Checkatrade | No Thanks!

Having blogged about my horrendous experience with The Window Centre Harrow who I had the misfortune of finding on Checkatrade, I feel it’s worth explaining exactly how these trade recommendation websites work and share my experience of using them over the last few years. Despite all the assurances that members are screened and vetted to ensure they’re reliable and trustworthy and that work will be carried out to the highest standards, I’ve rarely found that to be the case. Before contacting a tradesperson or business I have always read reviews and carefully and only used people with the highest scores but sadly, it has made little difference.

Prior to using The Window Centre Harrow I compared their products and services to several other companies but kept coming back to them because of all the positive reviews which had been left on various trade recommendation websites and other review type websites. Totally convinced that they were a trustworthy and reliable company I spent almost £10,000 with them to replace windows and doors throughout my house but it was one of the worse decisions I have ever made. Two years later and after a huge amount of stress I finally received a full refund from The Window Centre Harrow plus a significant amount of compensation.

Checkatrade along with other similar companies always appear at the top of search results so it’s difficult to ignore them when looking online for a tradesperson. Reviews written by previous customers are almost always positive and the reason for this as I have now discovered, is because negative reviews are very rarely published. Having written a critical review on MyBuilder about someone who made a complete mess of building a brick wall on my driveway, I was told my “complaint” would be held on file whilst Checkatrade told me they would be happy to act as a mediator to resolve a dispute between myself and a tyler.

The advantage of using a trade recommendation website is that it should give you a pretty good insight into the standard of a tradesperson’s work which is great but only if all reviews that have been written are published. The other factor to be aware of is that you can’t be certain whether a review is really genuine and that’s probably one of my main concerns. Unlike the feedback system on eBay, on many but not all of these sites it’s possible for anyone to leave feedback irrespective of whether work has been carried out or not. Checkatrade, Trust a Trader, My Builder and many others simply act as a go-between to enable you to find someone who’s willing and able to do the job and it’s worth remembering that members pay a significant amount of money to be included in the register. In order to be successful these companies need to retain tradespeople who are already registered with them and will always be looking to recruit new members so the last thing they want to be doing is publishing too many negative reviews.

Being told members are screened and vetted sounds very reassuring and as part of the process a telephone interview is carried out, accreditations and qualifications are inspected and records are looked at to ensure they don’t have a county court judgement against them. The one thing that’s missing however which seems to be the most important is a visual inspection of the standard of their work. The reason for not doing that is simply because it’s just not feasible. Whilst negative reviews written by dissatisfied customers may be monitored and held on file, how many need to be received before a membership is terminated and more importantly, should we as potential customers not be entitled to see them before deciding whether to use a tradesperson or not?

round shaped seal of approval

Leaving feedback on Checkatrade and Which Trusted Traders could not be easier and reviews can be left by anyone irrespective of whether work has been carried out or not. On My Builder and Trust a Trader a connection between the two parties must first be established but it’s really not difficult to work around that. The process for completing reviews is very similar irrespective of which site you use and begins with you giving a score out of 10 for timekeeping, reliability and the standard of the work. You’re then given the option to leave a short free-text comment. Once submitted an automated response is received which includes a link to confirm the review is genuine.

Whenever I’ve left a positive review it has been published immediately but those which include a low score have always been followed up with a call from someone who wants to discuss the matter further. Out of three negative reviews that I’ve written just one was published. From my own personal experience I can say with some degree of certainty that the process certainly has the potential to be exploited for personal gain.

Reviews are powerful and influential and in many cases will be the deciding factor on whether someone uses a tradesperson or not. For that reason it goes without saying that the more reviews someone has the more chance there is of them attracting new business. With no foolproof system in place to prevent non genuine reviews from slipping through the net, there’s a good chance the skills or expertise of the person you choose may not live up to your expectations.

Something else that intrigued me when looking at reviews particularly on Checkatrade is that in many cases although someone will have been scored, either no free-text comments have been left or there’s just a few brief words like “great job” or “arrived on time no problems.” Having employed a plumber to do some work at my house I believe I may have discovered why that is. Whilst paying him I was asked to leave feedback and was subsequently given his iPad which was already open on his Checkatrade page. Having taken well over two hours to replace a small radiator during which time he had a long conversation with his bank about his mortgage, I wasn’t over keen on leaving a glowing review. Having told him I would do it later he was clearly irritated and asked me whether there was a problem. I’m sure most people who found themselves in the same situation would feel uncomfortable writing an average review under the watch of the tradesperson so to avoid confrontation would probably just complete the scoring section and maybe write a short and nondescript comment.

