From door-stop scammers to sloppy builders, rogue traders can catch you out in a number of ways. In our expert guide, we reveal the tricks they use to reel you in, and crucially, how to find a trader who is trustworthy and won't leave you saddled with poor workmanship, inflated costs or unnecessary work.
We’ve all heard stories of unscrupulous traders knocking on doors, claiming that work needs to be done, then swiftly making off with hundreds of pounds without having done any work.
Unfortunately, these aren't urban myths – between April 2020 and March 2021, National Trading Standards recorded 7,809 cases of people in England and Wales being defrauded by doorstep sellers and bogus tradespeople. While over the past 13 months, Action Fraud received 5,874 reports of bogus tradespeople and door to door salesmen in England.
To get the inside track on the common practices dodgy traders employ we've spoken to the expert assessors at Which? Trusted Traders, as well as our reliable traders themselves. Keep scrolling for the details.
Homeowners must do their own vetting when it comes to employing a trader and the first step should be to ask for proof of a trade body membership from any tradesperson you are considering hiring.
Another way is to ask for recommendations from friends and family, or you can use websites designed to help put you in touch with local tradespeople.
Which? Trusted Traders is an endorsement scheme that recognises reputable local tradesmen and tradeswomen. This includes all kinds of home improvement professionals, from bathroom fitters, builders and electricians to gardeners, plumbers and home security experts.
The scheme aims to raise standards for consumers by setting a benchmark that all traders need to meet before they can be endorsed.
Adapting your home can be a big job that demands lots of time and money. But however big or small the project, you want to be confident the work is done to a high standard.
If the work you’re getting done is designed to give you greater independence, security or safety at home – or if you’re arranging this for an older family member or friend – it’s even more important to find the right person to do the job.
Endorsed traders have profiles on the Which? Trusted Traders website, which include their contact details, business websites, information about their business, pictures of their work and reviews from other users. The reviews are moderated for authenticity, and we welcome both positive and negative feedback.
All Which? Trusted Traders are thoroughly assessed, which involves checking their references and qualifications.
Qualified trading standards assessors do a credit report, check they have appropriate insurance in place and get feedback direct from a selection of their existing customers. They also carry out a face-to-face interview to check their business is in good shape.
All Which? Trusted Traders have to comply with a code of conduct. If they don’t, they can be suspended or removed from the scheme.
All of our assessors at Which? Trusted Traders are ex-Trading Standards, so they have years of experience spotting dodgy traders.
According to our assessors, you should be cautious of a trader if they:
While not everyone who meets these criteria is a deceitful trader, most dodgy traders do operate this way.
Rogue traders often operate by cold calling. Any home improvement opportunities that can be seen from the road can be a possible target for a doorstop scammer, who may lie about or exaggerate work that needs to be done. This could include driveway repaving, garden landscaping or window reglazing.
Criminals employ a range of tactics to target the vulnerable. This includes looking for homes with tired exteriors, where older people are more likely to live, and finding residents with more traditional names. Some work together by discreetly marking the pavement outside the houses of those recently scammed, or circulating lists of 'easy targets' on the black market.
It’s not just someone knocking on the door that you should be cautious of – take leaflets put through your letterbox with a pinch of salt, too. This is another way cowboy traders try to reel you in, making misleading or false claims and using scare tactics, particularly around home security.
There can be advantages to using a limited company over a lone ranger. Retailers are more likely to have a complaints procedure in place, and to be part of a dispute resolution scheme, both of which can be helpful if something does go wrong.
They’re usually in a better financial position, or have more assets, so there can be a greater chance of getting your money back if they fall short of expectations. Plus, there's less risk of them vanishing into thin air when a complaint is made.
A trader or company turning up at your door isn’t necessarily a scam – they could genuinely be in the area or selling door-to-door. But we’d recommend turning these offers down. You'll have no idea about the quality of their workmanship or whether they’re offering the right price.
