The crimes of cowboy customers

The study claims rogue customers may well out-number rogue traders.
The study claims rogue customers may well out-number rogue traders.

The crimes of cowboy builders are well publicised, but a new study has found that rogue traders may well be out-numbered by rogue customers.

Customers having a cavalier attitude towards tradesmen’s safety and wellbeing is common, as are attempts to belittle their expertise, but the worst behaviour would be considered serious workplace harassment in any other context.

According to leading trades insurer AXA, eight in ten tradesmen told the survey they regularly encounter customers who attempt to knock down the agreed fee or avoid paying them on various pretexts – pushing back payment deadlines or disputing the fee only once work is complete.

Other types of behaviour are self-defeating, as clients unwittingly hinder work or prevent the tradesman from carrying it out properly. The most common ways customers undermine a building project, as voted by tradespeople, are: Insisting on cheap or unsuitable materials; Not providing clear job specs (contrary to myth, many tradesmen prefer a written agreement); Ignoring their advice; Asking them to do tasks they aren’t qualified for and hanging around while they try to work.

Another bugbear is having to work around animals that are not properly under control: a third of tradespeople have been attacked by a home-owner’s beloved pet.

The third biggest complaint was unsanitary working conditions with 27 per cent of tradesmen saying they’ve had to walk off a job after being asked to work amidst dog mess, maggot-infested rubbish or flea infestations.

Meanwhile, 26 per cent of tradespeople say they have had a customer flirt or attempt to seduce them in a way that made them feel uncomfortable. Tradespeople say they often feel demeaned or threatened by this behaviour.

Gareth Howell, managing director of AXA, said: “Tradespeople are the best insured small businesses in the UK and follow health and safety regulations designed to protect customers.”

He added: “But it cuts both ways, householders have a duty of care towards people working in their home too: to provide a clean work space, and ensure animals and children are well out of the way.”