How to spot a rogue trader

How to Spot a Rogue Trader

Rogue traders thrive because the majority of homeowners do little to no research when choosing a tradesperson.

Facebook's free advertising capabilities make it an easy task for rogue traders to promote themselves as a reputable outfit, often using photographs of other people work, fake testimonials & feedback and whatever else they can do to convince potential customers that they are the real deal. It's up to you to dig deeper into the background of any individual or business you may be considering.

If you do not check your trader's credentials, you could be inviting a rogue trader into your home.

If you have concerns about a trader, here are some tell-tale signs that they may not be all they seem....

Cold calling

Established and respected tradespeople do not need to go door-to-door touting for business. While some doorstep callers could well be legitimate, our advice is to never buy anything on the spot. Take their card, do some research and get a second and even third opinion from reputable tradespeople before engaging their services.

Cold calling is a typical rogue trader trick. Many cowboys will turn up on your doorstep uninvited. Tactics include saying they noticed faults on your property while working in the area, claiming they have excess building materials they need to get rid of at a low price, or claiming they are from the council.

Many rogue traders will use the opportunity of a face-to-face meeting to put pressure on you to have work done. Reports of traders starting unsolicited work on a property and then expecting the homeowner to pay are common.

If a cold caller tries to threaten you or pressure you, call the police immediately.

Very cheap service offerings

Rogue traders will attempt to lure you in by offering supremely cheap rates. It could also be the mark of an inexperienced or amateur trader, who doesn't know how services should be priced. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. This is why it is important to do your research to determine the usual price range for the job. We recommend getting at least three quotes from traders so you can be sure their prices are appropriate.

Unwilling to provide a written quote

Legitimate traders are happy to provide written quotes for work. Rogue traders are unwilling to put costs in writing because they do not want to commit to anything, usually because they do not intend to do what they have promised.

Many homeowners do not realise there is a difference between quotes and estimates. A quote is an offer to do the work for a set amount and once agreed, that offer must be adhered to. An estimate is a trader's best guess at how much a job will cost. Some rogue traders will only offer estimates. While there may be legal recourse if the estimate turns out to be unrealistic, the safest thing to do is to get an actual fixed quote in writing before you commit to having work done.

Can't provide references

Most reputable traders will have a string of good references that they would be happy to share with a prospective client. You wouldn't apply for a job without references to support your application; if a trader is not able to supply you with a single positive recommendation from a former client, this should be a major cause of concern.

Overly keen to start the job

Rogue traders are often keen to start a job quickly because they are already planning on moving to a new area, or are concerned about the authorities catching up with them. Reputable traders will work with you to find a time that is mutually convenient. Be cautious if a trader tries to pressure you to agree to work ASAP.

Will not provide any contact or business information

A reputable business will have a landline and a registered business address. Many will also have a website or some form of online presence. If a tradesperson is reluctant to share details about their company, it could be because they are not a legitimate tradesperson. A trader might also be reluctant to share details because their reputation is so poor. For both of these reasons, it is important you obtain as much information as you can from a trader about their business. If in doubt, ask to visit their premises and request proof of credentials and qualifications.

Lies about credentials

When a trader is a member of a trade association, it gives a homeowner peace of mind that they can expect a certain standard of service. Some credentials are mandatory. For example, traders that work with gas appliances must be members of the Gas Safe Register.

Many homeowners assume a trader is legitimate because they say they are part of an accreditation scheme, or use a trade association logo on their business cards. Membership is easy to forge but it is also easy to check. Most trade associations have websites that allow you to search for and check members. Ask your trader for proof of membership of trade associations. If they can't provide it, they are probably a cowboy.

Does not charge VAT

While some small traders may not need to pay VAT, many rogue traders will not charge VAT because they are operating illegally and therefore don't pay it. This is against the law.

Only accepts cash or demands full payment upfront

If a trader only accepts cash, they could be trying to evade tax. Many rogue traders will ask for a full payment upfront, making it easy for them to leave without finishing the job and leaving you with little negotiating power if the work is poor. Avoid this by ensuring your contract with the trader states payment is only required when the job, or at least a set amount of work, has been completed.

Harassment and abusive behaviour

No reputable trader would bully a homeowner into having work done. Increasingly often, rogue traders resort to harassing and abusing homeowners in an attempt to obtain money. Many rogue traders may refuse to leave your property, or continue to call on you when you have already declined to have work done.

Remember that you have a right to call the police if you think this is happening. Watch out for your elderly friends and neighbours who may be vulnerable to bullying tactics.

Rogue traders thrive on creating a climate of fear; fear of what could happen if you do not have work done and in some case fear of what the trader might do to you if you refuse. It is important to remember that you are not alone. The law is on your side and you are in control. If you or someone you know has been the victim of a rogue trader, consider the following: