Wild West workmen! 2.5m disputes triggered by cowboy builders and decorators in three years

Cowboy builders and decorators have provoked disputes with at least 2.5million families in just three years, research shows.

Poor quality work, mess, failure to turn up on time and delay in completing jobs have left householders fuming and out of pocket – with nearly a fifth turning to the courts.

The figures, published today, paint a shameful picture of the ability and attitude of thousands of tradesmen.

Shameful: One in three was unhappy with the building or decorating work they paid for (picture posed by models)

Shameful: One in three was unhappy with the building or decorating work they paid for (picture posed by models)

Critics say the woeful performance is one reason more and more householders are turning to foreign odd-job men, from Poland and elsewhere, in search of professional and affordable service.

Builders and decorators are largely a law unto themselves. Many operate in the black economy, meaning they pay little or no tax.  One in five people who has employed someone to work on their home since 2008 has had a dispute, the research from Which? found.

One in three was unhappy with the quality of work, while nearly one in four complained about mess. The same proportion said workers failed to turn up on time and that there were delays over completion.

Nearly one in five said the trader failed to do everything that was asked for, while a similar proportion again said they were put under pressure to pay more than was originally agreed.

What went wrong.jpg

In more than one in ten cases a tradesman caused some damage, according to the figures.

Disputes over when people should pay were also common.

A quarter of customers failed to receive a written quote from their builder or decorator before work began, and 4 per cent were asked to pay the full amount upfront.


Two in five people said their experience left them out of pocket, with a quarter feeling they were owed at least £500. One in ten said they had lost more than £1,000.

Many of the customers found dealing with tradesmen intimidating, particularly if there was a problem. Which? found that 64 per cent talked to the builder or decorator to try to resolve the dispute, 15 per cent went to a professional body, and 18 per cent ended up going to the courts.

Many builders argue that they are the victims of sharp practice, with clients refusing to pay money that is owed.

Last year, one angry workman reduced an extension he had built to rubble after arguing with the homeowner about a £32,000 payment.

The incident happened at the home of Sarmin Nessa in Perry Barr, Birmingham, after she withheld £5,000 over the time taken to complete the work.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd advised: ‘To avoid problems, you should always have a written agreement between you and the trader.

‘And it’s important to do your homework. Make sure you get several quotes before deciding who to use, choose a recommended trader and check they’re a member of a professional body.’

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