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Dealing With Cowboy Builders

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 19 Sep 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Builders Construction Rogue Traders

Cowboy builders are the bane of the construction industry. There are, on average, at least 100,000 complaints every year about them. They ruin things for perfectly reputable builders, and for all the talk about them, they’re in the minority – it just happens to be a minority that gets a lot of publicity.

Cowboy builders are simply rogue traders, of course, often with little or no knowledge of building, so you end up with a botched job – that’s if it’s finished at all.

Protecting Yourself From Cowboy Builders

The best thing is to learn to spot the cowboy builders early, so you can turn them away – it saves a lot of trouble later. The first tip-off is if they asked to be paid in cash, or cash-in-hand all with a promise on no VAT to be paid. No legitimate business will work off the books like that.

If they say a contract isn’t necessary, watch out – it’s vital in a business transaction like this, and without it, your legal position is nowhere near as strong. Most rogue builders don’t carry insurance, either, which again could work to your detriment if an accident occurred.

Are they willing to provide a written estimate and costings for the job, as well as a time frame for each stage of the work? A proper tradesman would, quite gladly. Where they do offer a quote, it could be unusually low, and they might offer to begin work immediately.

Do they have references? Do they have premises and a landline number, or simply a van and a mobile?

All of the above should raise red flags. You can protect yourself by having everything in writing and ask for a guarantee. Check references, talk to the people who’ve had the work done, and look at the work if possible. Ask your family and your friends for recommendations. Get several estimates and remember, cheapest isn’t always a savings.

It’s a help, too, if the builders and members of some trade group – although check that as well, since cowboy building firms have been known to fake membership. Finally, never pay in cash, and certainly never upfront – you should only pay for work that’s been completed.

What To Do If You’re A Victim Of A Cowboy Builder

Sometimes, though, the cowboys do win, and the building work is a shambles. What should have been wonderful construction work is a mess, and the builders have moved on. What can you do?

What they’ve done constitutes fraud, so you should complain to the police, giving them as much information on the builder as possible. Also complain to Trading Standards, which takes a very harsh view of rogue traders.

If you can track down the cowboy builder and he refuses to refund your money, take him to court. In the event of a small job, small claims court will likely suffice, and won’t cost you much. In the event of a big job, though, you will be looking at some hefty legal bills.Either way, it’s a lot of problems, and you still need to employ a proper builder to do the work correctly. The best solution, always, is to take the time and find someone who’ll do it right the first time.

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Bought a garage door from a company last November after about 3 weeks it fell apart took them 2 weeks to come out only to say they needed to order 6 new slats which took another 8 days to appear the guys who fitted the door did the repair. Now the same thing has happened on the 1/9/17 still under warranty but the warranty company want £65 upfront by bank transfer before they will make an appointment this was done on the same day but it took another 5 phone calls to get an appointment 18/9/17 between 12:00 & 16:00 but at 9:25 I had a call to say they would not be able to attend as the van had broken down so am still waiting the company concerned is P Kelly warranties ltd both these companies have been on BBC rouge traders program but are still ripping people off
Trev - 19-Sep-17 @ 7:30 PM
Z4Owner - Your Question:
Hi we had a roofer who agreed to replace our dormer roof the following week he brought his ladders and some equipment and left it at our house but 4 weeks Later and several phone calls he still hadn't started the work he kept giving us dates and despite good weather didn't turn up. We finally told him to forget it and we would get another company to do it and for him to collect his ladders and equipment. This was over 5 weeks ago and even after ringing him and stating we would put his stuff on the road he hasnt collected it. What can we do?

Our Response:
Can you find out where he lives? Are you able to take the equipment there and leave it? Send a letter to his address (in case something has happened to him/his phone) - advising that you will sell/dispose of the equipment if he doesn't collect everything within two weeeks (name a specific deadline date).
ConsumerRightsExpert - 19-Sep-17 @ 1:49 PM
Mickey - Your Question:
Last year I needed a new patio dug out and laid on a labour only basis. I obtained 3 quotes but used a contractor who was recommended me to as he was able to start sooner and was a little cheaper than the other quotes obtained. The price quoted by this cowboy builder was £10,800 but due to extra work increased to £13,300 which I agreed to To cut a long story short:- We paid Him £8866 up front via 2 payment at his request and insistence on the understanding he had to have the funds in advance to pay the workmen the next day, they then failed to turn up and he failed to finish the job.Basically he failed to even lay any patio slabs and the payment for 12 short days with one to two men with him was for a dig out, labour only as we paid for all the machinery. We are now going to court with him and I'm at acting as a litigant in person. Please can you help me with some similar case law in order to prepare my skeleton arguement this week prior to the hearing next week.

