Mortgage Advisers offering to find me the right mortgage. It says “Our adviser’s don’t get paid commission – so we only recommend a deal that’s right for you”. It does not mention that Which? Mortgage Advisers get paid a commission though. This really is a bit misleading, isn’t it? Would you like to take this up with them? I wouldn’t like to see Which? slip into some of the habits that they criticise in some other commercial operations.

I would much prefer to see the lender pay the whole cost due, both the amount for the consultation and what would be the commission from the lender. All transparent then, and you would no doubt get a slightly cheaper mortgage. And you could compare costs with companies that are only fee-charging.

Member
Sean Skelton says:
2 June 2016

Membership is far to much for small businesses . For some one man businesses the fee could be a weeks wages .

Which ? Involving trading standards is a step forward .

However they should consult with Trading Standards in all areas when they receive an application from a business within the area .

Member

Sean, many thanks for your comments. It’s true that many of the traders on the scheme are one-man bands or small businesses. But feedback from existing members tells us that many of them find that being a Which? Trusted trader often increases their work, or they get a higher quality of job request coming in that offsets the cost.

We have always used trading standards professionals to assess our traders and we do pride ourselves on our assessment process. Not all applicants that apply to the scheme meet our standards.

We are happy to hear you see the partnership as a step forward and hopefully we can build on this.

Member

I am looking for someone to replace a couple of small double glazed panels. I have had a recommendation for Cloudy2Clear and it was encouraging to see the company advertising that they are now a Which? Trusted Trader in a local magazine. Looking further, I see that this is operates as a franchise system rather than as a single company with branches round the country.

Looking at the Which? Trusted Trader website I see that work is guaranteed for 10 years, whereas Cloudy2Clear shows a guarantee of 25 years on its website. Though I have had very good experience with double-glazed windows in the past, offering a guarantee of 25 years seems too good to be true, given the number of failures that occur.

Is it a good idea to recommend a company that operates a franchise system?

Edit – On searching the Which? Trusted Trader website for a local agent for Cloudy2Clear, I see the work is guaranteed for 5 years. That’s 5, 10 and 25 years, depending on where you look. Would Which? like me to send the links?

Member

We check and assess all of the businesses that apply to join our scheme, this includes franchises. Each branch is responsible for their own profile on the Which? Trusted Traders website. If you can send the links we can pick this up with the appropriate people at Cloudy2Clear.

Member

Does that mean each individual franchisee is inspected?

Member

Thanks David. I will send the links.

Cloudy2Clear has many branches around England, Scotland and Wales and I hope that that it has appropriate quality control measurements in place. The business seems to be largely replacement of failed double-glazed units so there is less to go wrong than where double-glazing companies tackle the replacement of all windows and doors in a house.

Member

There are other, possibly smaller, independent [non-franchised] firms doing window replacements and repairs, for lower prices than Cloudy2Clear. A friend had a medium-sized double glazed unit and one d/g casement panel replaced for under £125 by a local firm that advertises in local magazines.

Member

It depends how handy you are. I would find a local firm that manufactures double glazed units and have them make your replacements but refit them yourself – unless they are too large to handle.

Member

I did this once. Removing the beading without damaging the plastic is a challenge and it took all my strength to refit the beading. Definitely not the most rewarding DIY job,

Member

We had a couple of units replaced some time ago and thought the cost very reasonable. It is definitely worth doing if the frames are in good condition.

Member

@dieseltaylor We asses franchises slightly differently but we do still ensure that standards are being met. In the context of franchises, all of the businesses in the franchise are required to operate in the same way and for this reason we don’t visit every franchisee as they should all be the same. We do a main visit to the Franchisor, then depending on the size of the franchise and the way it is operating, we choose a selection of the franchisee’s to visit. In addition to this every franchisee in the operation must complete the branch questionnaire which validates that they are all operating in the same way to the standard asked of them by the Franchisor.

Member

The idea that you select ten customers and then check they truly exist , seek comments, and may request sight of a bill I think very encouraging indeed. I was taken with that answer.

Where it is a franchise operation I can see that there is a practical difficulty in that it would seem unfair to seek ten satisfied customers from across a variety of franchisees . They may all have satisfactory paperwork and systems but the happy customer approach surely is specific to that franchisee’s area.

I mention it as it would seem that a sole trader would be disadvantaged by this approach as I am guessing that 100 franchisee pay a lot less than 100 sole traders.

Member

David,
Could you please explain exactly how traders are checked and assessed? What is the process? How much of their work is inspected?

The problem I have with reviews on trusted trader type websites is knowing when they are genuine having been caught out by a roofer with glowing reviews.

