Frustrations dealing with tradesmen in the UK

by Mars
dealing with tradesmen

Since moving into Home Farm, we’ve found that dealing with tradesmen (carpenters, plumbers, builders, etc.) has generally been a stressful and draining experience.

Internationally, the UK is renowned for the quality, training and expertise of its tradesmen, but the one missing constant, from our multiple experiences, has been professionalism and reliability.

Whenever we’ve contacted tradesmen in the UK they are always fully booked, and the size of the job, big or small, doesn’t appear to be a factor.

This is not a criticism. It’s an observation. When we’ve spoken to neighbours and friends, we’re not alone and it’s something people in the UK have become conditioned to.

This lack of reliability and professionalism has been a huge driving factor for me to improve my DIY skills. We’ve purchased essential tools, and are happy to take on the work ourselves. To avoid the drama, it was one of the major reasons I gutted our old master bathroom.

There are, however, still many gaps in our various skillsets so we have to get professional assistance in areas we know little about, so as not to bodge things.

An example of unreliability

Let’s take our master bathroom refit project as our most recent example. This is a medium-size project that should be bread and butter for most plumbers and bathroom fitters, and involves about 6-7 days.

At the outset, we contacted six plumbers and bathroom fitters in our area. They were word of mouth recommendations from neighbours and our hardware store. Three came out to quote us. The other three said they could squeeze us in in 4-5 month’s time and declined quoting us.

Of the three that visited us, only one submitted a quotation. The other two were never to be heard from again, despite several follow ups.

I understand that these tradesmen are in demand and they can cherry pick the jobs they want, but the lack of professionalism and courtesy is disrespectful.

So we appointed the plumber that did quote us. He is very good and has done work for us before, and he commenced with the first work in early December. We needed to buy the sanitary-ware over December, which we did, and the plan was for the work to recommence in early January, 2020.

We tried contacting him by text message and phone calls – complete radio silence. Eventually, by mid January, he responded to us, apologising for the delay and informed us that he could start on the last Saturday of January.

I was going to detail how much we’ve been messed around, but this post would be too long. We have been scheduled and rescheduled time and again. We finally received his assurance and guarantee that he would see us through to completion. No distractions, he promised.

From the end of January to mid-February, he’s been on a site a total of two days. That’s us being his priority. He just hops from one short (emergency) lucrative job to the next and we’ve become the back-burner project.

This behaviour is incredibly distracting and not conducive to an efficient outcome of any project, and I can understand why there are so many horror stories in the UK of projects just dragging on endlessly. It’s also unnecessarily stressful for the paying customer.

Informal quotations

Our other bugbear is quotations. Getting formal quotations has been like pulling teeth. Nothing is ever itemised, and if we’re lucky, we’ll get a PDF or Word document with the quote. In most of our cases it’s a text or WhatsApp message with a one line scope of work and a price: “replace ridge tiles. £1,000”.

We’ve even had instances where we’ve sent our requirements to tradesmen and they’ve replied, in a text message or email, with a price. Nothing more, and it’s up to us to telepathically know whether they will do everything we need.

Given that some of the work we’ve had done has cost thousands of pounds, we need formal quotes and invoices for insurance purposes. Even getting invoices after a project is finished is a challenge, and most arrive in a garbled, typo-strewn text messages.

Given this practice, we now understand how projects can spiral out of financial control because no parameters or scope of work is ever set before the project commences. Again, this seems to be common practice in the UK.

We spoke to a friend recently that lives one village over from us, and their budgeted £10,000 bathroom project ended up costing over £22,500 because of non-existent quotations and an open-ended scope of work that the builders took full advantage of.

When we have asked for detailed paperwork we’ve on occasion received our own wording slapped into an invoice or better still a reply saying we can just have insurers or future buyers call them about the work they’ve carried it.

A quotation request gem

My favorite quotation example of late was when we requested a quotation on a Monday, and followed up with the contractor on Wednesday to see when the quote would be ready. His response via WhatsApp was: “I told you I’m working on it!! If you want to a faster quotation, go find someone else and use them. I am very busy”.

It’s mind blowing to think that this is a rational way of running a profitable business. It honestly is.

Walking off with materials we’ve paid for

I find this more outrageous than frustrating. When we’ve commenced with largish jobs that require building materials such as wood, nails, bricks, glue, etc. the tradesmen almost always arrive with brand new boxes of screws, unopened glue containers and wood that’s been pre-cut from large sheets.

