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’ work.

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 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 get 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.

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.

Heat pump installers

Heat pump installer horror stories are increasing at an alarming rate, which we’ve seen on our sister site, Renewable Heating Hub. If you’ve got a story you’d like to share, please pop over the forums.

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