Home improvements top list of consumer gripes

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The Independent Online

For years homeowners have told anyone within earshot that hiring tradesmen is one of life's greatest hassles.

Now the Government has come up with proof that the public really is annoyed by the antics of builders, plumbers and electricians.

One of its bodies has drawn up a list of the things we complain about most - and work on the home is at the top of the list.

During the first eight months of this year, the national telephone helpline Consumer Direct, whose 350 staff advise the public of their rights on everything from shoes to holiday, received 42,035 calls about home improvements and maintenance.

Of those, 9,914 calls were about general building work, the top gripe. More than 7,000 people complained about fitted kitchens, while plumbers, heating engineers, roofers and electricians garnered a further 12,000 complaints.

Of the 453,352 calls received at the service's 11 regional centres, 37,351 concerned second-hand cars, suggesting that the days of the shady car dealer are not dead. People felt that problems developed too quickly after they bought second-hand cars or that the mileage had been tampered with.

Telecoms accounted for the third biggest source of complaints, most related to mobile phone contracts.

Consumer Direct call centre manager Michele Shambrook said that most problems dealt with by the service concerned expensive goods and services like building work and televisions. "Some members of the public are completely calm," she said. "They want to ring us up to know their rights before they approach the trader.

"There are other people who are absolutely distraught. There may be safety issues: a young mum driving a second-hand car and the brakes have failed while the children are in the car. People can be very upset and they can be very angry - not at us but because they are unable to resolve the problem."

In some cases conmen had charged vulnerable householders thousands of pounds for building work that was either shoddy or not necessary.

But Ms Shambrook disclosed that many related just to ordinary disputes with builders. "When we are talking about home improvement the problems are generally about building work - everything from putting up a fence in a garden to building an extension," she said.

"Fitted kitchens are really expensive these days. People complain that either the work was not done properly, for example the worktops haven't been fitted properly or the cooker wasn't working, or there are incomplete items - a couple of drawers or handles are missing. It leaves people very frustrated."

The Federation of Master Builders said that the "vast majority" of builders were reputable and suggested that the public should put more effort into preparation.

Ian Davis, its director general, said: "Our own research earlier this year found that 6 per cent of customers fell out with their builder or tradesman.

"The research also found that people spend more time planning a holiday than they do planning a major building project. The vast majority of problems stemmed from poor communication and misunderstandings between builder and customer."

Consumer Direct can be contacted on 08454 04 05 06 or online at www.consumerdirect.gov.uk

Top 20 complaints

* Home maintenance/improvements. Complaints: 42,035

* Second-hand cars 37,351

* Telecoms 33,556

* Furniture 30,789

* Audio-visual 23,613

* Large dom. apps 18,018

* PCs 16,051

* Car repairs 15,033

* Clothing 14,564

* Food and drink 11,877

* Betting/draws 11,214

* Glazing 11,027

* Other personal goods/services 9,614

* Holidays 9,357

* Professional services 9,084

* New cars 8,438

* Sports/hobbies 6,654

* Gardening 6,428

* Internet 6,204

* Small dom. apps 6,072

SOURCE: Complaints to consumer direct, 1 January 31 August 2006

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