Consuming Issues: How to stop the builder cowboys ripping you off
Saturday 27 February 2010
Paying someone to do work around the house is notoriously tricky. Time and again, undercover footage by television shows has shown how tradesmen charge a king's ransom for shoddy work.
Assuming they don't turn up wearing a stetson, how do you check that a builder is not a cowboy? There are few national brands in home repairs or extensions, making it harder to compare reputations and, by its nature, the work tends to be infrequent, making it less likely householders will have experience of hiring a builder or acting as a project manager.
The consumer group Which? has published a guide, Hiring Builders and Professionals, with the appealing slogan: "Get the work done without getting ripped off". It gives advice on hiring tradespeople to do work around the home such as extensions, attics, electrics and plumbing. It also provides a guide to hiring less frequently used services such as antiques restorers, locksmiths and piano tuners and "professionals": accountants, estate agents, surveyors, financial advisers and many others. There are also tips on how to complain, directly and through professional bodies and ombudsmen services.
Here are some of the book's suggestions for hiring builders and other tradesmen and women. While there are no guarantees – and in any case many professionals do a perfectly good job – a little preparation should minimise your chances of poor workmanship.
After checking Which?'s local site for recommendations, ask a builder for three phone numbers of customers for whom they have carried out similar work recently. Follow up with the referees and establish whether the builder is courteous, capable and reliable. Check they are financially secure by asking for phone numbers of suppliers such as a brick manufacturer or cement firm and ask them how long they have to wait for payment. Good builders tend to have waiting lists and cannot start immediately. The same questions should be asked of them as of other trades (below): What will be the cost of the work (get this put in writing)?; is VAT included?; who will take away waste materials?; how would a complaint be dealt with?; do they have insurance for damage to your home or neighbouring properties?
CARPENTERS AND JOINERS
Joiners cut and fit joints that don't require nails, such as a chest of drawers, while carpenters are general woodworkers who build stud walls, floors and staircases and fit worktops and kitchens. It's best to get someone specialising in the type of work, such as building staircases, or who has done it frequently. Details of qualified and experienced carpenters can be found at trustmark.org.uk, which audits skills and carries out on-site inspections.
Which? favours hiring professional fencers, rather than doing the job yourself, because professionals will advise on the best style of fence and remove and dispose of the old one. An online directory of accredited companies is kept by the the Fencing Contractors Association at fencingcontractors.org. Ask how long the new fence will last and whether a guarantee is given.
Anyone working on a boiler or a gas cooker must legally be registered. Corgi is the old registration scheme; Gas Safe is the new one (enter a postcode search into gassaferegister.co.uk). Ask what a contractor's hourly rate is before calling them out. Be wary of anyone charging more for the first hour. If not an emergency, obtain references and several quotes for the job.
"Sparkies" should have a Part B qualification to carry out most jobs and you can ask for proof of this. Check if they are bringing along assistants who may push up the bill. The electrician is responsible for any work carried out by subcontractors.
Aside from acting on personal recommendation, householders can check a scheme that purports to list high-quality decorators. Painters and decorators must have been trading for at least a year and have three references checked before they can join the Painting and Decorating Association (paintinganddecoratingassociation.co.uk). Bear in mind that plastering is a separate trade and decorators are probably not the right people to do plastering, unless they have specific training. Some plasterers have worked only on new buildings, so check they can repair old plaster if required.
Again, it's better to hire a trained roofer than ask a builder to do the job. A list of registered roofers is kept by the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (nfrc.co.uk). A guarantee should be given.
Heroes & Villians
HERO: Ben & Jerry's
The middle of Fairtrade Fortnight and hats off to Ben & Jerry's. The Vermont-based ice-cream maker will convert all its ingredients to Fairtrade in Europe by the end of next year and in North America by the end of 2013 (with the exception of sugar). Given the scale of the business, this is no mean feat. Supplies that pay a higher price to farmers will have to be bought for 58 flavours in 26 countries – 121 different chunks and swirls, including sugar, cocoa, banana, coffee, vanilla, almonds, walnuts, pineapple, macadamia nuts and peppermint. Jerry Greenfield, above, who put the Jerry into the company and who is a bit touchy about it losing its halo under its corporate owner Unilever, said: "Fairtrade is about making sure people get their fair share of the pie. The whole concept of Fairtrade goes to the heart of our values and sense of right and wrong. Nobody wants to buy something that was made by exploiting somebody else." And on that, he's more right than wrong.
BT is the only leading provider to offer 'renewable' phone deals, where once the initial tie-in ends a contract is automatically renewed for the same period unless the customer cancels in advance. Having received complaints about BT's contracts, the consumer group Which? called BT 10 times posing as customers. Three in 10 BT sales reps didn't say the contract was renewable until researchers finally prompted them. Peter Vicary-Smith, chief executive of Which?, said: "We think BT is pulling a fast one."
Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown
It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959
Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas
- 1 iPhone 6 review: bigger, thinner, faster, brighter - Apple proves you can make the best better
- 2 Sports Direct security guard allegedly banned Jewish schoolboys and told them: 'No Jews, no Jews'
- 3 Pakistani passenger power forces two politicians off plane
- 4 Say yes to 'no-poo': It's been three years since I stopped washing my hair
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'
iJobs Money & Business
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000 first year: SThree: The SThree group i...
£20 - 24k (Uncapped Commission - £35k Year 1 OTE): Guru Careers: We are seekin...
Day In a Page
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village
A secluded seven-bedroom detached house with large private garden, £490,000
A three-bedroom cottage overlooking Sarratt village green with open fires and solid oak floors
A three-bedroom maisonette flat in a Grade I-listed, Georgian townhouse in a sought-after location
A one-bedroom apartment located within a private gated development, north of Turnham Green
Look forward to a brighter future at two-bedroom Sunny Cottages, ideal for Londoners looking to downsize
A three-bedroom red-brick cottage with outbuildings and pretty gardens, £200,000
This three-bedroom flat within a former textile factory spans the corner of the fourth floor and has a balcony