Disgust and horror at tale of cowboy workmen

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Each week former trading standards officer Richard Thomson answers your questions.

Q I’ve had a nasty experience with tradesmen leaving my house in a mess and running off with the money I gave them for a bathroom makeover which could even have put our lives at risk. I know I’ve been foolish but is there anything being done to stop cowboy workmen taking the public for a ride?

PB (Internet)

A Your story filled me with disgust and horror in equal measure. A friend recommended a couple of guys to give your aging bathroom an overdue refurbishment. You were overcharged for the job, the shower left half finished, and the hand basin hanging off the wall. Just to add insult to injury, a leak under the replacement bath caused damage to the lounge ceiling, and your carpets were ruined.

True to form, as soon as you complained the cowboys upped sticks, leaving you with an enormous bill to put all the damage right.

You can of course fall back on the law to try to compel errant tradesmen to put the job right or pay compensation. But my advice is, forget it. You’ll be throwing good money after bad. So, as you say, what is being done to put a stop to rogue tradesmen running off with your money? The answer is – nothing.

Jaw dropping it may be, but the building and home improvement sector of our economy is largely unregulated. Only tradesmen working with gas appliances, and electricians, are required to work to specified standards.

Conventional advice to weed out incompetent rogues is to check them out with a trade association, ask for references, don’t pay all the money up front, and hold enough back to cover the cost of remedial work.

In the absence of any regulation, my two top tips are simple and very effective. First, never employ someone on the basis of a friend’s recommendation unless they are competent tradesmen themselves.

Secondly, ignore all the conventional wisdom. You only need to ask two questions. They are: ‘Do you want all the money up front, and can you start the job?’ If the answer to the first question is yes, then you’ll know they’ve no money and the temptation must be to pocket yours and scarper.

If the answer to the second question is also yes, that’ll tell you they’ve no work on. With a monumental shortage of competent tradesmen, if they’re any good they should have work stacked up for literally months ahead.

Q I keep finding errors at the checkout when I do my weekly grocery shopping. In particular, special offers are charged at full price. This is annoying and inconvenient. Who should I talk to about this please?

TH (Internet)

A Start with the store manager. It’s a criminal offence to mislead shoppers over the price of goods on display. If you point out to the checkout operator that an advertised price reduction has not been applied, you should be offered the goods at the reduced price, or the option to reject them.

If your chat with the manager doesn’t lead to a significant improvement, then contact trading standards.