When the job’s done, the boxes of screws, wood offcuts, bricks and other unfinished materials always make their way back into their van. In most cases, I know that we’ve paid for those materials and they try to make off with them.

This happened to us very recently when we had our chimney rebuilt. There were 100 bricks left over, and when the crew started cleaning up after themselves, they started loading the bricks into their trailer.

When we called them out on this, they said we’d only paid for the bricks used in the chimney. We approached the supervisor and business owner with this, and he crumbled not knowing how to reply, eventually admitting that we had paid for the full pallet of bricks and sheepishly got his workmen to unload them.

At £1 brick, that was £100 worth of building material, which we had paid for, that they were going to make off with. Perhaps they thought it was a tip for a job well done. That’s 100 bricks I could use to build our pizza oven or extend our well.

It’s just not right.


Just when you think that walking off site with our stuff was bad enough, certain tradesmen pull another trick. They offer to take your offcuts and unused materials to the skip/dump, but at a fee because they’ll get charged for it.

This, we’ve learnt, is absolute nonsense. They’re just making extra money, and they’ll use those offcuts and other materials on another job. It’s taken us a while, but we’re onto these tricks now, and we’re not having any of it.

Dealing with tradesmen

I don’t fully understand why tradesmen in the UK have opted to operate in this unprofessional manner, and this has been the basis of our frustration when dealing with tradesmen. Good old-fashioned customer service and reliability seem to have also been chucked out the window.

We’re still very courteous to tradesmen, but our tolerance has waned and we have no issue taking what we’ve paid for and putting it in the garage when the project has been completed. If there’s rubbish, we clear it ourselves and take it to the local dump.

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2 years ago

Oh I can not wait until we’re in the same territory with our builders … ????

Reply to  Luffy
1 year ago

WEll sorry to hear all this but as a woman, because I have had some damp over wall since December no Tradesmen get back to me, One or two came out all telling me it is the wall , it is outside inside or need new tiles Blah Blah, last one didn’t get back to me Was told on the phone I had no money… because I said I saved up for things or was on a budget, so as poor as a church mouse Ah, I have found workmen at MBay, dreadful, got one good plumber and roofer apart from that Greed over priced, My landline keeps going down for days, so it is pulling me back as mobile is too expensive . I am looking to move out of England!

2 years ago

[…] project should have been finished weeks ago, but our plumber has constantly scheduled, unscheduled and rescheduled us since the beginning of this year. It’s been […]

1 year ago

It’s great reading about your journey, thank you for sharing!

I’m sorry to read that your having problems with your local trades people. In my experience good trades people are hard to find and word of mouth is the best way. The really good trades people are often booked up months in advance, many are one-person-operations or perhaps with one apprentice, most will be doing their “back office” work late in the evening after a hard days work. A good trades person is skilled at their craft but not necessarily at diary management or book keeping. Of all the trades people I know there are only a very small few that are willfully malicious, overcharge, cherry pick or profiteer. By asking around you will find out who these people are. In a rural location, it just doesn’t make for good business if you rip people off, because everyone knows everyone else. Most trades people I know will do their best to please, sometimes this is a trap, as it is easy to respond to the person who shouts the loudest or say “yes” to things that are better said “no” to…. this happens in all walks of life, not just the construction industry.

A tradesman not getting back to you with a quote is not necessarily rude or snubbing you, it may be that they are busy, overwhelmed or perhaps not that well organised because the organising of things is done when fatigued after a full day of work. Show me a recruitment company that gets back to everyone who submits a CV! Or an IT or utility company that you don’t spend at least 45mins on hold or going around an automated phone menu system to get to a real human.

The construction industry suffers from poor kudos and an education system and society that values academic achievement over practical skills. Good trades people find it hard to pass on their skills and knowledge eg through apprentices because trades are not seen as aspirational or valued careers, so kids just don’t want to learn a trade. In additional the much touted “apprenticeship funding” from the government exists as a £500 annual cheque for an apprentice that the trades person is expected to pay and take time to train with no lock-in to serve after the apprenticeship and of course the customer doesn’t want to pay for a trainee so skills are lost rather than developed. But, political rant over, and back to your renovation project.

