7 proven techniques that help avoid cowboy builders


What You Need to Know

Around 100,000 complaints about cowboy builders are made in the UK each year. However, by using a little common sense you can reduce your chances of falling victim to poor tradesmen.

  1. Look out for signs of poor practice when choosing a builder: refusing to sign a contract, being evasive about prices and asking for payment upfront should all be viewed with some suspicion.
  2. If they are unwilling or unable to offer details about their businesses such as an address or landline number then stay away.
  3. Check to see if a builder is part of the government’s TrustMark scheme before allowing them to work on yourproperty.
  4. Additionally, check to see if a tradesman is a member of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask to see their insurance polices and references from three different clients. Respectable tradesmen will appreciate your caution and be happy to help.
  6. Good builders tend to be in high demand, so be happy to wait a while before they can get to work and be wary of anyone who says they’re able to start right away.
  7. The Joint Contracts Tribunal can help you with any legal disputes you may have with cowboy builders.


The Problem of Cowboy Builders

It is the stuff of nightmares. The firm of builders you hire to work on your house turns out to be a bunch of cowboys, emptying your bank account and leaving your house in a worst state than it was in when they started.

Over 100,000 complaints about cowboy builders are made every year. There are plenty of them about.

Many of us rely on recommendations and word of mouth when choosing a builder, and more often than not this proves perfectly satisfactory.

But what if this is not an option? Perhaps you’ve just moved into a new area and don’t know anyone. How can you make sure you find a reputable firm that will do the job at a reasonable price?

Check Out a Builders’ Credentials

The first and most obvious step is to check out the builders’ credentials. Are they, for instance, a member of the Federation of Master Builders, the industry’s benchmark for quality workmanship and business practice? To find a member in your area log on to theFMB’s website. Similarly, check to see if a builder or building firm has the government’sTrustMark scheme accreditation, with this logo on their van indicating they have passed an assessment based on their skills and signed up to a code of good practice.

Before calling a builder in, it is always worth getting clear in your own mind exactly what work you want done. A lot of disputes arise when changes are made half way through a job, causing unanticipated problems and costs.

When you have settled on what you want done it is worth getting more than one quote, if possible at least three. That way you should be able to establish roughly what the going rate is for the job and weed out unrealistically high or low estimates.

Remember, good builders tend to be in high demand, so be happy to wait a while before they can get to work and be wary of anyone who says they’re able to start right away.

Things to Look Out For

There is no definitive list of what you should look out for when trying to assess a tradesman’s professionalism. However, there are a few little things that should set your alarm bells ringing. These include:

  • Asking for payment upfront or demanding to be paid in cash.
  • Claiming to work for another, more respectable company or tradesman – a ‘friend of a friend’. Always check-up on these connections.
  • Avoiding signing a contract and refusing to put down in writing and in detail what work they intend to carry out.
  • Unable to provide references or give details about their insurance policies.
  • Failing to stick to initial quotes, both in terms of timeframe or money, from the very start of a project.
  • Alternatively, providing surprisingly low quotes should also arouse suspicion.


Should a tradesman do any, or all, of the above, then it’s certainly worthwhile double-checking their credentials and, if necessary, terminating any contract you might have in place with them.

Taking Control of the Situation

Take your time in making a decision. If a builder pressures you for an answer or isn’t prepared to put in the time to discuss your needs it is probably worth finding one who is.

Following this course should lead you to the right people. However, if you want to make absolutely sure that there are no hidden pitfalls you can now enter into a legally binding contract before the work starts.

The Joint Contracts Tribunal has devised a simple to follow Building Contract, essentially a checklist of all the items you and the builders should discuss and agree on before work begins. Visit the JCT website for more information on this.

02/09/2015 |

2 thoughts on “7 proven techniques that help avoid cowboy builders

  1. synth2000 says:

    I decided to register with “mylocaltradesman.co.UK” because I have seen the damage unscrupulous so called tradesmen do and It annoys me no end.
    my mum has been affected by crooked roofers who were contracted by the local council to repair a hole in the roof.
    from the time the contract was made
    the work still hasn’t been completed.
    and as a result the house is damaged by years of water leaking in through the hole in the roof
    and it has become a farce.
    just before Christmas last year
    redecorating had been done to a room downstairs and toilet upstairs but cause the house is so damaged by dampness
    the wallpaper began peeling after a matter of days.
    and so now my mum has to go through the routine of having water draining machines being left on for days
    which causes my mum no end of anxiety cause the longer the machines are left on the higher her electricity bills will be.
    and so she is regularly saying she is stressed out by that.
    and yet if the repair to the roof had been done properly from the time it was reported to the council,
    and a competent supervisor was sent out to check that the repair were being done properly
    maybe things wouldn’t be as they are now?
    I feel so so so upset
    and it is intensified because I know from bitter experience that my local council merely gives lip service to complaints from local residents about unscrupulous so called Tradesmen.
    they merely say all the typical things such as we are sorry to hear your mum has been treated like dirt
    but they never take affective action to reduce the chances of it happening again.
    and as a result of their lax weak handed approach,
    the so called tradesmen carry on doing shoddy work in return for good money
    and basically local residents continue being conned
    and I can’t handle this anymore.
    I am considering contacting my local newspaper to see if they would be willing to do a story on this
    in order to shame the council into stepping up their game.
    I shouldn’t have to even consider this
    but in a situation such as this
    I think its the only option otherwise the day will probably come when the house collapses on my mum.
    yes it really is in that bad a condition.
    remember that this has been left to grow for several years…I think 5 years is the minimum and could be more.
    I wont even bother government about this cause I think they are even more incompetent than the local councils.

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