Builder lifts lid on how to avoid getting ripped off by rogue traders

Cost of living scams: Expert reveals what to look out for

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Graham Nash, 51, has operated his building firm for decades, during which time he has helped more than 350 people who have been scammed by cowboy tradespeople. The director of Pinnacle Builders, based in Morley, Leeds, told he has noticed a rise since COVID-19 of professionals siphoning money from homeowners by delaying jobs and getting money up front, often without written contracts. Many people Mr Nash has talked to have lost thousands of pounds as a result.

There was a 31 per cent rise in complaints about cowboy builders to the Citizens Advice Bureau between 2020 and 2021.

Mr Nash, who has been director of the company for 35 years since creating it as a teenager, told “Builders are starting to take advantage of these extra bits of work which they added as they went along, because a contract wasn’t created. They are creaming it in and that is not right.

“I am a guy with a conscience and I am a good builder, and I just feel sorry for these people who are getting ripped off frankly. I don’t rip people off and I have morals.

“It has been particularly bad since Covid.”

Mr Nash, from Leeds, has advised homeowners to remain safe when engaging with a new tradesperson.

To do so, he has suggested several tips.

Avoid overpaying before work has been completed

The builder said homeowners should enforce a watertight contract on when payments should be made, and to hold back enough money to prepare for the worst.

He said: “Every customer should be looking to leave enough money aside that they would be able finish the project with another tradesperson should their original option leave the job unexpectedly. If there is a breakdown of communication between the homeowner and the tradesperson, then the crucial factor is how much money has been paid by the homeowner. 

“It is common for Cowboy Builders to disappear when they have been paid a large sum of cash before completing the job.”

Research the tradesperson fully before engaging them

The quickest way to avoid a cowboy builder is to avoid ever speaking to them in the first place, and there are warning signs to look out for. 

Mr Nash says: “It is important to vet tradespeople as thoroughly as you can before you have engaged them in the first place. Methods of doing this include checking the tradesperson out on Companies House, and by speaking to previous clients that they have done work for.”

Other tactics that a homeowner can utilise include checking the social media presence of a tradesperson (if they have one) and seeing what the comments on their posts say. Streams of negative comments can serve as a red flag that something might not be right. 

Have a full contract in place 

An informal arrangement between the homeowner and the tradesperson is inadequate protection from the risk posed by cowboy builders. 

Homeowners should look to have a watertight contract in place before work starts, paying particular attention to the payment schedule. 

Mr Nash said: “It is vital to have a full contract in place stipulating a breakdown of payment schedules with which the customer is 100% happy. Building work should not commence until a detailed and fully agreed schedule is in place.”

If something still doesn’t feel right, stop the job immediately 

Even when taking the correct steps, some jobs can still go wrong. Mr Nash advises that when a homeowner has taken the correct steps but still feels unhappy with how the work is progressing, it makes sense to address the situation as quickly as possible. 

The builder said: “The first time that it is flagged that something is wrong, and you aren’t happy with how the job is going, stop it there and then. It is important to address the situation as quickly as possible to avoid a conflict later on which could result in you losing thousands of pounds.” 

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