Warning: Checkatrade and Rated People charge traders to be on their websites
Consumers groups are warning householders to be wary of a flurry of leaflets being pushed through letter boxes promoting find-a-trader websites. The services offered – everything from installing insulation to beefing up home security – can be expensive and are often being promoted by companies more interested in making a profit from running the websites than ensuring households get value for money and a stellar service.
Mike Edwards, founder of home improvements website DIY Doctor, says: ‘It is absolute insanity to select someone to do handy-work on your home from a find-a-trader website without first doing thorough checks. The trades people – be they electricians, plumbers or decorators – may well offer an excellent service but consumers should not forget that these websites are funded by the traders who have paid to be put on a recommended list. In other words, the lists are not necessarily a reflection of quality.’
The main find-a-trader websites are TrustATrader, Checkatrade and Rated People.
TrustATrader members typically pay from £958.80 a year to advertise on its website. Checkatrade offers members a rolling monthly contract from £84 a month while Rated People charges from £42 a month. But Rated People also typically charges traders £18 for ‘job leads’.
Citizens Advice says complaints about poor home building and renovations have risen three-fold since April as many homeowners have struggled to find traders they can trust. It warns people away from find-a-trader websites.
Abigail Reynolds, of Citizens Advice, says: ‘Advertising of such services is all well and good but when searching for a trustworthy trader there is no better way than to find one through personal recommendation from a friend or neighbour.’
She also says that trading standards departments at local councils will often point people in the direction of ‘approved’ traders – those signed up to Government-backed approved trader scheme TrustMark.
This not-for-profit TrustMark scheme has its own website. People looking for a tradesperson can tap in details of where they live and the work that needs to be done – and it will then provide details of local tradespeople.
These will have signed up to a strict code of conduct – more stringent than a find-a-trader website – and paid £40 a year to use the TrustMark logo on marketing material.
Simon Ayers, chief executive of TrustMark, says: ‘We may not have a multi-million pound advertising budget like the find-a-trader websites but we’re focused on ensuring homeowners are provided with the best quality of service. If things do go wrong and someone has an issue with a TrustMark badged trader, we have a dispute resolution ombudsman that people can turn to.’
By way of comparison, unofficial find-a-trader websites do not offer such a complaints resolution service, although they can – and do – withdraw traders from their recommended lists if they fail to deal satisfactorily with complaints. They also provide customer feedback reviews which are then used to weed out any cowboys.
Apart from TrustMark approval, homeowners should also demand proof of trade body membership. Electrician approved bodies include the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC) and National Association of Professional Inspectors and Testers (NAPIT). For gas fitters look for a Gas Safe Register certificate.
If a worker does not have such qualifications it may invalidate home insurance if something later goes wrong. The Federation of Master Builders insists members are professionally trained to a high standard of work.
Of all the find-a-trader services available, Trusted Traders is probably the best. It is run by consumer group Which? which charges traders a one-off £240 for an ‘assessment’. If successful, they pay a monthly membership fee starting from £60.
Raj Kakar-Clayton, managing director of Which? Trusted Traders, says: ‘We have a strict checking process to ensure reviews by customers are trustworthy and verified. Not all traders who apply are selected to join the scheme.’
Mike Fairman, chief executive at Checkatrade, says: ‘Every member has been through up to a dozen background checks and has signed up to uphold our standards of honesty, transparency and professionalism.’ A spokesman for Rated People says: ‘We make it easy for homeowners to find reliable, vetted tradespeople.’