Member

@alfa
The assessment process can vary depending on the industry. Typically our assessor visit an applicant’s business premises and learn about their business to ensure that they meet the requirements to becoming a Which? Trusted trader. If a trader doesn’t meet our standards they are not allowed to join the scheme. As you can imagine, not all traders make it on to the scheme. You can find a summary of the process on our website.

During the visit to their premises, the Which? Trusted Traders assessor looks at a wide range of compliance issues to ensure they are meeting consumer protection legislation and that includes the following: public and/or employers’ liability insurance documents; examples of any advertising, such as business cards, brochures or small ads; the invoice and receipts book; a list of customers for the last year; details of all subcontractors that are used; any qualifications certificates held and their work experience; and any trade association membership certificates held. In addition we run through the latest health and safety requirements and Consumer Contract Regulations and cancellation rights, the new Consumer Rights Act, licencing, waste carriage, materials supplied and a host of other things depending on what the service is that they are offering.

We then choose ten customers at random from the list of customers for the previous year and contact them for their feedback on the trader’s work. Our acceptance of the applicant on to the scheme is subject to receiving suitably positive feedback.

All endorsed traders agree to our code of conduct, and if a trader doesn’t follow the code they can be suspended or removed from the scheme. Every trader then goes through a reassessment process annually.

You also asked about reviews, all of our reviews are checked by our team of moderators, who have access to a wide range of resources to ensure that the reviews written adhere to our terms and conditions.

If a moderator is not satisfied that a review adheres to our terms and conditions, it is removed from the website until the consumer fulfils the relevant review criteria (for example validating their purchase by providing an invoice or order confirmation).

Member
Anamika says:
20 September 2016

Hi I
I am finding the same..trying to find a damp specialist in south west London and most of the companies have 1 review…

Member

Anamika this isnt as straightforward as it sounds .I have checked out many , including London SW -ie- Wandsworth/Battersea and obviously they all give themselves a good write-up . This type of business is very tricky I have seen things go wrong in even so called “good ” companies , stripping down walls to see where the damp is coming from can damage electric cable/ telephone wiring / window frames –guttering can cost if scaffold required and once you check out water damage in plaster etc costs could rise dramatically and if I recommended one and you weren’t happy with it I would look bad in others eyes . If others want to comment and recommend on this so be it, but I will stick to other types of work like engineering of most sorts in which problems have more straight forward solutions . Which, I think has recommendations on this subject , to them I will leave their wisdom on this tricky subject.

Member

Your local council’s environmental health or building control departments might have a list of satisfactory damp treatment specialists. Don’t expect them to recommend one, but at least they won’t give you details of an unsatisfactory one.

Member
patrick taylor says:
21 September 2016

i doubt know how much Anamika has read up about damp but the eyeball and commonsense can explain a lot of what may be casuing dampness. I would think 90% of damp problems are logical results of poor maintenance and can be easily identified.

Blocked gutters causing water to overflow onto the wall and seep down, rotted dowpipes where cracks/ holes in the reverse side are shedding water into the wall, bridged cavities, damp-course bridged, ground level too high allowing splashing to dampen bricks above the dpc [not overly common] will cover most causes.

The other commonly confused cause is straightforward condensation caused by lack of ventilation and a thoughtless lifestyle. This is actually very common and leads to internal moulds which are very unhealthy.
I had cases where for instance a couple would shower and rush out in the morning leaving their basement flat securely sealed against burglars – and against an exchange of air. All that hot steamy vapour had to settlles somewhere and this would occur on the coldest available surface. They not being present would not see this occurring.

A humidistat fan in the shower would have worked wonders. And an air-exchange unit would be most sensible. In fact sensible for pretty much most of the UK housing stock as we edge to hermetically sealing houses.

Member
Paul Allan says:
21 October 2016

We must be record holders!

We joined and resigned from Which Trusted Traders within a month, in protest.

Why?

Well we discovered that many of the “Checks” that Which? state they make are, at best, poorly carried out and, at worst, totally manipulated or not done. Furthermore many questions they don’t ask are really important and can leave consumers at risk.

The fact that they don’t enquire if traders are of good standing by:
a. Checking convictions, and
b. Checking various reviews for falsehoods and lies in order to mislead the public, and
c. Ensuring that they have a true and proper trading past, and
d. Checking the financial past behaviour of individuals, and
e. Whether they sub-contract their work to unchecked individuals.

[What is more is this “10 random customer checks” is not true. We were asked for a list that WE provided. (In our case they truly were randomly selected from the previous month) We then asked if they would allow us to give their details for review (ie. email addresses). Only three approved and that was the 10 checks!]

All this came to light when a “Competitor” that has been trying to leave us false reviews and who leave their own fake reviews, saw that we had joined the scheme. A couple of weeks later they were approved to the scheme.

