Whether you're contracting aerial fitters, builders or plumbers it pays to take a certain amount of care when it comes to home improvements. Although many tradesmen are reputable and honest in their dealings with customers, the threat of the minority of so-called "rogue traders" is very real.
These are the workmen who effectively con homeowners into agreeing to work they never have any intention of fulfilling. Often, they don't simply take money without doing any work - instead performing more complex forms of exploitation, such as adding additional fees or conducting unwanted additional work and then refusing to progress any further until they've received payment. This can leave people out of pocket and sometimes in dire need of more work to correct the legacies left behind by the rogue traders before they vanish, moving on to the next target.
One of the favourite tactics used by this disreputable group is doorstop sales, which free them from the burdens of a traceable address or phone number. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) reported in 2009 that nearly three million people had fallen victim to a rogue doorstep trader, with an average loss of 600 per person.
This tactic is particularly targeted at vulnerable homeowners such as the elderly, whose properties may well need basic maintenance which they can no longer do themselves. According to the OFT the average cost to those over 55 from rogue doorstep trading was nearly 1,100.
Often, doorstep traders employ extremely aggressive sales techniques, with 49% of those approached by such sellers saying they felt uncomfortable or intimidated during their conversation.
These techniques include sending one or more people on to the property without any permission, pointing out work that "needs" to be done - or making repeat calls in a short period of time, building the pressure.
These tradesmen won't offer any contractual reassurances - but they will insist that they start work as soon as possible, generally under the pretence that they can offer a limited "special offer" or that your home is in urgent need of repair. Its unusual (though not unheard) to find a rogue trader being belligerent or hostile in anyway before work, with most seeking to deceive consumers by convincing them the work is in their best interest - a demeanour that often changes once work has begun.
Luckily there are some simple steps that can be taken to detect and avoid this kind of trader.
One of the easiest is to stick to a set of precautionary principles, such as never handing over a cash deposit, never agreeing to a trader beginning work straight away, checking that any doorstep trader is a member of a trader association accredited by the local authority, getting a second opinion - and to be wary of any offers given with a great deal of urgency.