Jack of all trades, master of … some

Word of mouth and personal recommendations can be better than website and trade listings.

According to The Federation for Master Builders (FMB) the most common complaints against their traders included poor-quality work and a lack of professionalism. And almost two million British homeowners say a trader has disappeared after they have been paid, without completing the work. So how can you ensure you don’t fall victim to shoddy workmanship?

You might think that looking for a tradesperson through a well-known website directory would mean you were in safe hands, but that’s not true, as some of these websites are no more than commercial directories featuring paid-for-listings. Some websites list contractors based on previous customer ratings and reviews, which also can’t be relied on for authenticity as it’s easy for a builder or plumber to ask his friends and family to leave reviews of non-existent jobs.

My husband I hired a tiler last year who left halfway through the job having made a complete mess of our kitchen floor – the tiles were uneven, he’d cut several tiles wrongly so they had to be thrown out and he didn’t respond to my somewhat furious calls after I’d gone in once he’d left to look at his work.

I found him on TrustedTraders.com - when I complained, the company refused to admit responsibility saying he’d been ‘checked out’ before including his details on their site. Being a journalist I went hell for leather at them and eventually spoke to the MD who refunded me the cost of the tiles the guys had laid and the ones he’d ruined, plus the cost of having to get another tiler to remove them.

Lesson learned – don’t rely solely on a website to find a tradesman (especially not that one), rely on references or better still, word of mouth and references. So what else can you do to ensure you get a decent tradesperson?

Get at least three quotes from different tradespeople with a fixed price for the job, and clarify the position on VAT.

Ask the tradesperson to show you his insurance policy, and if he is supplying materials, quiz him on warranty and guarantees of his work as well as whatever he’s buying.

Draw up a written contract to get an agreement on cost and factor in timescale, materials and clearing up – is the cost of skip hire included, for example.

Never, ever pay in full upfront. Agree payment terms – will it be on completion of the job, or on a week-by-week basis? Do not pay cash – you will have no comeback if something goes wrong and you don’t have a proper invoice for the work.

If you do want to start by looking for a trader on a website, then Checkatrade puts tradespeople through a comprehensive vetting process, where each member is interviewed and a strict background check carried out.

They verify every member’s identity and contact five former customers to get feedback. They have also partnered with nine local council Trading Standards partners to ensure the vetting system is executed to the highest possible standards, and members must pass the background checks and promise to uphold the Checkatrade Standard.

Finally, go with your gut instincts – if something doesn’t quite feel right, go with someone else.


Juliette Wills,

Journalist. Broadcaster. Author.

Sign up for news from Wigwam Swindon: Here