Are you a cowboy customer? 5 ways you may be making business tougher for tradespeople, and more expensive for all of us

As spending on home improvements soars, tradespeople admit some clients can cause problems. Lisa Salmon finds out more.

Lisa Salmon
Tuesday 03 August 2021 09:30 BST
Treat tradespeople fairly (Alamy/PA)
Treat tradespeople fairly (Alamy/PA)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


We’ve all heard about cowboy builders who do shoddy or overpriced work for unsuspecting householders. But have you ever considered that sometimes, the boot might be on the other foot and there might be cowboy customers too – and you could be one of them?

Research by Powered Now (, a mobile invoicing, quotation and admin app for tradespeople, has found that at a time when spending on home improvements has soared (their research reveals spending has increased by nearly 30% year-on-year during the pandemic) tradespeople – including builders, electricians and plumbers – are having problems with some customers that result in small, often one-man, businesses “being swindled out of vast sums”, according to the app.

Ben Dyer, founder of Powered Now, explains that ‘cowboy customers’ can damage tradespeople’s businesses by doing things like paying late, being out when tradespeople turn up to give a quote or even do work, or unfairly criticising completed work in a bid to get money knocked off the price. “We hear from tradespeople on a daily basis that they’re frustrated by the hoops they have to leap through in order to receive their fair payment,” he says.

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB; points out that during the pandemic, many tradespeople have found it difficult to buy building materials, and prices have risen because of global shortages. In addition, there are serious labour shortages because of tradespeople catching the virus, or having to self-isolate after being pinged by Test & Trace. As a result, the FMB says it’s become much harder for tradespeople to accurately prepare for and price jobs – so the last thing they need is for customers to make their job even harder with unfair criticism, late payments and other cowboy customer behaviour.

The FMB has advised its members to stay in regular communication with customers, and “be open and honest about the situation you (and the whole industry) is facing finding materials.”

“The key to a successful building project is open, two-way communication between the builder and their client,” stresses FMB chief executive Brian Berry. “Cowboy customers can lead to lost time and earnings for builders, and added stress. However, if customers are realistic about their budgets, have clear ideas about what they want, and are willing to listen to advice, the relationship should be smooth.”

Cowboy customer behaviour can include…

1. Asking for quotes you’ve no intention of taking up

While it’s wise to get a few quotes to make sure you’re going to be charged a fair price for work, some householders ask tradespeople to take the time to come to their home to quote for jobs without ever intending to use them, and Powered Now estimates more than five million householders have done this, costing UK tradespeople a total of between £776m to £1.75bn of revenue.

“While we recommend customers seek more than one quote before starting a job, be sensible about how many you ask if you’re not intending to act on them,” advises Berry. “Also, be patient; good quotes can’t be prepared overnight.”

2. Forgetting appointments

If a householder makes an appointment with a tradesperson to either come and give them a quote, or actually do the work, and then forgets and goes out, they’ll probably just apologise (hopefully) and rearrange the appointment for another time. But for the tradesperson, time is money, and that wasted time could’ve been spent doing another job. Powered Now calculates more than two million (2,496,000) Brits have forgotten about an appointment and been out when the tradesperson has arrived.

And as the backlog for many builders to start work is currently an average of three months, customers who waste tradespeople’s time by forgetting appointments are simply adding to that backlog.

That said, many homeowners may take the view that at least some tradespeople deserve a taste of their own medicine – research by Ratedpeople (, the trusted tradespeople finder, has found more than half of homeowners (53.7%) are annoyed when tradespeople don’t turn up as arranged, and over a third say tradespeople being late is one of the most irritating trade habits.

3. Unfair criticism

If work’s not done properly, you should – of course – complain to the tradesperson who’s done it. However, sometimes, complaints are made so householders can wangle some money off their bill, says Powered Now. Its research estimates over a million (1,282,000) British householders have unfairly criticised home improvement work in an unscrupulous bid to get a discount.

4. Late payment

Not only do tradespeople need to earn money to live, they need money to pay for materials they use and staff they employ, so if customers are late paying for completed work, it can cause a tradesperson major cashflow problems – particularly if it’s a hefty bill from a small business. Certainly, the Ratedpeople research found a fifth of tradespeople think late payment, or not receiving the agreed amount for the job is, at the very least, annoying.

The Powered Now research calculates 1,743,000 Brits have delayed payment to a tradesperson – not just because they’re disorganised or forgetful, but to try to negotiate a lower price.

5. Unfair reviews

Along with unfair criticism, some householders may threaten to put unfair or even untruthful reviews on review sites in a bid to secure a lower price for work. These websites do their best to investigate suspicious reviews and prevent them – but that may not stop customers from threatening to post them.

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