Good morning Mr Savery! We’re setting up a directory of reputable tradespeople / local firms / preferred suppliers / small businesses / trusted reviews.... you can list your company for an annual fee of £xxx !”

Err... thanks.... but no.

I dislike these calls interrupting my day. There are many such services offering to add me to their list of “reputable local businesses” ...for a price. They play on public fears that anyone not on their list is likely to appear very soon on BBC TV’s Rogue Traders, and they play on businesses fears of missing out on something the competition is using successfully to take customers from under their noses.

Personally I don’t believe any of these directory services are worthwhile. If you’re after some work around the home, here are my ten top tips for taking on the tradespeople...


1. Use a legitimate company.
If you’re in the market for a new driveway, seek out quotes and references from several established firms rather than using the guy who’s just knocked on your door with a bucket of tarmac in his hand. A reputable firm will list a landline contact number, company registration number and a registered office address, while fly-by-night operatives will more likely work from a mobile phone and an unbranded white van. Personally I’d seek out local firms rather than national because a business located close by may be more keen to be seen getting a job well done on their own doorstep than their faceless national corporate counterparts. Smaller firms can also provide more personalised service than the call centres used by some of the really big boys.

To verify if a company is legitimate and solvent, look up their name or company registration number on the Companies House database.

 

2. You (should) get what you pay for. If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Anyone seriously undercutting the average quotes you’ve received from legitimate companies is cutting corners. Keeping a job ‘unofficial’ is one way for the cowboys to reduce costs, but a lot of work requires certification, so if you have work done without receiving the covering paperwork you may find yourself in bother later on should issues arise or if you want to sell/rent your property. Also, when comparing quotes, ensure the costs are based on like-for-like work. The price isn’t everything and it can often make sense to go for a more expensive quote because the company behind it inspires more confidence that the finished result will be to the standard you expect. Don’t be afraid to allow gut instinct to rule over cold numbers! If someone is inexpensive but doesn’t inspire confidence then play it safe.

 

3. Check for trade scheme accreditation. Reputable companies will be members of trade schemes. Such schemes offer assurance of industry compliance by their members and provide an additional layer of complaint management and insurance. Member companies will have been assessed for competence and audited on their own complaints handling procedure, insurance, policies and procedures. That said, just because a company claims to be a member of a scheme you shouldn’t just take their word for it. Contact the scheme operator to check. As an example, I am a member of NICEIC's Approved Contractor scheme. You can verify that by looking me up on the NICEIC website:

http://www.niceic.com

Alternatively you can look-up who is a member of the competent persons register and which scheme they’re registered with by visiting this website:

http://www.competentperson.co.uk/

Anyone claiming to be a member of such a scheme who doesn’t appear on the scheme website should be treated with suspicion as their membership may have lapsed or they may be making fraudulent claims to inspire misplaced confidence. You should contact the scheme operator to report them if you come across them.

 

4. Beware of online directory/comparison sites. Directory services offering ‘reputable tradespeople’ do no such thing. They’ll accept payment from any Tom, Dick n' Harry who wants to join, or by anyone their sales people can convince to sign up. They don’t necessarily vet members although they may require positive reviews to be submitted by customers. The trouble with that is anyone can write a fake review, and a disreputable firm can soon post lots of bogus reviews about itself. All the directory services companies are really interested in is making money for themselves through subscriptions and advertising. They offer no protection should you be ripped off and make no guarantees about the companies they advertise. Your protection, other than your statutory rights, comes through using a proper registered company which belongs to a trade scheme as stated in the previous point. [Read more]

aballs
Above: a typical text message I received from a 'reputable tradespeople' site within days of writing this article dressed up to look like an offer of work. There are no checks on their part; they just want to sign me up on a rolling 6 month contract in return for chucking any leads my way that they happen to hear about. It's a straightforward middle-man operation with no added protection for the customers and no guarantees of any actual calls coming in for the tradesperson. In this case, although they've got my contact details they clearly haven't checked my website too hard or they would have found this article. Yet, for a fee I can be branded by them as 'reputable' and advertised as such to the public. Fortunately I can let my reputation and accreditation speak for itself without putting up my prices for their 'assistance!'