Our Response:
We don't have any specific case studies but maybe our readers will post here if they've been successful in similar cases.
ConsumerRightsExpert - 19-Sep-17 @ 1:47 PM
Hi we had a roofer who agreed to replace our dormer roof the following week he brought his ladders and some equipment and left it at our house but 4 weeks Later and several phone calls he still hadn't started the work he kept giving us dates and despite good weather didn't turn up. We finally told him to forget it and we would get another company to do it and for him to collect his ladders and equipment. This was over 5 weeks ago and even after ringing him and stating we would put his stuff on the road he hasnt collected it. What can we do?
Z4Owner - 18-Sep-17 @ 10:09 AM
Last year I needed a new patio dug out and laid on a labour only basis. I obtained 3 quotes but used a contractor who was recommended me to as he was able to start sooner and was a little cheaper than the other quotes obtained. The price quoted by this cowboy builder was £10,800 but due to extra work increased to £13,300 which I agreed to To cut a long story short:- We paid Him £8866 up front via 2 payment at his request and insistence on the understanding he had to have the funds in advance to pay the workmen the next day, they then failed to turn up and he failed to finish the job.Basically he failed to even lay any patio slabs and the payment for 12 short days with one to two men with him was for a dig out, labour only as we paid for all the machinery. We are now going to court with him and I'm at acting as a litigant in person. Please can you help me with some similar case law in order to prepare my skeleton arguement this week prior to the hearing next week.
Mickey - 18-Sep-17 @ 9:33 AM
I gave a builder nearly £2000 (receipt obtained) to buy materials prior to starting work, and he never came back. I have since discovered that he took money from other people, and didn't provide them with work or goods either. I reported him to the police for fraud, but the Crown Prosecution say this is a civil matter, and I can't get my money back. I have a CCJ against him, as do some of his other victims, but the cost of chasing my money would exceed the original amount, and I can't add that cost, or any other expenses to the original amount taken. I can't afford a solicitor, so wonder if you have any suggestions.
sierra - 10-Sep-17 @ 3:18 AM
Sweet pea - Your Question:
Bad builder we sacked now taking to court. How can we find out if others have had bad work done by him please? Was told rogue traders were on to him but ex wife bottled it!

Our Response:
There's no easy way to find this out. Forums, social media, tradespeople's websites are good places to start. You should be able to find out whether anyone else has taken legal action against the same builder by searching local court cases etc.
ConsumerRightsExpert - 5-Sep-17 @ 11:14 AM
Lanton - Your Question:
Hi, my girlfriend and I decided to have some work done on the front of our house. We decided to go with a local guy who worked independently. He quoted us £2000 for the job, half upfront and half on completion. He said the work would start at the end of July and would take 2 weeks to complete. He came around one day for around 2 hours but that is all. I have phoned him numerous times and he has given excuse after excuse. What should I do? After we paid him the half upfront, this man has openly told me he has other jobs on the go at the same time, all of which are cash in hand jobs.

