cowboy builder

A Checklist To Avoid Hiring A Rogue Trader

How to effectively avoid rogue tradesmen and choose a competent professional charging a fair price. Using online resources and ensuring contracts are in place.

How to effectively ensure you choose a trustworthy contractor

Perhaps the biggest concern when engaging tradesmen such as plumbers, electricians and especially builders is choosing one you can trust to undertake the work competently at a fair price.

Many television programmes have been made exposing the sometimes-appalling standards of work householders have been subject to, and consumer websites and magazines are littered with horror stories of shoddy workmanship by ‘cowboy’ contractors. Fortunately, some basic diligence can go a long way towards ensuring you choose a reputable professional for whatever work you require.

Personal recommendation

If someone you know can recommend a tradesman they’ve used, this is one of the biggest reassurances of all that you’ll be using someone you can trust.

After all, if someone you know is prepared to recommend a tradesman then it’s a very positive sign they’re likely to provide you with a good service. That said, ensure they’re suitable for your particular project; for example, if your friend recommends a builder who built their extension but you want a loft conversion, check they could comfortably handle this.

Online research

Basic online research takes minutes and could pay dividends. At the very least, conduct a basic Google search to check the tradesman has a proper address, and preferably a landline phone along with a mobile number.

Along with this, if you type their name with the word ‘complaints’ it’s possible adverse comments from previous customers would be revealed if there have been any previous problems.

Online resources make it easier to not only search for a suitable tradesman, but learn more about their reputation and even how they interact with you.

Whereas once you’d have to rely on the ‘Yellow Pages’ and hope for the best, now you can use specialist online resources to easily search for a local tradesman, learn more about them, read customer testimonials, and even have them provide a quote for the work you’d like doing.


Can the tradesman provide references from satisfied customers? If they’re proud of their reputation they’ll be only too pleased to demonstrate this with evidence from their customers. They may even offer you some before you ask.

Check credentials

It’s obviously vital to ensure your tradesman is fully certified and qualified, but amazingly many people don’t check properly. Figures collated during 2013 and 2014 by the Ombudsman Services found well over half of people who complained about rogue traders hadn’t checked their credentials first.

There are various professional bodies relating to certain trades, and certain accreditations such as the Gas Safe register for plumbers; if you require your gas boiler or other gas appliance worked on then the plumber must by law be Gas Safe registered.

For builders, the FMB (Federation of Master Builders) is a respected organisation so it’s a reassuring sign if your prospective builder is a member.

Talk to more than one tradesman

In the case of a major project such as building an extension or installing a new central heating system, it’s important to compare two or three potential tradesmen.

Obviously, price is a factor, but also compare how they handle your enquiry and communicate with you. Are they professional and courteous and keen to reassure you as to their trustworthiness and ability to do a good job?

Follow your instinct and don’t be rushed into making a hasty decision. If they try and harass you into booking them by giving you scare stories about “something about to go wrong unless XYZ is fixed” then look elsewhere.

Don’t ever be tempted to engage the services of a contractor on the spot if you’re cold canvased on your doorstep, even if you happen to be considering having the same work done they’re offering you.

Quotations and pricing

Establish fully what the price includes and when variables may be charged for.

A common ruse from rogue traders is to inflate the price, so be clear that they’re providing a quotation and NOT merely an ‘estimate’ for the work. An estimate is just that, and no guarantee the figures quoted will bear any reality to the final price.

If a tradesman insists on ‘just an estimate’ consider this a red flag; no reputable tradespeople behave in this way especially when larger sums are involved. So long as you provide them with a detailed brief, plans, and a chance for them to come and inspect the potential job there’s no reason why they shouldn’t provide a full quotation.

The insistence of over-large up front payments of any type should be treated with suspicion. A certain sum to cover the advance purchase of specifics such as certain materials required to start work may be acceptable, but be concerned if any advance payment would exceed around 20% of the overall cost.


It’s a sad fact that companies go out of business and tradesmen cease trading, so seek reassurance for larger projects that guarantees exist so any defects found subsequently would be remedied.


For larger projects insist on a contract so you and your tradesman fully understand what is being done, the materials to be used, the time scale for work to be undertaken, and the cost of the work. This should include what is and also what IS NOT included in the final price.

Your builder may provide their own contract; check it thoroughly and be happy you agree to everything in it before agreeing to it. If your builder isn’t keen to put anything in writing this is a very bad sign.

Here’s some information of how a proper contract can help you.

Take your time

Avoiding a rogue trader is certainly possible particularly with the array of online search facilities now available, but the key is to take your time and not skimp on any of the above steps.

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