When we asked how and provided incontrovertible independent proof WTT took 5 weeks to do precisely nothing.

Which? the charity has laudable aims but I cannot see how they can carry out the WTT as a commercial exercise as they end up putting sales/recruitment ahead of principles. In effect they become the worst of what they used to stand up against.

Finally, just for clarity, of course the vast majority of WTT members will not have reason to be doubted BUT WTT should at least not only ask the questions but check the answers are true.

MOST IMPORTANTLY they should act with urgency on information received to protect the Which? “Brand”.

Member

Interesting Paul, I would like to hear from Which members on this ,especially the last sentence . The only problem I see is the staff involved in verifying all the statements made by applying businesses , maybe its “beyond ” Which,s ability ? but I look forward to an intelligent rebuttal.

Member

Hello Paul, thanks for sharing your concerns about Which? Trusted Traders. The scheme has been running since 2013 and has proven a major benefit for traders and consumers alike. The scheme currently has around 6,500 Trusted traders registered with us (including those within our retail partnerships), who have served many thousands of customers. W?TT continues to grow, which means that even more consumers can benefit from using a local trader whose business has been fully assessed by the W?TT team – an assessment designed by a Trading Standards Officer with nearly 40 years experience.

Each assessment of an individual trader applying to join the scheme is carried out by a Trading Standards Professional and includes 30 different checks, including a random selection of customer references. If accepted to the scheme, traders must also then pass annual reassessments. We expect high standards from registered traders and so any trader who doesn’t follow the W?TT code of conduct is suspended or removed from the scheme. The robustness of this ongoing process is why W?TT is so valued by traders and consumers, and why the scheme continues to go from strength to strength.

Hopefully this will allay any concerns you have about the scheme, but if you have any specific issues that you would like us to investigate, or if you would like to report any problems then please email us at conversation.comments@which.co.uk.

Member

Thank you for taking note Lauren.

Unfortunately the “idyll” that you describe bears little or no resemblance to my experience as a trader Nor of how your WTT self-policing and remedial action works.

My situation is still unresolved a after almost seven weeks now and weekly chasers from me. The silence from the powers that be is deafening!

WTT is behaving in the same manner as those that Which? usually would bring to book.

I know absolutely that your WTT do/did not carry out the adequate checks in cases to which I am related. I really feel that the public are being terribly misled by WTT.

Quite ironically if my businesses operated on the WTT service levels I am experiencing WTT would (what I now know to be theoretically) have thrown us off the scheme. (In fact WTT would have done sweet Fanny Adams!)

I will let you know if anything changes but I won’t hold my breath.

Member

If Which? implement a commercial trusted traders scheme they should carry out all the checks they say in an independent way. The ability to do it is paramount, otherwise it would not meet its objective of giving us “trusted” traders.
@ldeitz, can’t see a link to David Quinton but perhaps he could reassure us given Paul Allan’s comments above.

Member

Thanks for flagging to me @malcolm-r, I’ve posted a reply to Paul’s comment above.

Member

All procedures with W? & W?TT have broken down now.

I have patiently waited for 3 months for them to investigate the situation and have been told that “False reviews………are not in the remit of W?TT.”

They did agree to pay back some of the money £48 they stole but not all.

Furthermore I have been accused of making “false allegations of dishonesty and misrepresentation by Which?”

I repeat that there is a wealth of written and 3rd party evidence of everything I have said.

I can only conclude that Which? and W?TT are loathe to see their commercial cash-cow questioned.

W?TT should stand for What Trusted Trader!!!!!

I never thought I would say that people were being conned by Which?

The cure has become the disease!

PS. I will let anybody see this issue and documentation who wishes.

Member

Paul-By posting your criticism of Which , Which I think, is being even handed ,open and fair ,I think that if Which recommended a TT or its company or the TT organisation , which is worldwide and you find a trader has mis-represented their abilities /performance /honesty that Which has acted in GOOD FAITH , IE- it did it with no ill intent to deceive the public. As such they cannot be held liable for a “rogue dealer” -criticised maybe, but there was no criminal intent implied .There are some that turn out to be “bad apples ” on websites over the whole of Britain and abroad , you cannot hold any organisation be it town council/regional council to legal blame because they were deceived by another. Your claim would be against the “rogue dealer ” .

Member

I’ve not said anything in this discussion thus far but you’re making some very serious allegations, Paul. From the perspective of the disinterested observer it seemed to originate as a spat between two local traders – yourself and an unnamed “Competitor” – against whom you also made allegations.

