The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) is calling for the government to introduce a scheme to license building companies. Setting minimum standards of competence and professionalism for builders could help protect consumers from rogue builders.
Rogue traders are a real fear for millions of consumers across the UK. With stories of dishonest and disreputable business practices regularly splashed across the media, it’s easy to feel that there aren’t any honest traders out there. This isn’t the case, but a significant minority of dodgy builders in the market are bad news – for consumers and for honest traders, too.
Research carried out by the FMB, the UK’s largest construction industry trade association, shows that almost a third (32%) of homeowners are so worried about dodgy builders that they are put off doing major home improvement works altogether. If they did have full confidence in the building industry, they would typically spend an average of £40,000 on major home improvements over the next five years*.
Calls for a licensing scheme
Yesterday, the FMB called for government to impose a compulsory licensing scheme for building companies to help weed out rogue and incompetent traders. The proposal was supported by over three quarters (77%) of its members in its April 2018 survey.**
Currently there is no regulation of building companies in the UK – anyone can set up a business and call themselves a builder. Recent reports about how easy it is to game some accreditation schemes have done nothing to ease consumer disquiet.
The FMB believes that increased regulation would provide a higher level of consumer protection and prevent disreputable individuals trading as builders without the necessary expertise.
Brian Berry the FMB’s chief executive, commented:
‘Licensing would ensure a minimum level of competence and professionalism and give consumers greater assurance when hiring a builder. Unlike in the US and Germany, anyone can be a builder in the UK. What this means is that we have allowed a significant minority of cowboy builders to give the whole construction industry a bad name.’
As well as a licensing system, the FMB’s three-part agenda calls for mandatory warranties for work that requires Building Regulations approval, and a new ‘general builder’ qualification that would help traders to master the skills they need.
Practical steps to avoid cowboy traders
It remains to be seen whether the FMB’s suggestions will be taken on board. In the absence of a current licensing scheme, there are a number of practical steps that you can take now to protect yourself from rogue traders:
- Avoid doorstep sellers – a reputable business won’t present themselves this way
- Get personal recommendations from friends, family and neighbours
- Find out your builder’s business address and a landline phone number
- Be prepared to wait – good builders often won’t be free to start immediately
- Agree exactly what work will be done, at what price and get that in writing
- Use an online endorsement scheme, such as Which? Trusted Traders
- Get up to date information on your consumer rights from Which?
Keep communicating throughout the project, as this can help resolve problems before they turn into disputes, as our video explains:
Helping people find reliable traders
Which? recognises the difficulties people face in finding reliable tradespeople. Resolving this area of consumer detriment was one of the principles behind creating the Which? Trusted Traders scheme in 2013. It aims to provide people with a reliable source of tradespeople in the home improvement and private vehicle repair industries.
All businesses on the scheme go through a rigorous assessment process designed and administered by trading standards professionals. One in four businesses that apply do not make the grade. Those that are successful sign up to the Which? Trusted Traders code of conduct – a framework of standards and behaviour that we expect our traders to adhere to.
All endorsed businesses have profile pages on the Which? Trusted Traders website, where you can read reviews from previous customers. All the reviews are moderated to ensure they are genuine – something that is increasingly important, as has been highlighted by recent reports of unscrupulous traders gaining access to accreditation schemes.
* The FMB’s research into consumer confidence in builders in the UK was carried out in the week commencing 16 October 2017. Research company OnePoll surveyed 2,000 homeowners across the UK.
**The FMB surveyed 491 building firms across the UK, during the week of April 9-16 2018.