If you are tempted by an offer, take the trader's details and ask them to write up a full quote (don’t give them any more contact details than your address and first name). Then, in your own time, research the job properly and ideally ask for a second opinion and quote from other traders.
You should never be pressured to buy or sign a contract on the spot. Even if it’s not an illegal practice, it’s certainly not a reputable one, and should be a big warning sign.
Each local Trading Standards across the UK runs different schemes to help catch known rogue traders and educate consumers.
This includes working with the police, adding ‘no cold calling’ signs to neighbourhoods, coordinating with banks to flag big transfers made to known rogue companies, and using social media to spread awareness. Find your .
Don't agree to the first quote you get immediately. Make sure you get at least three quotes, and possibly more for a big job.
Speaking to several traders will give you an idea of a reasonable price for the work. You'll also get a range of opinions, which could be useful.
If you're considering a trader, look at their previous work. Online reviews can start to build a picture, but try not to rely solely on them, as reviews can be skewed.
A decent trader shouldn’t have a problem listing previous satisfied customers you can visit or speak to over the phone. Building surveyors can also be a good source of recommendations.
Use Companies House to check how long they’ve been trading – the longer the better – and look at their accounts to establish whether they are in a healthy financial position and therefore able to refund you if things go wrong.
Ideally, go for a trader or company that’s registered with the relevant accredited trade bodies and an ADR scheme. This will make things a lot easier if something goes wrong. All must be signed up to an ADR scheme.
Find out their availability – great tradespeople are less likely to be free immediately.
Make sure you check affiliations and certificates, too, particularly if the job involves gas or electrical work – don’t just take their word for it.
Once you’ve decided who to go with, get everything in writing (either by email or letter) – it’ll be a lot easier to detangle any problems if you have a solid paper trail.
Your correspondence should include details of the work to be carried out and an idea of materials, timings and cost. If the price is an estimate, ask for clarity on what could increase it and by how much.
It's illegal for a trader to harass or threaten someone, take money without doing the work, lie about qualifications and competency, or falsify documents, such as building regulations or electrical certificates.
But there are many scenarios in which the lines between what is criminal and what's just bad practice can be blurred, especially when it comes down to whether or not a trader has met the standards of work you were expecting.
If you have entered into a contract for goods and services, you can expect these to be supplied with reasonable care and skill using materials that are of a satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and meet the description given.
This is true whether you have a verbal or written agreement. Where price and timescale are not agreed in advance, the service must be carried out at a reasonable price and in reasonable time. If your trader fails to do this, they have breached their contract and you have the right to claim against them.
Follow these steps to move forward with a trader dispute and possibly recoup your costs:
'Last year, I had my loft insulated. Later, a man claiming to have links with the company visited offering to fit a heat-recovery system. I agreed and paid a deposit of £2,700 on the spot.
'Within the 14-day cooling-off period, I decided it wasn't for me. I emailed to cancel but heard nothing. Twelve days after I’d signed the contract, the salesman returned. I told him I wanted to cancel – he stormed out of my house.
'After weeks of no response, follow-up letters were sent from me and a legal firm to any address we could find for the business. Eventually, somebody from the company called and agreed to pay me back, but said they would need my card details to do so. A few days later, my bank reported unusual activity – £200 had been spent on pizza.
'I’ve reported it to Trading Standards and the police, but have heard nothing. I have started legal action, but it remains to be seen whether I will actually get my money back.'
Which? Legal says:
A person not getting their money back, even when they’ve won their claim, is something we see regularly. If the company doesn’t have an address where they can be reached, or goes into liquidation, sadly, there is nothing that can be done.
Make sure you check a trader's credentials before you agree to anything. We don't recommend agreeing to work from a cold caller, but if you do, you certainly shouldn't feel pressured to pay up on the spot.
'My partner and I employed a builder to eradicate some damp and fix our chimney. His quote was quite low and he estimated it would only take three days, so we accepted.