Renovation projects in particular require a tradesman who is good at creative problem solving as well as hand-skills. Much more so than bashing in a standard bathroom, heating system or door frame to a new build. Ask around your area, identify the real artisan tradespeople and give them as much notice as possible. Do not buy on price. A good trades person will be fair, not the cheapest and not the most expensive. Build a good relationship with your tradespeople and they will be loyal in return. Once your project is completed it will still need maintenance, taps will need replacing after a while, your boiler will need servicing etc etc

Good luck! If you were local to me I would share my listed of trades people. I hope you find some great trades people to work with.

Tim Inchley
Tim Inchley
Reply to  Moz
1 year ago

I really like your reply and comments regarding trades people. Everything you have said has hit the nail on the head and is a realistic sum up of the good trades in this county. I would really like to share your comments to other people who perhaps don’t understand the stresses and workload of a good craftsman.

The Re-Farmer
1 year ago

Wow! I can’t imagine having that level of unprofessionalism – and then not having any choice but to use them, because there’s nothing else!

When we got an estimate done for our roof, I called several companies, but only 2 came out to look at our roof. Both left very detailed estimates, which included leaving extra shingles for any future patching (such as for storm damage). And that was knowing that it would be at least 2 years before we could come up with the money to get the work done.

The arborists that took down trees from our roof and power line are a very busy company; I see them everywhere. They still manage to find time to come out and do estimates for us. When they did work for us, then even took down a couple extra problem trees they identified, at no extra cost! Our plumber had gone out of his way to come here to replace our hot water tank, because he knew we had no hot water at all and didn’t want us to be without for any longer. Everyone has been so professional!

I do wish more people went into trades. I don’t know if it’s the same for you in the UK, but in Canada and the US, the push has been to get kids going to university for some white collar career, while trades were looked down on. I think there is finally starting to be a shift in that attitude. Maybe because all those white collar workers are having a hard time finding jobs, with incredible amounts of debt, while tradespeople remain in high demand. It’s a huge sign of how bad the economy has gotten during downturns, when tradespeople start having to sell of their tools.

1 year ago

I lived in a small Scottish town and needed emergency window repairs on a weekend and a new planned central heating system. On some occasions I used workers recommended by the local hardware store owner and they were great. We did have drift in the central heating budget though, and I’ll never know if the old rads were recycled / scrapped as agreed, but in a small town these guys know their local traders. Mine told me who was “a bit pricey” or away for the weekend on a fire volunteers training course. Really recommend a good relationship with smaller hardware store owners. But also recognise all the problems above and like you make all trades leave all the materials I’ve bought. Chancers!

1 year ago

Most of the tradesman I have worked with ended up displaying the exact behaviour you have spoken about here. Its frankly shocking.
I had a situation where the boiler flue had broken off in the attic and was filling with carbon monoxide – in my and the gas safety engineers opinion a threat to life situation. After leaving a review on trusted trader , he called me and stated that he wanted proof of a threat to life situation OR he would not honour my ten year gauruntee.
After all that the arrogance is shocking – I honestly do not know what is wrong with them.
BUT I did find one of the best tradesman on the face of the planet a few months back when they did my bathroom – and I cannot recommend him more highly.

1 year ago

I came here because I’m frustrated that tradesmen can’t admit to breaking things. They hide the pieces or just say “that wasn’t me”. The latest case the guy blew up at me when I asked him to mend my 3m garden path when he finished the £12,000 job laying a patio. He drove his laden van onto my lawn without asking, it was very wet, his water barrel for concrete overflowed making it incredible wet, and over several days he covered the path in mud and deformed the paving at its edge into an S shape. He’s a landscaper, fixing it should be easy. I paid his excessive “interim” bill. Then he sent a 3 page explanation of how his little van could not possibly have done the damage (I know it did, I know how it looked the week before he started work). That if I hadn’t mentioned it (politely) he would have fixed it as a “goodwill jester”. And because of this he feels he has to terminate the contract. I also asked him to move the pallets of materials off my bed of cyclamen (again, politely) and he only did so after quitting – sending me a letter saying it wasn’t much of a garden. But why put the pallets there, 2 feet from a spot where they wouldn’t have damaged anything? I guess so he could continue to drive his van over my lawn without being impeded by his materials… He’s furious apparently because I pointed out things he damaged. Why is it so hard to say “sorry”?

Ken Payne
Ken Payne
1 year ago

I was in favor of Brexit but certainly not for reasons. And the biggest drawback is I’ve lost my very reliable, very professional, very friendly and reasonably priced Polish builders/tradesmen.
Now I have to put up with rude, unprofessional over priced UK tradesmen who usually do not even have the courtesy to reply to emails and if they do they think they are doing you favor!