Our Response:
If the work is taking unacceptably long time to complete, you should speak to the builder first. If at the time of agreeing the contract, the builder estimated two weeks for completion then he's possibly in breach of contract. You've allowed an extra two weeks or so, so you've been reasonable already. Tell the builder you're willing to let him continue on the proviso that the work starts immediately and is completed within two weeks (bear in mind, rain may be a feature in delaying part of the work). If he cannot agree to this tell him you want the money you've already paid refunded (apart from the 2 hours work he did). If he refuses to refund you, take it to the small claims court.
ConsumerRightsExpert - 5-Sep-17 @ 10:18 AM
Bad builder we sacked now taking to court. How can we find out if others have had bad work done by him please?Was told roguetraders were on to him but ex wife bottled it!
Sweet pea - 2-Sep-17 @ 6:45 PM
Hi, my girlfriend and I decided to have some work done on the front of our house. We decided to go with a local guy who worked independently. He quoted us £2000 for the job, half upfront and half on completion. He said the work would start at the end of July and would take 2 weeks to complete. He came around one day for around 2 hours but that is all. I have phoned him numerous times and he has given excuse after excuse. What should I do? After we paid him the half upfront, this man has openly told me he has other jobs on the go at the same time, all of which are cash in hand jobs.
Lanton - 2-Sep-17 @ 9:17 AM
Hi, Can you help ? Extension >100k. Contract admin person suspected in cahoots with builder. Odd behaviour for a professional + certified work done incorrectly. Tricky re what to do as heaps if defects, damage, ommissions contrary to JCT contract. Builder offering silly deal yet we have paid way over expected and their logos not legit. We feel both have diddled us. No £ to take builder to court but have house insurance to take contract admin ( designer). Do we employ new Contract admin or ask trading STDs to take up our case ? Their website lies - claims. Thanks
Spanner - 28-Aug-17 @ 8:07 PM
Worried - Your Question:
Hi there. We paid our builder cash as he requested for labour an now he has finished. He is refusing to give us a receipt for payments made and our building has been deemed unsafe by building regulations. He is avoiding our contact and we are concerned for our safety if we take our matter further as he has [in as many words] threatened to damage our property. Of course I have no proof of this and nor would I of my car was 'smashed up' in the night because I've complained to trading standards.

Our Response:
You would need use the legal system to try and get this resolved. We recommend that you never pay for an entire job in cash and always pay on completion of various stages of the build. If you are being threatened with violence, contact the police.
ConsumerRightsExpert - 23-Aug-17 @ 12:07 PM
Mike- Your Question:
Had work done by a joiner on a property we rent out.He got the keys supposedly did a good job was paid and asked to return keys to rental office, turns out its a bad job needs done again but main thing is hasn't returned keys!Where do I stand?

Our Response:
Firstly you should have inspected the work or asked someone else to inspect it as soon as it was completed then you could have kept hold of the keys at least! If you're not happy with work contact the joiner and ask him to rectify it. If that's not successful, you may have to ask an alternative joiner to do the work and claim the money back via the small claims court.Likewise if the joiner does not respond, you should give him notice that you are appointing an alternative joiner and also getting the locks changed and will be charging him accordingly.
ConsumerRightsExpert - 21-Aug-17 @ 2:03 PM
Hi there. We paid our builder cash as he requested for labour an now he has finished. He is refusing to give us a receipt for payments made and our building has been deemed unsafe by building regulations. He is avoiding our contact and we are concerned for our safety if we take our matter further as he has [in as many words] threatened to damage our property. Of course I have no proof of this and nor would I of my car was 'smashed up' in the night because I've complained to trading standards.
Worried - 21-Aug-17 @ 11:52 AM
Magnus - Your Question:
Hi I have been getting an extension built apart from it being a joke since day onewe are now 8 months into a six week job we are living in the bedrooms upstairs the whole thing has been horrendous Builders drinking on site house wrecked garden wreckedthe builder asked for more money I advised as per contract not due anymore until completion they walked off site. That was 3 months ago. Now he has emailed asking for a 7 day final demand for £6300 or he will instruct Sheriff Officers or Debt Collectors to deal with the case can he do this as we in fact feel he owes us money back.We have had no contact with him since 23/06/2017 until this email.Please can you give us some advice

Our Response:
This sounds as though it's gone far enough for you to take it to the small claims court- the builder hasn't stuck to the terms of the contract.
ConsumerRightsExpert - 21-Aug-17 @ 11:10 AM
Had work done by a joiner on a property we rent out. He got the keys supposedly did a good job was paid and asked to return keys to rental office, turns out its a bad job needs done again but main thing is hasn't returned keys! Where do I stand?
Mike - 18-Aug-17 @ 11:32 AM
CoventryConsumer - Your Question:
Hi, we had a guy come and install our new bathroom suite and wall and floor tiles. He asked for money up front for materials then asked for more money on top of that. We've paid him nearly £2,000. He then went on holiday for a short period before he could get our bathroom finished. When he was on holiday a lot of problems with the bathroom became apparent. We know he hadn't "finished the work" but the work completed so far was of such a poor standard. The sink was leaking, tiles were falling down, tiles were poorly installed, we had sewage running down the side of our house. Due to the concerns with the work completed so far, we got 4 different firms around to assess the work. It turns out the bathroom is unsafe, he has used the wrong tile adhesive, the tiles could all fall down and the work hasn't been completed with reasonable skill or care, he also hadn't used specialist materials which he asked for extra money for. We served him with a letter, requesting him to not complete any more work due to the safety concerns and asking him for a refund, quoting the Consumer Rights Act. He hasn't yet agreed to pay and is stalling things by requesting the names of the firms who have assessed his work as he wants to take legal action against them for incorrect advice. A blind man could see he has done a bad job. What would you suggest be our next move? Ask for his plan to pay and start small claims proceedings?

