When Rogue Traders Attack: Knowing Your Rights

Whether you’re tiling your kitchen or modifying your garden, hiring a professional is a great way to save time and avoid the stress and difficulties that can come with a do-it-yourself project.

While the vast majority of tradespeople are competent, hardworking and fair, a tiny minority of rogue traders who threaten customers, operate scams or use unethical business practices have made many otherwise optimistic consumers weary.

The number of rogue traders operating in the UK has been declining for years, with fewer homeowners affected every year. However, they remain a serious problem for the unfortunate few homeowners that are targeted every year.

Did you know that rogue traders cost Britain an incredible £4 billion over the past five years? In this guide, we’ll explain how you can identify a rogue tradesperson in advance and how to respond to an unethical trader if you are targeted.

How do rogue traders operate?

From renovations to new buildings, tradespeople make upgrading your property a breeze. Skilled and experienced professional tradespeople tend to work efficiently, effectively and with customer satisfaction in mind.

However, due to the economic recession and the increasing cost of living, a large number of people are selecting their tradespeople based in price instead of work history, professional reputation and quality.

The end result of this is that many low-priced traders have taken advantage of their customers. Rogue traders operate using a variety of tactics that range in severity of cost and frustration for customers.

Some rogue traders perform high quality work but intentionally misdiagnose one or several of the problems the homeowner faces. A blocked drain, for example, which is easy to fix in minutes, could require a lengthy repair and replacement by the trader.

This tactic inflates the cost of the repair job. Many customers are unaware that they are being conned by the tradesperson and overpay for work that didn’t need to be performed in the first place.

Another common rogue trader tactic is to deliberately fail to repair a problem. Some rogue traders use solutions that are clearly temporary in nature so that they’ll have a chance to “repair” the problem again in the future, inflating costs for customers.

Finally, some rogue traders take advantage of the technical ignorance of many of their customers and massively overcharge for the work they’ve done. Since most customers don’t understand their work, this is an easy scam to get away with.

How to avoid dealing with a rogue trader

The best way to deal with a rogue trader is to avoid working with one in the first place. By applying some simple tactics whenever you run into a problem or need assistance with a home project, you can avoid most unethical tradespeople.

Most rogue traders operate using similar strategies to lure in customers. Be alert and careful if you speak to a builder, plumber or tradesperson who does anything similar to the following:

  • Offers a quote that’s significantly lower than competitors. You should get a quote from several tradespeople before starting a project to become more familiar with the baseline cost. Low quotes often mean low quality work.
  • Runs a business without much of a history. Traders with no address, phone number or place of business are often focused on short-term scams and are best avoided. Use a reputable business that you can visit in person.
  • Falsely claims to belong to a trade association. Good traders belong to guilds and trade associations. If you’re suspicious about a trader, verify that they’re actually a member of the trade associations they claim to belong to.
  • Refuses to give a quote in writing and seems very informal. Rogue traders will often avoid giving written estimates and rely on a verbal agreement in order to inflate costs as the project progresses.
  • Only accepts cash payments and asks for an advance. Good quality traders will rarely ask for an advance payment. For large jobs, most traders will ask for segmented payments based on job progress, but rarely for advances.
  • Offers an invoice that doesn’t charge for VAT. Not all traders are required to pay VAT (some small traders don’t need to) but many unethical traders will request all-cash payments in order to lower their prices and avoid taxes.

Whenever possible, work with a company that a friend, colleague or family member has recommended. The greatest indicator of future performance is past performance, and a great tradesperson is usually worth their price.

High quality, reliable tradespeople will rarely engage in the above behaviour. If you spot any of these characteristics in a trader, consider contacting your local Citizens Advice helpline and reporting the trader to the Trading Standards Institute.

What to do if you are targeted by a rogue trader

Are you currently working with a trader that isn’t treating you fairly? From inflated bills to blackmail attempts, rogue traders can use a variety of tactics to force you to pay them for low quality, unwanted or incomplete work.

If you’re currently being targeted by a rogue trader, keep calm. If you are in danger (for example, the trader is threatening you unless you pay them for work you didn’t want or aren’t satisfied with) contact the police immediately.

Rogue traders who threaten to harm you or to damage your property if you refuse to pay them are engaging in blackmail. Call the police immediately to report them and do not pay them if you are put in a situation that makes you uncomfortable.

Not all rogue traders threaten violence or property damage when their scam starts to fall apart. Others use guilt tactics, such as pressuring you into signing a contract or making a payment by claiming they will otherwise lose their job.

The correct response to this is to call the police. Even non-violent threats and guilt-based techniques from traders break the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Your trader might be committing a serious criminal offence.

As well as reporting the police, complete the two steps listed above to make sure the trader will be fully dealt with by their industry. Contact the Citizens Advice helpline and report the rogue trader to the Trading Standards Institute.

Don’t hand over cash or sign anything under pressure

Rogue traders thrive on high-pressure situations. Many use the strategies described above to scare or manipulate their customers into signing unfair contracts or paying for services they didn’t want, don’t need or aren’t satisfied with.

Remember that you have rights as a consumer, and that the police are there to keep you safe in the event that you’re targeted. Never sign a contract or hand over cash to a rogue trader – instead, contact the police immediately to handle the situation.

Have you ever been targeted by a rogue trader?

Have you ever been targeted by an unethical tradesperson? Were you ripped off in the past? If you’ve been the target of an unethical trader, tell us how on Twitter and share any useful knowledge you gained from the experience.