The costs of a cowboy builder

This article was written and distributed by the Federation of Master Builders, the building industry's largest trade organisation, representing over 13,000 small and medium-sized companies throughout the UK. If you'd like to know more about the FMB, or would like to find a reputable builder, try the Find a Builder web site at:

What price peace of mind?
Cowboy contractors are costing us money - around £1.5bn per year! That’s the amount, says the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) it costs consumers to put right the wrongs caused by fly-by-night builders.

But while many post-contract problems are easily avoided by first choosing a contractor who has a proven track, what else can homeowners do to get peace of mind among the chaos of refurbishment? It’s simple – take out insurance!

Damp-proofing is a classic example. All reputable damp-proofing firms will offer a guarantee – usually for 30 years - that they will revisit and repair a damp course should it fail. But how many of them are around in 10 years, let alone 30? A failed damp course is usually only picked up when a property is sold and a new survey required, so if, in the meantime the installers have gone out of business or moved out of the area, the seller is left to pay the price all over again.

To overcome this, many damp-proof companies also offer insurance backing against their guarantee, which will cost around 5% of the work done, and it’s well worth it, though do read the small print. Some schemes guarantee the work for 30 years, but only include the insurance for 20.

Building trade associations can offer protection against faulty building work and materials through an insurance-backed warranty, such as the 10 year MasterBond warranty offered by the FMB, which has been offering this type of protection for 20 years.

Jackie Holman learned the benefits of such a scheme the hard way and wishes her builder had offered her such reassurance. When she and her partner James moved into their house seven years ago, it needed a lot of refurbishment. In April last year, they decided they could at last splash out on a new kitchen and work began. Jackie says: “We had a tiny lean-to at the back of the house, so we decided to extend the room as well as having a new kitchen installed. James is a keen cook, so we were really looking forward to it. “

Things seemed to be going well, until the couple arrived home one day to find water pouring through the ceiling of the new extension. Jackie recalls: “The builder had removed the overflow from the upstairs loo because of the extension and hadn’t replaced it. He’d told us it wasn’t necessary.” Unfortunately he had built kitchen units around the stopcock, which made it difficult to get to, left building debris all over the garden and had laid the tongue-and-groove floor unevenly. Then when the new boiler started to go wrong, the couple discovered it was so badly installed that British Gas wouldn’t include it on their service contract and Jackie and James will have to pay for re-installation by an independent Corgi-registered fitter.

Jackie adds: “To top it all, the builder had put pictures of our house – inside and out - in the local paper to advertise his work, without our permission!” Unfortunately, the case continues...

The message is clear – keep the cowboys out of the kitchen and choose a vetted builder who is a member of an established organisation. But cover yourself for complications, too. Even with the most experienced and skilled contractor, things can go wrong, and an established insurance-backed guarantee will ensure that a job is completed well, without extra expense. And that’s reassuring for any householder.

The Federation of Master Builders insurance scheme, MasterBond, can only be offered to clients by FMB registered builders, after they have passed stringent checks. It costs just £75 per £5,000-worth of work (plus insurance premium tax) and will cover against faulty workmanship or materials for up to two years and against structural defects for 10 years. Should you move during that time, the insurance stays with the property and is passed on to the new owners. For further details or to get a free copy of the FMB’s “Essential Guide to Improving Your Home”, telephone the FMB on 08000 152 522 or log on to their website,
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