Our Response:
If you have sufficient evidence that his work is not of sufficient standard you could try this. Or you could give him the chance to rectify the situation?
ConsumerRightsExpert - 17-Aug-17 @ 1:45 PM
Hi I have been getting an extension built apart from it being a joke since day onewe are now 8 months into a six week job we are living in the bedrooms upstairs the whole thing has been horrendous Builders drinking on site house wrecked garden wrecked the builder asked for more money I advised as per contract not due anymore until completion they walked off site. That was 3 months ago. Now he has emailed asking for a 7 day final demand for £6300 or he will instruct Sheriff Officers or Debt Collectors to deal with the case can he do this as we in fact feel he owes us money back.We have had no contact with him since 23/06/2017 until this email.Please can you give us some advice
Magnus - 17-Aug-17 @ 12:29 PM
Hi, we had a guy come and install our new bathroom suite and wall and floor tiles. He asked for money up front for materials then asked for more money on top of that. We've paid him nearly £2,000. He then went on holiday for a short period before he could get our bathroom finished. When he was on holiday a lot of problems with the bathroom became apparent. We know he hadn't "finished the work" but the work completed so far was of such a poor standard. The sink was leaking, tiles were falling down, tiles were poorly installed, we had sewage running down the side of our house. Due to the concerns with the work completed so far, we got 4 different firms around to assess the work. It turns out the bathroom is unsafe, he has used the wrong tile adhesive, the tiles could all fall down and the work hasn't been completed with reasonable skill or care, he also hadn't used specialist materials which he asked for extra money for. We served him with a letter, requesting him to not complete any more work due to the safety concerns and asking him for a refund, quoting the Consumer Rights Act. He hasn't yet agreed to pay and is stalling things by requesting the names of the firms who have assessed his work as he wants to take legal action against them for incorrect advice. A blind man could see he has done a bad job. What would you suggest be our next move? Ask for his plan to pay and start small claims proceedings?
CoventryConsumer - 16-Aug-17 @ 2:20 PM
Our rented house had a leakage last week. Because it is managed by an estate agent, they sent a plumber down.First day, all talking, second day they dug up the toilet and left three times during the work to work elsewhere.Third day they didn't turn up until 2pm.Both my tenants and myself made the complaint to the agent, he promised to show up on the following morning and we still didn't see him until noon! I am arranging a different plumber to finish off the work now but the agent seems to be very unhappy and I am worried about there might be a massive bill for what he had done so far from the estate agent.
rui - 14-Aug-17 @ 5:28 PM
Jordan97 - Your Question:
My aunt has paid a builder £3100 to do some flagging in her garden for her, started the job, no complaint from her. Then he's asked for more money and got it, then asked for more ahain and due to her not having any more funds he is refusing to finish the job with only 1/2 done and is now complaining and saying he is going to take my aunt to court for with holding payment. So we got a builder to come look at the job and he deemed the work he did do insuffficent as the flags Arnt level and move when stood on. So I researched the builder more and found that the money she gave him for materials. He hasn't used on materials. He still owes the company money and has tried selling off their cement mixer and other stuff. Just wondering what's the best course of action

Our Response:
Threaten him with the small claims court - he clearly is in the wrong and has done this before.
ConsumerRightsExpert - 8-Aug-17 @ 2:01 PM
My aunt has paid a builder £3100 to do some flagging in her garden for her, started the job, no complaint from her. Then he's asked for more money and got it, then asked for more ahain and due to her not having any more funds he is refusing to finish the job with only 1/2 done and is now complaining and saying he is going to take my aunt to court for with holding payment. So we got a builder to come look at the job and he deemed the work he did do insuffficent as the flags Arnt level and move when stood on. So I researched the builder more and found that the money she gave him for materials. He hasn't used on materials. He still owes the company money and has tried selling off their cement mixer and other stuff. Just wondering what's the best course of action
Jordan97 - 6-Aug-17 @ 3:42 PM
jules - Your Question:
My next door neighbour has had work done by an unskilled buIlder.Guttering had been replaced but not the downpipe. The T shaped piece of guttering has not been properly attached to the downpipe, there is a gap and when it rains the water pours onto my wall (which is now black).My front garden has railings and block paving. Last year same neighbours had their front garden improved!A wall was built on the outside and paving slabs put down.Paving slabs were cemented to my railings, the slab around their drain was cemented and when it rains the blocked drain pours into my front garden. I don't think any measurements were taken as the gate opens out because the new patio garden is too high for the gate!!! The whole thing is over the boundary line (about 2 inches) but that is the least of my concerns.This is not a joke.

