Citizens Advice has released ten tips, which they say should help you spot a cowboy builder. They say you should be extremely careful if:
1. They offer a particularly cheap quote. You should get three quotes so you have a rough idea of what the project should cost, and if one is significantly below the others, it may be a sign they plan to bump the charges up later.
2. They are unwilling to put the quote or estimate in writing. This is to save them from being held to account.
3. They won't offer you a contract - or won't sign it. This will leave you with less legal protection if they fail to do what they have promised.
4. They don't offer references. You should be able to go to visit references in person to check the work is up to standard - and if they cannot offer that, they may not be legitimate.
5. They are keen to start straight away (often because they like to do a number of jobs in an area and then move on so they can't be traced).
6. They will not tell you the business address and landline number so you can check them out.
7. They are not in a trade association (or they claim to be but they are not). It's essential to check claims like this before you appoint a builder.
8. They claim to be part of a reputable company, but they're not. It pays to check this with the company concerned.
9. They ask for money up-front - a reputable builder should be able to cover the cost of materials and only ask for payment after they have at least completed a significant proportion of the work.
10. They don't charge VAT and only accept cash. If they earn below a specific level then they don't have to charge VAT, but it can be a warning sign. Meanwhile, a cash payment avoids a paper trail - which you may want to rely on if things go wrong.