When you say “They did agree to pay back some of the money £48 they stole but not all” it’s not clear to whom you’re referring. And claiming someone ‘stole’ from you is a serious allegation, so I wonder why you don’t simply take that and any associated proof to the police? If this “wealth of written and 3rd party evidence” exists as you claim, why not simply document it all and publish it on your own blog?

Member

Exactly Ian .

Member

Certainly sounds interesting Paul. Perhaps your best course of action is to send the details to the Council of the charity Consumers’ Association which owns Which? Ltd.

I have had mixed feelings about the scheme. Recently because it has included large manufacturers who even if they do fit what they make would not fall into my category as tradesmen.

Member

Afraid that your reply is wrong as you have not seen the evidence yet.

Which? have never dealt with this matter fairly and open/even-handedly.

They have only ever paid lip service to integrity but read my other replies to others shortly coming up that will, I hope, elucidate matters.

I agree that if a TT mis-repesented as you describe then so long as they acted once they were aware of the truth then there would not be an issue now.

Sadly W?TT mis-represented the scheme and the checks they do to gain pecuniary advantage.

Who would ever have thunk it of W?!

Member

Ian my allegations are not allegations, they are clear Statement of Facts that have repeatedly been proven to W? Corporate Affairs Manager, Richard Anderson.

Anderson’s mostly partial and inadequate replies are shocking and very tardy.

I do take exception to the term “spat”. It is far from “a short argument, usually about something that is not important.” Whilst we were a W?TT this retail shop tried to leave a malicious and fake review with Trustpilot. They were caught out by them and TP have produced evidence to this effect to W?.

At the same time they tried to leave fake reviews with Trading Standards online. Contemporaneous to this they also posted fake negative reviews to us and positives to their own account on Yell.com & Google etc.

As an honest business we wrote to all bodies that we were affiliated to, including W?TT, to show that we were being maligned and there was no truth to the malicious attacks.

About a week later the business applied to become W?TT and also join our other affiliates.

As part of the checks they were turned down by all EXCEPT W?TT!!!

When we approached W?TT we were promised a vigorous checking procedure that we have to pass. We thought this was true so agreed to pay the application fee. Only when we discovered that they had allowed the “rogue” to join did we ask how.

After the “vigorous checking procedure” (VCP) how could they have passed!?

Well the answer was the VCP was about as vigorous as a raindrop is to a car wash.

W?TT allowed a convict, a liar and a cheat to join. the scheme. Ipso facto W?TT cannot be an absolutely Trusted Trader organisation.

As for the “They” and the £48 I mean W?TT not the “rogue”.

I know that many here love W? and it would be improper to accuse all W?TT of being untrustworthy. However I know absolutely that the checks carried out on us and again ipso facto the “rogue” must mean the system must be questionable if not broken.

Member

See my reply. Unfortunately people are wont to put words or interpretations into what I have said, that I have not said.

Member

I would love to know how.

I would happily, at my own expense, provide my evidence, yet again, to W? in person.

W? is too important an organisation to lose its credibilityon the back of poor management.

Sadly it seems that W? only defend themselves by bringing the shutters down and drawbridge up when some integrity would solve the problems.

Please tell me how to send the details to the Council of the charity Consumers’ Association which owns Which? Ltd.

Member

You can write to Tim Gardam, Council chairman, at Which?

Member

Publish your company name and the other “rogue ” one here and let the regulars here form an opinion, as we are quite capable of doing deep detective work into BOTH sides . Surely this is the way to go to “clear your name” as being above all reproach and condemn the “other party ” as “rogues ” , until you do we will not have all the facts placed before us .I am honest to my own determent and will say exactly like it is and I am sure other regulars here will put forward truthful points , unless of coarse , you have a “hidden motive ” in that you have already spoken to a lawyer and are about to take legal action and you don’t want to prejudice your case ?

[This comment has been edited to align with our community guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Member

My name is clear.

Only an ill informed rogue would say otherwise.

Just who are you Duncan Lucas?

Quite a ridiculous but not unsurprising reply.

Member

Thank you this will happen.

Member

I don’t think a Which? Convo is the place to debate grievances like this in detail. PaulAllan has pointed out what he regards as deficiencies in the Trusted Traders scheme and the way his complaint has been handled. To go into detail here would present a one sided case and we have no means to check the facts. It is a dispute between PaulAllan and Which? Trusted Traders and should be dealt with between them. As a Member of Which?, despite W?TT being part of “commercial” Which? and not the charity, I hope W?TT will be open in their examination of the complaints, make improvements to the scheme if necessary, and publish the outcome.

Member

None other than my name Paul Allan ,whats stopping you divulging what Ian and I asked for unless you perceive some loss thereby ?

[This comment has been edited to align with community guidelines. Thanks, mods]