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Don’t get caught out by a rogue plumber or builder: How to find the best people to work on your home
Don’t get caught out by a rogue plumber or builder: How to find the best people to work on your home
The winter months are always the least convenient time for your boiler to break down or pipes to burst – which is probably why the worst household catastrophes tend to happen just then.
To the same extent, building work horror stories also tend to crop up during the chilliest months.Tales such as a rogue builder disappearing off half way through a job, leaving homeowners with half a wall or no window panes in cold weather.
The need to get things done quickly means there are countless tales of cowboy traders taking advantage of desperate households more likely to rush decisions to get a job done mid-winter. Here’s how to avoid getting caught out.
Get recommendations from friends or family
It’s also worth asking industry contacts. For example, if you’re looking for a reliable plumber and you’ve had a good experience with another professional, such as a roofer or an electrician, try asking them for a recommendation. Make sure you let the plumber know who referred you and they might even give you a discount.
When friends and family can’t recommend anyone, it’s hard to know where to look – closing your eyes and stabbing a finger in local business directories to find a firm is not recommended.
The Local Authority Assured Trader Scheme Network (LAATSN) links together some of the schemes run by 18 local authority trading standards services. LAATSN requires businesses to comply with all trading standards legislation and civil law obligations, to refrain from high-pressure selling, to have an effective complaints procedure and a strong emphasis on customer service.
Approved trader scheme
TrustMark is a not-for-profit government-backed scheme.
On the website you simply put in your postcode and say what sort of trader you want. The database is then searched within 50 miles of your postcode and comes up with a list of trader contacts in order of those closest to you.
It is a quality mark which operates a framework under which 30 plus scheme operators work in the repair, maintenance and improvement sector, including trade associations, local government trading standards teams, and independent scheme operators.
These schemes are approved to carry the TrustMark logo and recruit reputable and trustworthy tradesmen whose technical skills, quality of work and financial status have all been checked.
This enables the TrustMark scheme operators to promote improved sector standards, and tackle related issues such as better enforcement. All of these scheme operators are audited annually by TrustMark, to ensure processes, standards and complaint procedures are being maintained.
A TrustMark logo means:
- A firm’s technical skills have been independently checked through regular on-site inspections, as well as checks on their trading record and financial status;
- Firms have signed up to a code of practice that includes insurance, good health and safety practices and customer care;
- The approved scheme operator has checked and will continue to monitor the firm’s quality of work, trading practices and customer satisfaction.
TrustMark checks can never guarantee a firm will not hit financial difficulties – which is why it insists all registered firms offer you the opportunity to buy a warranty, which should offer better protection if the firm should go out of business.
The online recommendation services
Online recommendation hubs can be a bit hit or miss, but they can be a better option than just picking out a trader at random.
It works on a similar basis to word of mouth recommendations – in theory, traders are all judged and rated based on previous jobs.
This can prove highly valuable in hunting down a good tradesman, and the more reviews on a site the better it tends to be – similar to how ratings systems on well used sites like eBay and TripAdvisor work.
But remember that businesses pay to be listed on the trader sites – so they are essentially the customer.
There has been much debate, and even complaints, by users over whether this means that sites are more likely to pander to businesses, for example by removing negative reviews, although this is firmly denied by the sites themselves.
It’s also not unheard of for tradesmen to list their own jobs under a pseudonym and then ‘rate’ themselves positively, or ask friends and family to post a good review.
Nevertheless, many people using online recommendations have had positive experiences.
RatedPeople is one of the UK’s largest trade referral services.
You simply post your location and a clear description of the job you want doing on the website, and up to three ‘recommended traders’ who subscribe to the service then contact you to quote on the work. You can read up about the traders online and make a decision based on what other customers have said about them.
After the job is complete, you go back and rate the trader on the work they have done.
But Trustmark’s Stuart Carter points out: ‘With this kind of option, the commercial organisation usually send a message out to a number of traders in the area of the postcode before picking a few. They charge each firm that’s picked, which have to pay even if they do not get the job. The problem with that is that often people will post a job just to get an idea of price and then go down to their local trader. So the churn is considerable on these find-a-job websites.’
Trustatrader.com is another recommendation-based directory where consumers can do a postcode search to locate a list of traders in their local area – not just builders but also retailers, car sales and garage services.
Before contacting traders on the list, consumers can access feedback left by previous customers, plus online images of previous work carried out. Trustatrader also claims that it checks out and monitors traders who join the service to see that they ‘have a minimum of two year’s experience in their field and are members of the relevant trade association’.
mybuilder.com is another site that seems to have lots of positive experiences from users.
While useful for checking customer views of traders you may be considering, be aware that recommendation sites do not give the same assurances as government-backed sites, and unlike Trustmark they don’t take any responsibility for the quality of the work.
TrustMark’s Mr Carter adds: ‘They’re commercial sites and although they say checks have been made, they rudimentary checks and don’t carry out onsite inspection or require a specific standard, instead they bring them into their services by charging fee.’
How to make sure you get the best work
It may seem excessive, but it is always worth thoroughly investigating a trader before deciding whether he or she is right for the job – which can be as simple as asking the right questions. Even if your problem is urgent, the right research will only take an hour or so, and it will be worth it in the long run.
Tick off the below to ensure you have covered yourself as best you can:
- Be specific and set out a detailed, clear brief when requesting quotes. Get more than one and, ideally, at least three quotes, but make sure you are comparing apples with apples. Some companies strip their jobs back to the absolute minimum so they can come in at the lowest price, but the work won’t last the longest possible time. Ask the company that is more expensive why their price is at that level, so you can determine if there is a difference.
- Remember, finding a trader who gives pricing for small jobs over the phone isn’t necessarily a good sign – although it might be. Some plumbers prefer to provide quotes once they’ve seen the job so they get it 100 per cent right.
- Check to make sure that they have the correct licences. The most basic rule is to be sure that they’re licensed and carry full insurance that protects your property. There is no central database to check which licenses apply to which trade, as many trade professions don’t have a set of regulations.If you do want to check yourself, according to Carter, electricians must be Part P approved by one of the electrical bodies such as NICEIC, NAPIT, or ECA. A mandatory requirement for those carrying out boiler servicing is to be on the Gas Safe register. Other trade professions such as landscaping, roofing, building don’t have to abide by a set of standards, although they must have health and safely certifications.The fact that licensing is such a mixed bag across the trades is one of the major reasons for picking your trader via TrustMark, which carries out regular site inspections on all their traders using qualified professionals.
- Get two or more references and read online reviews. You can even ask to see some of the work they have done. Read a trader’s Facebook page and twitter feed to see how they are interacting with other customers.
- Ask how long the trader has been in business for. At the very least, this tells you they shouldn’t disappear on you. Theoretically, good companies should last, while rogue businesses disappear, although of course this isn’t always the case.
- Does the trader offer a guarantee, for example money back? Traders with great belief in their performance standards put their money where their mouth is.
- Use established firms – make sure they have an office address and landline phone number. Be wary of firms only willing to give you a mobile number.
Once you’ve decided on your trader
- Ask for a detailed, written quotation with start and finish times and agreed payment terms.
Always use a written contract – it offers you protection if anything does go wrong.
- Only pay for work that has been done and not by advance payments. Where materials need to be bought in advance, it’s reasonable for the trader to ask you to pay a fair percentage of these costs as the job progresses.
- If doing extensive work, set a penalty clause – say, £500 a week – should the work run over.
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