'As soon as he started, we could see that he was approaching the work in a scattergun way. He rarely worked a full day and was uncontactable for long periods of time. The job dragged on for more than three months, during which our home was left in utter chaos. He eventually failed to turn up at all and stopped responding to our messages..
'When we did get hold of him, we discussed the problems in person, by message and phone, suggesting solutions and setting final deadlines. We also withheld some money. We had to pay a second builder £1,500 to finish the job and didn’t get back any of our original £4,000.'
Which? Legal says:
In such situations, you should deal with the trader in writing, by email or post. Be aware that you may be in breach of contract if you withhold funds.
In an effort to get your money back, we recommend writing to the builder, asserting your rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and stating that you have no other option but to pursue legal proceedings against them.
'Last year, we employed a roofer to fix our extension. He said he could do it in a day for £900, so we agreed verbally. Over three days he worked sporadically on it, leaving the roof open to the elements, causing water damage inside.
'After advice from Which? Legal I emailed the trader with exact details of the problems, what he needed to do and a deadline. He agreed, but failed to show up, so we had to call someone else in to fix it urgently. It was at this point we discovered he’d disconnected our boiler vent too, allowing excess carbon dioxide into our home.
'I reported him to Trading Standards and the police, but there was no follow up. I took him to the small claims court to recoup the cost and, because he didn’t respond to or refute the claim, I won.
'However, because he used his accountant’s address instead of our his own, and has since liquidated the company, there is no way of actually getting our £3,350 claim, which covers the original price paid, fixing the issue and legal costs.'
Which Legal says:
Despite winning a claim in court, there's still no guarantee you'll get your money back. If the person or company doesn’t have an address where they can be reached, or the company goes into liquidation, unfortunately there is nothing that can be done.
That's why it's so important to check a trader's background before you employ someone. You can use Companies House to find out how long a business has existed, and whether it's financially sound.
Or let our experts at Which? Trusted Traders do the hard work for you. All our traders are rigorously vetted, so you can have peace of mind.
'We had heat-reducing film fitted to all the windows and roof in our conservatory to help keep it cool in the summer. But the film is doing the opposite, transmitting excess heat into the conservatory and making it hotter than ever.
'This is because the installer didn’t properly establish the type of glass we have. We got a second opinion from an independent glazier, who has confirmed that the film isn’t fit for purpose.
'We were pressured to pay for the work by bank transfer on the day of installation, before we could establish whether it worked or not. We contacted the company to explain the issue and that we felt we’d been misled into buying the wrong product, but it rejected our claim for the cost of labour, materials and VAT, as it says we agreed to the products.
'After having three more independent surveys done, and following up with numerous letters (including one mentioning court action), the company has said it will refund some of the money. It's not covering the cost of the materials, even though the installer used the wrong ones. But to save further costs and legal action, we have compromised with a partial refund.'
Which? Legal says:
It is a breach of contract to mislead a consumer, or to sell a product that's not fit for purpose or of satisfactory quality. We’d recommend asking for a full refund (returning the product, if you can), or suitable replacement. Ensure that you have the independent opinion in writing, as this will be evidence of the breach of contract.
'We recently had our bathroom refitted. We got a written quote, but ended up paying nearly £1,200 more than that. We had to get more expensive tiles as the fitter said that the ones we chose had been discontinued. But he kept choosing other more costly options, too.
'In hindsight, we should have been more specific about the products we wanted and checked the details as he progressed, but we were time poor and trusted him to act with integrity.
'He was also unprofessional, working sporadically and sending a "mate" to do part of the work without warning. He was slow, too – we were clear that we needed it completed within a week, but it took three.
'He did a good enough job in the end, but the shower has since broken, and he’s refusing to acknowledge the problem.'
Which? Legal says:
Your original quote shouldn’t change, and any variation should be agreed by both parties before going ahead. If costs do increase, good practice is for the trader to provide sufficient notice and a range of options to facilitate an informed decision.
If concerns arise after work is completed, you should notify the trader in writing, asking them to deal with your complaint in a reasonable time.