Good builders are coming out of the woodwork

A trade association is launching an initiative to sort the crews you can trust from the bodge-job merchants. Melanie Bien reports
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The Independent Online

Any homeowner who's renovated their property or added an extension will appreciate the potential for conflict with builders.

Many householders live in fear of encountering a disreputable firm that charges the earth, runs months behind schedule and finally lets you down with shoddy workmanship. And with Trading Standards receiving some 100,000 complaints from the public each year about builders, there is a strong chance you could end up with the construction crew from hell.

There are some good, reliable builders out there; it's finding one that is the problem. As a result, a number of schemes are being introduced to make life easier.

The best way of finding a reliable builder is still through word of mouth: if your neighbours, friends or relatives have had a good experience, the chances are you will too. But not everyone is fortunate enough to have a personal recommendation, and taking your chances with the Yellow Pages may be the only option available to you.

With this in mind, the UK Trades Confederation, a trade association, has launched a contract for consumers. This legal document is designed to ensure that a builder does the work he says he is going to do and by the deadline agreed. Drawn up by the Joint Contracts Tribunal, an independent body, the JCT Building Contract confirms the arrangements for the work to be done: price, payment terms, working hours, insurance, guarantees and how any disputes will be resolved.

"The time has come to ensure that bodge-job tradesmen are no longer allowed to operate within the industry," says Derek Vaughan, managing director of the UK Trades Confederation. "They are giving reputable builders and trades- people a bad name, while causing the consumer heartache and financial misery, as well as generating mistrust." He adds that if a tradesman isn't keen to enter into such a contract, this should ring alarm bells and you should look elsewhere.

Alternatively, look for builders who belong to the new government-backed Quality Mark scheme, currently available in Birmingham, Leeds, Somerset, East Kent, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Oxfordshire, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire and Derbyshire. The scheme is due to be rolled out in the North-west shortly and the rest of the country in the next few years.

Builders and tradespeople who have earned a Quality Mark must be fully qualified and insured, and should provide a written contract and quote. The contract should state the work agreed: the price, including VAT; start and finish dates; and payment arrangements (you may agree to pay in stages). It should also include a copy of the Quality Mark warranty.

Contractors are regularly inspected and their work automatically guaranteed for up to six years against loss of deposit, poor workmanship or major defects - all comforting to the consumer.

If you are unhappy with the work done by the builder, you can register your complaint on the Quality Mark hotline, where it should be dealt with quickly. Householders are advised to contact the hotline before hiring any tradesperson who claims to have a Quality Mark, just to make sure this is the case.

If the Quality Mark is not yet available in your area, ensure you get a formal written quote from the builder or tradesperson covering all the work that needs doing, before taking one on. Seek out three quotes, rather than just employing the first builder who comes along.

Chat to the builder and ask for his advice; it helps if you can build up a rapport. If you can't communicate with a tradesperson at this stage, you may experience real difficulty later on.

Before the builder starts the job, check with your local council whether you need planning permission.

Contact: UK Trades Confederation, www.uktc.org or 0800 018 4442. A copy of the JCT Building Contract is available for £8.50 plus VAT from the website. Quality Mark hotline: 0845 300 8040 or www.qualitymark.org.uk

Put the job on firm foundations

* Get personal recommendations from friends and neighbours.

* Check that tradespeople are insured by asking them to produce public liability documents.

* Get quotes from three builders.

* Obtain references from other people who have had work done.

* Don't be hurried into a decision. If the builder won't take time to discuss the work, go elsewhere.

* Get details of the job in writing, along with a price and a schedule for the work.

Source: UK Trades Confederation

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