7 months ago

I thought I was the only one initially having these problems with tradesman. The UK trades really do suffer from total a lack of self management with a dose of greed. Not all I must say but tread very carefully as you have already pointed out.

Just getting anyone to quote for jobs big or small has been like pulling teeth. They either don’t respond, don’t turn up or are never heard from again.

Our latest problem getting bricklayers to build a small 5m long garden wall (2/3 days labor budget up to £1000. Out of contacting 10 tradesman only 2 replied.

Quote 1- 3 days work excluding materials £7000 Inc VAT
Quote 2- 2/3days work excluding materials £5000 for cash
Both quotes – to turn the bricks sideways to make the wall top look decorative additional £450

Our answer to this? A 5 day bricklaying course for £350 and built it ourselves with enough change left over for a Caribbean holiday!

It seems like they are only after a cash cow or the village idiot to overpay 10 fold to tide them over between jobs. The problem is they know most of us struggle to get a single quote and knowing that they take advantage by throwing out ridiculously high quotes and hope someone is desperate enough to pay out..
But let’s end on a high… I have found an amazing carpenter who works on a day rate who is very reliable and professional so they are out there!

Michael Jones
Michael Jones
6 months ago

Many of these problems could be solved if the UK govt made some effort to regulate building work. If all tradesmen were obliged to meet certain standards, prices might rise, but I think we would all benefit in the long run.
My latest problem is renovating my kitchen. I’m perfectly capable of moving a few electrical sockets, but the Building Regs say it can only be done by a “Qualified person”. So what if my local electricians don’t fancy the job?

6 months ago

I have recently dealt with three tradesmen: an electrician, a boiler installer, and a bathroom fitter. The fitter has been a nightmare, taking 6 weeks to renovate a 4 sqm basic bathroom (and still not being done), while gadding off every now and then to do other jobs. The electrician had to be chased for a quote a bit, but then he did the job on the agreed day, quickly and well. The boiler installer was an absolute pleasure to deal with, he provided a detailed quote, showed up as agreed and completed the job with incredible attention to detail. The fitter’s perception is that he gets screwed over on every job, though from my experience, he just ends up out of his pocket through poor organisation, working only 4 hours a day and making costly mistakes. The electrician told me he’d never had a non-paying client, and the boiler installer allegedly returns to all his clients for annual boiler service (he will definitely get a call to do mine). It goes both ways – bar a few exceptions on both sides, what a tradesman gives to a client, they get back!

6 months ago

I feel your pain. I’ve restored our property and try to do as much as I can myself. Occasionally I have to get someone in and its usually a nightmare. It got so bad and it was affecting us so badly that we instigated a zero-tolerance policy – we will give you one call/leave one message or mail you one time asking for a call back and if you don’t reply, we will not be chasing you. Sadly, even this isn’t helping – I’m trying to get ASPH quotes and I’ve been through four companies before I even got a response from one and they seem to have gone quiet now too. I finally managed to get an outline quote from the company that you used.

Pamela Harleth
Pamela Harleth
5 months ago

Yes, well… Try living in a bungalow in East Sussex. If you are not really old and still have your marbles, builders etc are just not interested. Plumbers? Don’t even go there. Repointing a couple of walls…. No chance. A bit of gardening work that involves more than grass cutting and hours spent using edging tools?? Don’t bother asking.. Leaking flat roof? Roofer Unable to go up ladder. I could go on. Have tried local tradespeople, local ads and Mybuilder etc .. All to no avail. If they bother to come round, they don’t quote. Have given up and contemplating moving.

Shane carney
Shane carney
Reply to  Mars
4 months ago

Hi all,

Just to add a bit of balance to the conversation. I’m an electrician for 31 years now. I’m retiring in about a week or so. I physically & mentally have had enough. The behaviour of tradesmen is something Im so sick of hearing and witnessing. Unreliability, poor standards etc. Heard it all and I’ve worked in a few countries before the UK and folks it’s all the same.

