Cowboy Builder Problem in England Revealed by New Data

SGS Engineering offer tips on how to avoid being stung by rogue traders

Here at SGS Engineering, we’re all about getting the job done properly, and we want to make sure that all our customers are able to improve their homes in a safe and secure manner.

While most tradespeople will offer a fair and competitively priced quote for any work requested, there are unfortunately a number of rogue traders across the country, who could leave homeowners out of pocket with unfinished projects.

We recently conducted some research using Citizens Advice Bureau data, and we were alarmed to find that over 100,000 people in England have been affected by cowboy tradespeople since 2019. People in the South-East of England are the most likely to have been affected, with 20,219 complaints made between the start of 2019 and May 2022.

Number of Complaints Made Since 2019 – By Region

South-East  20,219
North-West  18,997
London region  15,153 
West Midlands 14,193
East of England 13,027
Yorkshire and Humberside  12,941
South-West  12,421
East Midlands  11,768
North-East  5,074


There has also been a rise in the number of complaints received in recent years, with a 31% increase in complaints received regarding cowboy builders between 2020-2021.

Across the country in 2022, roofing, roof sealing, and chimney repairs were the most common cause of complaint, with 2,298 complaints to the Citizens Advice Bureau since the start of the year.

Those working on window frames and doors (2,229), major renovations (1,827), fitted kitchens (1,253), and general building work (1,038) are also frequent problem areas.  Roofers are not the most common rogue traders in every area of the country, though.


Most Common Complaint per Area

South-East  Window Frames and Doors: 367 Complaints
North-West  Roofing, roof sealing, and chimney repairs: 452 Complaints
London region  Major Renovations: 304 Complaints 
West Midlands Window Frames and Doors: 224 Complaints
East of England Window Frames and Doors: 251 Complaints
Yorkshire and Humberside  Roofing, roof sealing, and chimney repairs: 255 Complaints
South-West  Roofing, roof sealing, and chimney repairs: 233 Complaints
East Midlands  Window Frames and Doors: 251 Complaints
North-East  Roofing, roof sealing, and chimney repairs: 148 Complaints


SGS Tips: How to Avoid Being Ripped Off by a Rogue Trader 

Anyone can be ripped off by a cowboy tradesperson, but there are steps that can be taken to minimise the risk.

The quoted price is suspiciously cheap: It makes sense to secure quotes from numerous tradespeople before starting a job, but price shouldn’t be the only consideration. If the cheapest quote is hundreds or even thousands of pounds lower than the average and sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It could mean they are a cowboy builder, or could not be experienced enough to give accurate figures 

They won’t put anything in writing: If a tradesperson if unwilling to commit to putting a quote in writing, or to write up a contract, then alarm bells should be ringing. 

They say they are in a trade association when they are not: A crucial step is to check if the builder does belong to the trade association. If they don’t, it means they’re untrustworthy and might even be committing a criminal offence.

Asks for money up front: This is perhaps the most important step. A trustworthy builder won’t ask you to do this and should have enough money as a business to cover materials. Money should only be released according to an agreed schedule upon each completed stage of a job. Do not pay large sums before work has been completed.

Not willing to offer references: Tradespeople should be open and honest about their previous work. 

Too keen to start the job straight away: A common tactic of cowboy builders is to work extensively in one area before leaving without a trace. 

It makes sense to source a number of different quotes before deciding on a tradesperson. This is beneficial in a number of ways; receiving different quotes gives a good idea of what a competitive price and completion time for the job could be, as well as giving a chance to gauge whether each tradesperson sounds trustworthy and credible before continuing.

Whether you’re looking to renovate your kitchen or change up your garden, taking the time to properly research any tradespeople you book to work on your home will ensure you limit the chance of having to deal with rogue traders

Methodology Freedom of Information requests were requested from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau for any complaints received in relation to complaints received in relation to home maintenance and improvement from 2019-2022.