Follow our guide to avoid doorstep cons

Avoid cowboy builders to make sure tradesmen do a decent job at your home
Avoid cowboy builders to make sure tradesmen do a decent job at your home
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Perhaps they were outrageously overcharged for a plumbing job, home improvement work was done badly, or wound up paying a small fortune for a minor home repair job that wasn’t even necessary.

Everyone has a story to tell of a friend or relative who has fallen prey to dodgy tradesmen or shoddy workmanship.

Streetwise receives a steady stream of letters from readers who have fallen foul of doorstep rogues offering sub-standard roofing, poor quality tarmacking, paving, and insulation work.

Meanwhile a survey by Trustmark, a government backed non-profit making agency that helps people find reliable tradesmen, found that cowboy builders and rogue traders are an annual £1.5bn headache for homeowners – that’s equivalent to more than £17,000 an hour.

Daily Telegraph building expert Jeff Howell says that householders who know nothing about building or home improvements shouldn’t be tempted to commission expensive work from firms, or employ tradesmen.

He said: ‘They should first engage a chartered building surveyor – not a general practice surveyor – to act for them, and establish just what work needs to be done and ensure appropriate work standards are adhered to.’

Consumer watchdog the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is particularly concerned about the number of elderly people being taken for a ride by rogue doorstep tradesmen.

Spokeswoman for the OFT Michelle Sambrook said: ‘Hasty decisions made on the doorstep can sometimes result in agreeing to work that isn’t necessary, turns out to be more expensive than quoted, or is carried out to a poor standard – if at all.

‘We want people to recognise the warning signs and feel confident enough to take appropriate precautions, or just say no.’

The tell tale signs of cowboy building firms and dodgy traders are not difficult to suss out. Follow the Streetwise top tips guide and avoid the nightmare of a bodged up building or home repair job.

· Be clear about the work that you want done. You’ll do yourself a big favour and help towards getting an accurate quotation.

· Always obtain at least three quotes for any building or home improvement work. For big jobs costing more than £5,000 employ a building surveyor to commission and oversee the job. Go to sangersurveyors.co.uk for local survey advice.

· Never rely on the recommendation of family or friends, unless they are experts in construction or home maintenance trades.

· Keep an eye out for local signboards, ring their contact number and ask for a list of satisfied customers.

Alternatively, check with your local town hall for details of approved contractors they use for small building work and property maintenance.

· Don’t take as gospel recommendations by trade associations or vetting firms. Traders pay them to advertise their services and they may not be impartial. Go to portsmouthsquaredeal.co.uk or buywithconfidence.gov.uk instead.

· Never use doorstep traders. If they’re looking for work they can’t be much good. Make sure the work is guaranteed, and how any claim will be handled. Leave approving staged work to experts unless you have the necessary knowledge and skills.

· Don’t employ anyone who demands all the money up front. Keep back up to 20 per cent of the final price as a bargaining chip should things go wrong.

· Insist on a written contract. As a minimum it should spell out the price, method and time of payment, the materials to be used, the work to be done and to what standard, access to power and water, hours worked and completion time, and arrangements to remove any rubble or building spoil.

· Avoid making changes, once the work has been agreed.