Our Response:
Speak to them...get them to find someone professional to instal a new downpipe. Likewise you should ask them to undertake remedial work to remove the cement from your railings and to ensure the draining is kept unblocked (your water company may be able to help with the latter issue). Court action is your last resort if nothing else is successful.
ConsumerRightsExpert - 31-Jul-17 @ 12:19 PM
nic2 - Your Question:
I hired a builder from what I thought was a reputable website. He claimed he was a member of the Federation of Master builders. The job I needed doing was curing a damp problem under a window. They said they had done the work. I paid them and when the first rain came a few days later the area was worse than before. For 6 months I have been waiting for them to fix the job. They Never came. I asked for my money back but that was refused. The builder claims that as he sub contracted the work out, he has done nothing wrong so is ignoring me. I was not advised that the work would be sub contracted. What is the law? I heard the company that originally is given the work is liable, even if the work is sub contracted out? I have a court case next week. The website I hired this company from agrees with my understanding of the situation.

Our Response:
Your contract is with the orioginal builder, so they are responsible.
ConsumerRightsExpert - 28-Jul-17 @ 11:11 AM
Question: as per downpipe and front garden - How did I tackle this?Is there any rule? I am affected by others building work.Can I claim damages?My wall has a big black patch and inyou front garden the pavings are sinking. Please advise.
jules - 28-Jul-17 @ 8:19 AM
My next door neighbour has had work done by an unskilled buIlder. Guttering had been replaced but not the downpipe.The T shaped piece of gutteringhas not been properly attached to the downpipe, there is a gap and when it rains the water pours onto my wall (which is now black). My front garden has railings and block paving.Last year same neighbours had their front garden improved! A wall was built on the outside and paving slabs put down. Paving slabs were cemented to my railings,the slab around their drain was cemented and when it rains the blocked drain pours into my front garden. I don't think any measurements were taken as the gate opens out because the new patio garden is too high for the gate!!!The whole thing is over the boundary line (about 2 inches) but that is the least of my concerns. This is not a joke.
jules - 27-Jul-17 @ 5:42 PM
I hired a builder from what I thought was a reputable website. He claimed he was a member of the Federation of Master builders. The job I needed doing was curing a damp problem under a window. They said they had done the work. I paid them and when the first rain came a few days later the area was worse than before. For 6 months I have been waiting for them to fix the job. They Never came. I asked for my money back but that was refused. The builder claims that as he sub contracted the work out, he has done nothing wrong so is ignoring me. I was not advised that the work would be sub contracted. What is the law? I heard the company that originally is given the work is liable, even if the work is sub contracted out? I have a court case next week. The website I hired this company from agrees with my understanding of the situation.
nic2 - 25-Jul-17 @ 5:06 PM
Hi we have had a extension to our wooden boxing club and in a nut shell, we're told by our builder that the donated materials had dry rot and he would have to put up a new timber building. After many problems with this builder and paying out 17500 so far we have found out the material we fit for purpose and there is no dry rot and feeling like we have been conned. The job is still not finished and he is refusing us access to what is there. He put up this build with no drawings or calculation and is refusing to follow our planning permission document. Any advice or help greatly appreciated.
DGB - 13-Jul-17 @ 11:18 AM
Rida - Your Question:
My builder took £400 cash from me to buy equipment but now he hasnt came since and is not answering his phone. Could you give any advice on how to get a refund back?

Our Response:
Send a letter to his address and advise that if work doesn't commence this week, you'll be taking legal action to recover your money. If there's still no response try and recover it from the small claims court
ConsumerRightsExpert - 4-Jul-17 @ 12:33 PM
My builder took £400 cash from me to buy equipment but now he hasnt came since and is not answering his phone. Could you give any advice on how to get a refund back?
Rida - 3-Jul-17 @ 5:21 PM
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