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Avoiding cowboy builders & rogue traders

How to avoid cowboy builders & rogue traders

I don’t know about you, but it seems these days you cannot switch on the television or open up a newspaper without seeing or reading more scare stories about cowboy tradespeople. In truth, the vast majority of tradespeople are reliable and good at their job; a very small minority let the assorted trades down and this small minority grab all the headlines. So how do you avoid a cowboy?

Weeding out the rogue tradespeople

Cold callers

You know the line…..’I was just passing your property and noticed your roof/driveway/windows etc. needs urgent work doing and it just so happens I have a spare couple of hours today’. No reputable tradesman would have the time to go around looking for faults to rectify and they certainly would not be able to fit you in on the same day!

Don’t pay cash to avoid VAT

Try and avoid paying cash for any work done, if it is unavoidable and you have to pay cash, then get a receipt. Be wary of any VAT registered traders who offer a discount for cash; at the end of the day, HMRC can come after both parties if they discover VAT has been avoided. If possible, pay by Credit Card as you can normally get a bit of extra protection in the event of something going wrong, though a lot of tradesmen will be unable to to take card payments, it is always worth asking! If a company is VAT registered, then they should also be able to provide you with their VAT number, in fact, it is a legal requirement for them to do so. Being VAT registered is also a sign that the business is bona fide, though again many smaller craftsmen may not be registered as their turnover may not require them to register.

Trade Qualifications

Ask to see relevant certificates as proof of trade qualifications. All tradesmen should all have relevant qualifications, from the older City and Guilds to the newer NVQ, and will not hesitate to show their certificates if asked. Don’t confuse these qualifications with the shorter ‘skills’ type qualifications. Certain trades should also have extra certification if working on gas or electrics.


Ask a trusted friend or relative for recommendations if they have had work done recently, this also gives you chance to go and have a look at what the tradesman’s work is like. If you yourself have had work done recently and feel you’ve witnessed a top craftsman at work, then be sure to tell your friends and relatives what a good job he/she has done!

Shop around and get quotes

Don’t go for the first price you get, shop around and compare. If one price is dearer than another, then make sure you are comparing like for like, the dearer quote may be offering better materials, for instance. Ideally, get two or more quotes, preferably in writing, so you know exactly what you are getting.


Check that any tradesmen working in your property have public liability insurance; this covers the tradesmen/company for any injuries they may cause to any person (other than who they employ) or property damage.

Get in touch

Maybe you’ve found a tradesmen from a phonebook or from the internet. Are their full contact details (not just a mobile phone number) available? Try contacting them; if it’s hard to obtain a quote from them, then how hard will it be to contact them if something goes wrong on a job they have done for you?

Do your research

The Internet is a great tool and it’s surprising how you can use it to research any potential trades. If somebody claims to be the country’s biggest manufacturer of a certain product, or biggest supplier of a product, find their address and use Google maps – if it shows the address as a middle of a suburban housing estate, then their claims may not be all they seem!

Got a problem with a Tradesman?

If you’ve had a Tradesman in and you’re not happy with the work or think something is wrong then your first point of call should be the Tradesperson themselves. Give them chance to have a look and rectify any problems if needed, after all things can go wrong for even the best Tradespeople but they should be able to sort the problem out for you. If you’ve contacted them already and they are not interested or fob you and you think you’ve become a victim of a rogue trader or cowboy builders then check out the following links that may help.

Useful links if you have a problem

Trading Standards
Consumer Direct
Citizens Advice Bureau

If you think we’ve missed anything or would like to comment, then please use the box below.

For quality workmanship by time-served Joiners

2 thoughts on “Avoiding cowboy builders & rogue traders

  1. Simon says:

    Rip-off tradesmen are on the increase, so I decided to put a website that allows users to see who is ripping people off in there area. Users can create reviews when they think they have been scammed, the website is if you have been ripped off then let others know, bust the rouge traders!

    1. Jon says:

      I wouldn’t say they are on the increase to be honest, just the bad element of tradesmen get all the press (and rightly so that they get the bad press they deserve!) but it leaves rest of the tradespeople tarred with the same brush. As I mention in the post above, the cowboys are just a very small minority.
      If you’ve had some great work done by a tradesperson that recommend him/her to everyone you know!

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