So here’s the balance.. customers can be such a pain. If I was to put a % on it customers cause 80% of my pain. Firstly, cancelling work at the last moment. This freaks tradesmen out. Me included. Typical text (they rarely call) would be “Sorry to mess you about mate but” and then some message to say “need to cancel today, can you do it tomorrow” NO I CANT!!! Doesn’t work like that. Had it only yesterday morning.
Unreasonable customers.. enough to blow your top. Customers asking can plug points/lights be moved after they’ve been installed!!! This is after I give them a marker to mark the walls at the initial stages as to where they want their sockets/lights etc. I installed expensive garden lights for a guy this year and sent him a photo of them before installation to make sure he was happy with them. He was. Went and installed them and then got a lengthy text to say his wife wasn’t happy with them and could I bring them back, my reply-NO. My supplier won’t take items back on the basis that a customer didn’t like them and especially if they’ve been drilled through.
Late night texts. Customers texting at 11pm to ask “a few questions”
Late payers-Doesn’t need explanation. For the last 2 years I never leave the property without payment or proof of it. I chased a customer for 6 weeks for a payment for an emergency callout that I got him out a right pickle. His house had no power in the sockets and took time to trace. Some thanks..
Customers that think you’ve nothing else to do only to be available to them. Favourite of all time “lve a kitchen coming tomorrow afternoon, can you come tomorrow morning to move a few sockets and the cooker switch” Then gets irritated when I said I’ve no availability for at least a week or so.

So it’s a double edged sword folks. As mentioned I’m very aware about tradesmen. Half of them are cowards. Don’t have the courage to be honest and straight with customers. Instead they string customers along and play cat and mouse with them. On the other hand customers can be a pain and ongoing nuisance. I don’t condone the way tradesmen act but I can understand it to a degree. In my case I knew for the last two years I was done. Death by a thousand cuts. I’m SOOOOO glad to be leaving that it’s not funny. If you’re an inspiring electrician reading this, my advice is don’t do the 5 week fleece you courses. In reality it takes YEARS to be competent electrician. Don’t fall for the BS of false promises. If you’re a customer that has an upcoming job and want to find an electrician-few tips.

1. If you call, don’t stay long on the phone. Keep it as brief and to the point as you can. Tradesmen hate time soakers.
2. Whatever you do don’t convey urgency-if it’s not an emergency callout. One of two things will happen. You will most likely get blanked as the tradesman will feel that you’re not respecting his/her busy schedule. Or you’ll open yourself to being fleeced.
3. Don’t text or call after 5:30pm. Best time to call is directly after lunch about 2:30pm. Don’t call first thing in the morning. Tradesmen like everyone else are a bit nervy in the mornings. I hated calls before 11am.
4. If you do get a quote and start time and if you’ve been asked to move furniture to allow the job to start, make sure you do it. If you dont it gets things off to a bad start. DONT stand over and watch them while they work-some will actually down tools and leave.
5. DONT DONT DONT DONT ask them to do other things while they’re there. This used to spark a towering inferno inside of me.
6. Communicate well with the tradesmen. Grey areas always lead to a problem. DONT be indecisive. Another pet hate of mine.

2 months ago

Excellent advice from the soon to be retired electrician. From my experience as a new widow I was dreading calling tradespeople. But then I discovered my local Facebook community and tradespeople who lived locally. So far, emergency roof tile fixed, fire alarm replaced, New airbrick covers fitted, no charge for what I thought was a light fitment issue, help planting fruit trees, New computer and printer sorted. I can go on, Apparently lots if people now have emergency insurance, the companies get the local tradespeople to pick up the work, hence they are all busy. I always pay the moment I get the bill and supply copious refreshments, and a fully cleaned loo for the sole use of workpeople. We had far more trouble when my husband was alive because he would add in extra jobs to make the call out charge worthwhile. For big jobs you need a contract with the words time is of the essence.

2 months ago

It seems you do not want to wait for the quality tradesmen you so desire, this is why they are booked up for months in advance. Of course, the industry is rife with cowboys wanting to make a quick buck, I turn down lots of jobs as their timescales and budget expectations arent inline with what we can deliver, and ultimately they will go for someone who suspiciously isn’t booked up or can do it a lot cheaper.

14 days ago

I share your frustrations completly albeit on a smaller scale. We’ve tried to have two chimneys repointed and recapped for literally 2 years. I have lost count of the number of tradesmen I have spoken to, probably upwards of 50. I’ve had, no answers, no replies, no interest, no callbacks, one quote and lots of stress. Anything that involves scaffolding seems to mean they just can’t be bothered, there’s just not enough profit in it for them, or so it seems. Not a single one has ever just been striaght with me. The market might always not be stacked in their favour, one day they may need these potential customers they treat with such disrespect.

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