Regarding the number of reviews that a person has it’s important to be aware that not everyone leaves feedback and especially if their experience hasn’t been positive. Unlike eBay the number of comments are rarely proportionate to the amount of work that has been carried out. Using The Window Centre Harrow as an example, they’ve been with Checkatrade since 2013 and over five years have accumulated 196 reviews. They state on their website they have completed more than 16,000 installations since 1993 which equates to 640 a year and if accurate, means over the last five years they would have carried out approximately 3,200 installation. Of course only a very small number of those would have come through Checkatrade however it demonstrates that even when calculating all the reviews I could find online for this company, it’s a drop in the ocean when compared to the actual number of jobs they have carried out.

The bricklayer who I found on MyBuilder had well over one hundred positive reviews yet a week into building a wall on my driveway I asked him to leave. Not only did he miscalculate the number of bricks required for the job three times which meant I had to pay for two additional deliveries but the wall was not what had been discussed. As well as being four bricks higher, the piers were rectangular instead of square and on one side of the driveway it wasn’t even straight. When I addressed that with him he insisted it was my neighbour’s driveway that wasn’t straight!

two rectangular shaped piers piers in a brick wall

Regarding the shape of the piers he didn’t see what the problem was and having said it would be difficult to find rectangular shaped pier caps, he sent me a link to a company who supplied them.

He’d also used washing up liquid when mixing the cement instead of the correct product which is plasticiser. This practice is well known within the trade but is not considered to be acceptable because the soap weakens the mortar. Worse still he hadn’t even used his own washing up liquid and instead used mine! Ironically a litre of fairy liquid is almost the same price as a litre of plasticiser.

Having found someone else to build a new wall from scratch I discovered the footings were not deep enough and the way bricks had been laid was completely incorrect.

Second time around and the wall was built exactly as I had asked it to be and I didn’t find the builder on a trades recommendation website.

corner flower bed on front driveway with brick wall behind

Having left a negative review which wasn’t published, I subsequently found this photo on his Checkatrade page. Clearly this bricklayer only knew how to build rectangular shaped piers.

Still not having learnt my lesson, in March 2017 I used a tiler once again from Checkatrade who had nothing but positive reviews. Having spent a considerable amount of money on Italian porcelain tiles I was slightly nervous to say the least. Although the end result was okay, he had struggled to cut some of the tiles so there were a few uneven edges which were mostly camouflaged by grout. Six months later however and I started noticing a few loose tiles. Unable to get in touch with him I asked another tiler for advice. After a long discussion about the quality of the work I reluctantly decided to have the tiles removed and to start over from scratch.

Once the first tile had been removed many others came away with little or no effort and when I saw how they’d been stuck to the wall I was really shocked. These large sixty by sixty centimetre tiles which weighed four and a half kilos each had been stuck on using a method known as dot and dab. Here’s what a leading tile manufacturer says about this practice

Despite porcelain being more delicate than ceramic and prone to cracking or chipping, most of the tiles came off with minimal damage and little effort. It was only a matter of time before one would have fallen away and in doing so would have caused serious damage and I dread to think what would have happened had someone been underneath.

dot-and-dab-tiling
Dot and dab, a method of tiling that’s totally unsuitable for tiles of this size and weight

Despite having at least four negative experiences with trade recommendation websites I still find myself looking at them whenever I need to find a tradesperson. It’s important to remember that although these sites make assurances that all tradespeople are screened and vetted before being allowed to be part of the register, the thoroughness of that procedure varies greatly from one company to the next and once someone has been approved, further checks are rarely ever carried out. Here’s what Get Safe Online say about trade recommendation websites

Many trades recommendation websites are genuine and carry out due diligence before making a listing. On some sites however little or no proof of experience, expertise or qualifications is required from the tradesperson or company. Instead all that is needed is the payment of a fee.

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