Don’t fall victim to rogue traders - how you can Buy With Confidence
- Credit: Tim Pestridge Photography
How a free service from Devon, Somerset and Torbay Trading Standards can direct you to honest, reliable tradespeople in your area
Last August a Devon plumber and heating engineer was sentenced for the latest in a string of fraud and consumer protection offences. It was the second time he had been prosecuted by Devon, Somerset and Torbay Trading Standards, who had previously discovered that he had a long track record of carrying out substandard and vastly overpriced work. Even more worrying, one of his installations had been extremely dangerous. An expert inspector found that his work to replace an oil-fired heating system had put the elderly householder at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, and could also have caused a fire.
This man had falsely advertised himself as a member of a trade association. Many of his customers would have been taken in by what they thought was a professional accreditation. For years, he continued overcharging people for work that was at best shoddy, at worst, potentially lethal.
So, how can you tell when you are being targeted by a rogue trader?
According to the Devon, Somerset and Torbay Trading Standards team, there are certain things dishonest traders do when trying to persuade people to part with their money.
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“One very common trait is cold calling. Many rogue traders turn up at people’s homes offering roofing repairs, driveway resurfacing or cleaning, tree cutting or gardening.
“To make themselves seem legitimate, they might pretend to be from the local council or another organisation people would trust – they may even have fake identification cards. They may put pressure on the householder by pointing out repairs that are ‘urgently’ needed, when in fact no work is necessary. There have even been reports of rogue traders deliberately damaging people’s property – and then knocking on the door to offer repair work.
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“Their work is invariably poor, and they will usually charge a vastly inflated price. Or, they may demand cash upfront for a job, even driving the customer to a bank or cashpoint. Once they have the money, they will make some excuse and disappear without doing the work. They will also ignore the legal requirement to offer a 14-day cooling-off period, and won’t provide any proper paperwork.”
Typically, these cowboy traders are offering the kind of work householders cannot do themselves. Rogue builders, plumbers, roofers, electricians, car repairers and driveway layers/cleaners are common. They will take advantage of a customer’s lack of expert knowledge about their ‘trade’, and make dishonest claims, sometimes backed up by false certificates or professional trademarks. So how can you find a tradesperson you can really trust, who is genuinely approved by Trading Standards?
One of the best ways is to use Buy With Confidence, a not-for-profit service which has been run for several years now by Devon, Somerset and Torbay Trading Standards. It is a register of reliable businesses, who have to pass an audit tailored to their line of work before being accepted as members.
They also have to allow Trading Standards to visit their business and look into any history of customer complaints or a criminal record. They must provide references from previous customers, and sign up to a code of conduct. Once they have been accepted as a member, they are monitored through the feedback from their customers, and periodic re-audits.
Buy With Confidence can also help in the rare cases of a dispute between a customer and one of its members. Both parties can get impartial advice and, if communication breaks down completely, there is a mediation service. So there is that extra reassurance that back-up and support is available if something does go wrong.
In East Devon dozens of traders have signed up to this scheme. Trading Standards has subjected them to all the checks and vetting that you would want to do yourself. Their details are available online, or you can phone to find out about suitable businesses in your local area.
One more thing to bear in mind is that many rogue traders take advantage of people caught up in a household emergency. If you have a flood, a leaking roof, a broken-down boiler or an electrical fault, you are likely to look up ‘fixers’ and give the job to the first person who claims they can solve the issue quickly. But this person may not be an honest or reputable trader.
For this reason, Trading Standards advise doing the necessary research before disaster strikes. Visit Buy With Confidence, draw up a list of members in your local area, and keep it somewhere you can lay your hands on it quickly.
Finally, a summary of the tips from Trading Standards:
- Take time to get three quotes from reputable businesses you trust.
- Ask for recommendations from your friends or family.
- Use Buy With Confidence to find a reliable trader. Visit https://www.buywithconfidence.gov.uk or call 01392 383430.
- Don’t be pressured into making a quick decision – take your time.
- Remember, if you agree to work in your home that will cost more than £42, you are legally entitled to a 14-day cooling-off period in which you can change your mind, before the work starts. If you agree to the work starting within that time, you will be liable for any cost incurred by the business up until the cancellation.