Lancashire Trading Standards have offered their advice to Post readers looking to get work done on their house, following a spike in reported cases.
One spokesperson from Trading Standards said "unfortunately there are a lot of scam and rogue trader alerts at the moment", whilst another confirmed they had “received over 900 complaints from defrauded householders in the last 12 months.”
Recently, the Post has also published numerous stories regarding Preston homeowners who have lost thousands and been left with unfinished jobs following a local building firm's collapse.
The articles about Ultra Restore sparked debates online regarding best practice when getting housework done, so we turned to Lancashire County Council's Trading Standards Manager, Chris Wilkinson, for some professional advice.
How to find a reliable trader:
"A good starting point would be the county council's Lancashire Safe Trader Scheme. Members of our scheme are vetted, have a proven trading history and have made a commitment to treat their customers fairly. Our advice is to always say no to cold-callers or unannounced visits by builders.
"You can research traders by searching them online, checking their qualifications or membership of professional trade associations. You can also get references from previous customers and ask to inspect work they have already completed. Make sure you keep a note of the name, address and contact details of the business.
"Get at least three quotes for a job. This will help you make an informed decision with a better understanding of what the work will involve and how much it will cost. If you want to go ahead with work, make sure that you get as much as you can in writing to confirm what work will take place, how much it will cost and the timescale they are working to before you agree.
"Recommendations from trusted friends and family can also be helpful, but we always recommend doing your own research too."
What to do if you are asked to pay up front for materials before a job starts:
"Don’t pay upfront before the job starts. If you are considering a large project, agree a payment schedule of staged payments. If it is a smaller job agree to pay on completion. But only pay if work is progressing well and is done to the standards you require. Reputable builders are likely to be buying their materials through an account from a builders merchants so immediate demands for payment shouldn’t be necessary. You could also consider paying some of the cost using a credit card for additional payment protection from the credit provider."
What to do if you are unhappy with the work as it is progressing:
"Do not pay any more money until the issues are resolved. Talk to the trader.
"When you enter into a contract for goods and services, you can expect these to be supplied with reasonable care and skill and materials to be of satisfactory quality. Try and agree how the issues can be resolved and by when. Take photos highlighting the issues if you can and keep a record of your conversations and phone calls and what is agreed. Always follow up your complaint in writing. If problems still persist you can get further advice from the Citizens Advice Consumer Service – Freephone 0808 223 1133
"Give the business an opportunity to put things right. If problems persist, you might need to consider getting alternative quotes for remedial work or get an opinion from an expert on the cause of the problem. Knowing this information might assist in helping to find a resolution.
"If this still doesn’t work, you will need to consider taking legal action through the small claims court. Resolving the dispute and going to mediation might be an option, but not in every case."
What to do if your builder disappears without finishing the work, or goes into liquidation:
"Hopefully, if you have paid in instalments, you will only have paid for the materials and workmanship complete to date.
"Firstly, try to contact the trader to find out what has happened. Always put your complaint in writing, sent to their last known address. and set out how and when you want the issue to be resolved by. If they are members of a professional trade association, there may be insurance backed guarantees you can rely on.
"If you paid by credit card for any amount over £100, you may be able to claim against your credit card provider. If the business is a sole trader and has gone bankrupt, you may be able to register with the official receiver to reclaim any deposit you have paid. This will take time to resolve and any amount recovered might be significantly less than your deposit paid. If the business is a Limited Company, there may be options available through company administrators but these would have to be considered on a case by case basis.
"Always seek advice from the Citizens Advice Consumer Service as early as possible. if they suspect that a criminal offence may have been committed, they may refer the details to Trading Standards."