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Cowboy builders: what to do if you think you've been ripped off

Andy Stevens / 09 April 2015 ( 17 March 2021 )

Read our tips to help you choose what to do next if you think you’ve been ripped off by cowboy builders.

Read our tips to make sure you get what you are entitled to

If you believe you've been defrauded by a cowboy builder, then in the first instance contact the police with as much information about the builder as possible.

Contact Trading Standards

If the builder refuses to put the job right at no extra expense to you, your next port of call should be to get in touch with the people at Trading Standards.

This regulatory body takes a very dim view of cowboy builders and other rogue traders and will be able to guide you on the correct steps you should take.

Trading Standards runs a Consumer Codes Approval Scheme, which keeps a list of trusted traders committed to providing the best service to customers.

The scheme includes a dispute resolution service should you have problems with a trader. This does, however, only apply to builders and other traders who are signed up to the scheme. So problems can obviously arise concerning those who operate outside the scheme, should they be the ones you fear might have ripped you off.

Read our 12 tips to help you avoid cowboy builders

Contact Citizens Advice

Trading Standards may also recommend you contact your local Citizens Advice centre. Citizens Advice may have heard of similar experiences from householders in your area and could be able to help you with the correct course of action.

You can contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133

They will pass on your complaints to the relevant local authority trading standards service. Remember to have as many details to hand when you call them, including:

  • What the problem is
  • Who the rogue trader is
  • Bills, invoices, contracts and any other paperwork
  • Photos or videos showing what the problem is
  • Details of witnesses who can confirm what you are saying
  • Notes of conversations you have had with the rogue trader

Take a cowboy builder to a small claims court

If all else fails, a small claims court is a relatively simple process whereby you can claim up to £10,000 compensation from a company or individual, without the need for a lawyer. Claiming more than £10,000 is a more complicated process with a more formal hearing and you should seek legal advice if you are planning on going down this route.

Make sure all other ways of resolving a dispute with a cowboy builder have been explored first - and be comfortable with covering the costs should you lose.

You can find out more online at

Did you pay your builder with a credit card?

If you paid for the building work with a credit card, as long as the building work costs more than £100 while not exceeding £30,000, you may have a degree of protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 if the builder has gone bust under .

If a builder refuses to accept your payment by credit card (after the job is completed to your satisfaction, of course), then it's wise to avoid using them in the first place, and is one of the red flags to watch out for when hiring a builder. Read our guide to finding a good builder and avoid the cowboys.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.