 

5. Manage your money. If the bloke doing the roof has suddenly asked you for a few thousand extra pounds up front, don’t blindly fork it over just on his say so. Before work commences, get a written quotation or at least an estimate. A quotation is best as that can be considered a fixed price for the job. If you agree to the quotation then you’re in a deal with the tradesperson to pay the agreed amount for an agreed piece of work. If there are unknown factors likely to be involved in the work such as not knowing what’s under a floor until breaking it up, then the tradesperson may offer an estimate. The final price may vary up or down from this estimate but you should still seek a ‘worst-case’ ballpark figure before work commences to avoid any shocks later on. You should remain in communication with the tradesperson throughout the job so that you’re aware of whether they are running to schedule or into problems. Should the work uncover unrelated issues not included as part of the quote/estimate such as finding unexpected damp or structural problems, this may be outside the scope of the original works and have to be rectified as a separate job at further cost, but you should ensure corrective work is priced fairly and agreement is reached over the price before work commences. Also beware of people asking for cash payments or payment up front. Large jobs may well require a payment for materials or first-fix work, but payment should be made to a company bank account rather than in cash, and be properly receipted at the time. If you have already handed over a large amount of cash and demands start coming in for more before work can proceed, stop and investigate. There’s no sense throwing good money after bad in the hope the work will be completed. If you are being robbed, forking out more cash to a confidence trickster won’t solve the problem. If you believe you are being fleeced, contact Trading Standards or the police.

 

6. We’re not all crooks! Tradespeople have a largely undeserved bad reputation. Programmes such as Watchdog, Bad Britain, Cowboy Builders and Rogue Traders make interesting viewing, but over the course of a series they report on extreme cases involving a handful of companies nation-wide. Tellingly, they also come across the same people time and again who, when caught out, simply change their company name and continue as before. Remember there are thousands of tradespeople performing thousands of jobs on any given day across the UK, and most are completed to the customer’s satisfaction. If there is a dispute upon completion of works, a reputable firm will try to sort it out before it is escalated to the likes of a trade scheme, Trading Standards or the media. Although there are undoubtedly bad people out there, we shouldn’t all be tarnished with the same brush!

 

7. Be a model customer! There is such thing as a bad customer - one who agrees on the scope of works and the quoted price only to move the goalposts after work commences or argues about the pre-agreed price when work is completed. If you accept the quote and the work is performed on time, on budget and as specified then make sure you pay up quickly. If you decide to vary the scope of works then there may be financial or timescale implications to accommodate the changes. Many tradespeople are one-man-bands trying to earn an honest living who can’t afford to lose time and materials on a bad customer that never had any intention of coughing-up on completion. Taking someone through debt recovery or the small claims court is also a drain on time and not much fun for anyone besides a solicitor. Many local tradespeople talk to each other so if you get yourself a reputation as an awkward customer you may find it becomes more difficult to hire good people for future work thus opening yourself up to potentially falling victim to the cowboys. Reputable tradespeople and reputable customers want the same thing: a decent job for a fair price. If you have a good reputation with, say, your builder, he’ll be able to help you find other firms he knows to be 'on the level' should you need to find a good plumber, roofer etc.

 

8. Be security conscious. Work around your home may take place when you’re not there. Don’t hand over your keys or alarm code unless you’re sure you’re dealing with a reputable company. It’s not unreasonable to ask to see covering paperwork such their public liability insurance certificate, trade scheme membership and company registration certificate before letting them loose around your home, especially if they’re to be unsupervised.

 

9. Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to find out more about what’s happening and why. A good tradesperson will be able to explain about the work without bamboozling you with jargon. Maintaining an interest will help you keep an eye on whether the work is proceeding as expected. Work around the home may involve interruptions to services such as water, gas, electricity and phone/broadband connections so keep in contact to avoid surprises. If you're not happy with how the job is progressing, explain your concerns calmly and early on before things progress to a point where it's got out of hand.

 

10. Spread the word! It’s human nature that people are quick to complain but slow to praise. If you’ve had good service from a particular tradesperson then tell your friends and family. Keep a list of the companies that have worked well for you in the past and call on them again in the future. I know a good builder, mechanic, carpenter, gas man and plumber, and I use them personally for any work requiring such skills. I know they’re not the cheapest in town, but they work on time, on budget, to a high standard and don’t charge for anything unnecessary. Because of this they deserve my repeat business and my recommendation to friends and family. Beware of online reviews and review sites. Bad reviews may be fakes written by the competition to badmouth their rivals while good reviews may be self promotional pieces penned by disreputable companies about themselves. Word of mouth recommendations are best and are bread and butter for honest tradespeople. Where such recommendations are not forthcoming, don’t be afraid to shop around for yourself. Most tradespeople will happily provide you with a free no-obligation estimate/quotation. As stated before, price isn’t everything. Engage with the tradesperson who is quoting you for the work to gauge their confidence and enthusiasm for your job.