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House keeps an eye on shoddy workers

PUBLISHED: 12:44 28 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:28 06 July 2010

FROM the outside it looks like any other terraced house - its curtains drawn and the garden tidied, ready for the summer.

But the rooms inside are all under surveillance by secret cameras, giving trading standards officers the chance to keep an eye on Lowestoft's electricians, plumbers and TV repairers.

FROM the outside it looks like any other terraced house - its curtains drawn and the garden tidied, ready for the summer.

But the rooms inside are all under surveillance by secret cameras, giving trading standards officers the chance to keep an eye on Lowestoft's electricians, plumbers and TV repairers.

A team from Suffolk Trading Standards has been renting a house in the south of the town for the past six months as part of a project to check that services offered by local traders are fair and honest and that customers are not being overcharged.

Simple faults were put into household appliances, including the washing machine, cooker and television, and then traders were asked to come and fix the problems.

While they were in the house, their work was filmed by hidden cameras so the team could check that it had been carried out correctly and that nothing unnecessary had been charged for.

Reg Ruffles, Suffolk's assistant county trading standards officer, said: “This is a really important project, because when appliances go wrong, you don't usually know what the problem is so you're completely reliant on these traders to come and diagnose the problem and fix it honestly without ripping you off.”

Out of the 37 traders who visited the house, 20pc turned up more than half an hour late and 11pc failed to identify the fault that had been put in by the team.

Mr Ruffles said that one of the worst areas of performance was paperwork. “Legislation sets out that seven day cancellation rights should be given for contracts of more than £35, but none of the workers who visited us left cancellation notices when they should have.

“Quite a few only left a mobile phone number and name by way of a receipt, which meant the consumers had no way to follow up if they had problems, and that's not that way to do things,” he said.

One of the faults being tested was some simple damage to the cable between the television and the plate on the wall, but 33pc of the repairers failed to fix the fault and the price charged by those that did mend the problem ranged from £5 to £75.

Mr Ruffles said: “The price variation was something common to all the types of traders we had round, but the fact that you can be charged more than twice as much for the same job is really surprising.”

The team will now review all of the information they have collected before deciding whether action needs to be taken to give advice, information or warnings to any of the traders.

How to avoid getting ripped off

Find a reliable trader: Ask neighbours and friends for a recommendation, and always look for traders with a recognised trade association logo, like the digital tick for television repairs or the Guild of Master Craftsmen.

Suffolk County Council has also launched a Trusted Trader Scheme to provide a directory of reliable workers, and customers can give feedback on the service they receive. Visit www.suffolk.gov.uk/trustedtrader.

Get a written quote: For non-emergency work, try to get more than one quote. Don't feel compelled into agreeing immediately, as consumers have seven days 'cooling off' for contracts agreed in their homes.

Ask if you can see previous work before entering into a contract.

Agree a time scale for the work to be completed.

Ask for an itemised receipt with the trader's name and address.

For more information and advice, contact Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06 or at www.consumerdirect.gov.uk.

To get free quotes for work from fully-vetted local traders, visit www.localquotes24.co.uk.

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