Could we see the end of cowboy builders?

New service helps protect against cowboy builders. But is it enough?

USA, Nevada, Las Vegas, Row of cowboy boots

A new scheme has been launched to help protect homeowners from cowboy builders. The Home Improvements Guarantee aims to make sure nobody hands over any cash until they are completely happy. But will it work?

More than 250 builders have been approved for the scheme so far. Instead of handing over any cash up-front, homeowners will place enough money to pay for the work into a 'holding account'. When they are happy that the work is completed properly, they can sign off payment, which then goes to the builder.

If they are unhappy, either the builder must rectify things before they are paid, or an independent surveyor will be brought in to assess whether the builder has done what they promised.

Will it work?

On one level it should take people out of the hands of cowboys, because when they are looking around for quotes, they can approach only those who have been approved, and if anything goes wrong, they are protected by the service. However, there are two problems with this.

The first is that not every builder will sign up to it. Not even every legitimate builder will sign up, because if they do so they have to pay commission on the work they get through the website. And as for the cowboys, they'll steer clear, and continue to ply their trade through classified adverts, and going door-to-door.

The second is that so few homeowners will check whether or not their builder is listed. Trading Standards already operates a list of approved traders. The government also runs a standards agency called TrustMark (

Before anyone employs a tradesperson to work on their house, they are advised to get in touch with their local council and look on the TrustMark website, to check whether they are approved.

Ourselves to blame

Unfortunately people don't do it. A recent survey by Sainsbury's found that over a five year period, over six million Brits fell prey to a cowboy trader - and had to pay nearly £3.7 billion to rectify their work. Only 5% of them had bothered to check with Trustmark. Nine out of ten of them failed to ask for references, and a third didn't even bother with a written quote.

The problem is that people aren't aware that they should be doing these things. Most have little or no experience of hiring tradespeople for major work, and so they don't have any knowledge of the steps they need to take, and the checks they need to do. As a result, more than a million people each year wade into a property nightmare.

The new system, much like the existing ones, will help some people avoid the cowboys, but the vast majority of people will not check accreditation, and the bodgers will continue to flourish.

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