Saturday, 15 September 2012

Dealing with tradesmen - one of life's greatest miseries

Does anyone else hate dealing with tradesman?

Apart from the odd once or twice, I usually find myself at the mercy of a gang of fierce looking men intent on ripping me off.

Calling up an engineer or plumber to come and look at something that has gone wrong strikes fear into my heart.

I think it is because I know nothing about electrics or plumbing, and stood shivering in a house with no heating or hot water, I have little choice but to agree to whatever they tell me.

They never just turn up, look at what is broken, and fix it.

We always have to go through that dramatic performance of head-scratching, and sighing, just to let you know that the extortionate bill you will inevitably get at the end of it will be justified.

They start sucking air in through their teeth, rubbing their chins, accusing you of having had cowboys in previously.

They then lead you to believe there is little hope of you ever having a hot shower again.

When they have reduced you to the point of doing just about anything to get your life back, and them out of the house, they strike.

“I can do it, but it will cost you.”

“It’s not going to be a small job.”

“I’m going to have to put aside a day to come back and fix that.”

You see  the annual holiday fund slowly evaporate before your eyes, replaced with bill for entire new heating system.

It is no fun, and there doesn’t seem to be any regulatory system in the same way there is for other services.

There is actually quite a sinister edge to the whole handyman, engineer, plumber gardener industry.

As I said, I have been ripped off more than once.

Gardeners once charged me £2,000 for a job which included replacing a fence.

After they had disappeared, I realised they never attached it to the wall. It fell down with the first puff of wind.

During the work they came up to me, sighing and air-sucking, and told me they had discovered a buried metal railing that would take an extra day to dig out. And cost me an extra £150.

I agreed, reluctantly and withdrew the extra funds out of the bank that morning.

It took them ten minutes, but as they were big and covered in tattoos I didn’t say anything.

A well-known gas company fitted my central heating ten years ago, it broke down within days but of course by that point I had already coughed up.

I was now just another poor sod being told to wait in between the hours of 8am and 6pm, day in day out, for an engineer to come round.

"But it's just been fitted by you," I pleaded.

"I'm sorry sir, you have our bronze service, I can get an engineer out to you next Tuesday."

This went on for months, engineers scratching heads,  fiddling with this and that. 

I have never had so much fun using up my annual leave quota, being given the runaround by those who purport to be “looking after my world”.

Another example - one morning, after discovering water coming through the ceiling, I called a roof expert thinking the rain had started to leak into the house.

“Oooh,” he gasped, “That roof is gone, you will need a new one, I can do it for £4.5k.”

Something told me not to accept there and then, but to get a second opinion.

I called a plumber who discovered a leaky pipe in the attic, an hour later is was fixed. There was no rain coming in.

Roof knackered my backside.

This week I had the pleasure of another visit from some tradesman, this time to fix a burned out fuse on an immersion heater.

The firm charge £90 an hour – or part thereof - so I was hoping it would not take too long.

After twenty minutes of fiddling they emerge. Thank goodness, I think, that was relatively quick - almost too good to be true.

“We need to go and get some parts” the bigger one says, “won’t be long”.

“OK,” I reply, quivering, tentatively looking at the clock.

An hour later I start to panic, are they charging me for the time they are away? £90 per hour? B and Q is only up the road? 'Don’t worry', I tell myself, they will be back soon.


I ring head office, who tell me they are stuck in traffic, and assure me I will only be charged for a maximum of one hour part-collection time.


When they return at 6pm they take another 10 minutes to finish the job – that’s 30 minutes work time altogether.

“I’ll knock off half hour for the collection time,” he said, “that makes it four hours, agreed?”

“Not agreed,” I replied, explaining the conversation I had just had with his boss.

“Oh yes,” he said, “One hour max, we’ll call it 2.5 hours then, ok?”

“Nope” I replied.

“You worked for 30 minutes, and can charge a maximum of one hour while for while you were out collecting parts, that makes 1.5 hours in my book, so we’ll call it two.”

“Ok” he said, before writing me an invoice for £90 x 2, and adding on VAT and parts.

I wondered if I had been a frail pensioner whether I would have just coughed up double that without disputing it.

It is extremely worrying that this happens so frequently, and how many people are being regularly ripped off by unscrupulous handymen.

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