How to safeguard yourself against dodgy tradesmen

We've all had to hire a tradie at one point or another, so how do you know if they're the real deal? 

Whether you need a wall painted, a toilet fixed or a whole extra living space added to your house, the internet has once more made it easier and faster to get the job done.

Thanks to social media, we can rustle up personal tradie recommendations from friends and family with a few taps on a keyboard. Meanwhile, apps like Hipages allow us to track down a local tradesperson who’ll be available when we need them, at a competitive price.

But there is reason to beware and check your tradies qualifications before you hire them.

From renos to repairs, Aussies spend a combined $73 billion on trade services each year says hipages Chief Customer Officer, Stuart Tucker.

Home renovations are something Aussies are happy to spend big on, especially when housing in some places is unaffordable and purchasing a fixer-upper or extending an existing home may be more economically viable.

Unfortunately, a third of homeowners don’t check their tradesperson’s license before they hire resulting in shonky work and loss of money.

“This puts them at risk of having dodgy home improvement works carried out by ‘fake tradies’ - individuals claiming to be tradespeople without qualifications or licenses,” Tucker says.

The biggest risk of working with an unqualified tradesperson is a bodgy job that can cause significant damage to your home – with potential sizable repair costs.

Then there are the hapless homeowners that have stumped up a hefty deposit, but the work never gets done or they don't see their money again.

All sounding a little hypothetical? Spare a thought for those caught up in the 2010 Australian Government funded multi-billion-dollar home insulation program. Hipages report more than 200 house fires and at least four deaths were reportedly caused by poor installation of insulation by ‘dodgy’ installers.

Here’s how to safeguard yourself and your house from falling victim to unlicensed tradesmen.

What to watch for

Checking the license of any tradesperson you hire is very important, though it can be tricky for consumers to navigate. Tucker says each state has different requirements for different trades based on the size or value of the job.

When it comes to builders, this quick guide identifies the governing bodies for each state and when a license is required:

  • NSW: Department of Fair Trading. A license is needed for work valued over $5,000
  • VIC:  Victorian Building Authority. A license is needed for work valued over $10,000
  • QLD: QLD Building and Construction Commission. A license is needed for work valued over $3,300
  • WA:  Western Australian Building Commission. A license is needed for work valued over $20,000
  • SA SA Consumer and Business Services. A license is needed for work valued over $12,000
  • NT NT Building Practitioners Board. A license is needed for work valued over $12,000
  • TAS Department of Justice. Determined by level of risk
  • ACT Department of Environment & Sustainable Development. If a building approval is required

“We make it easy on the Hipages app by displaying all received license numbers on our profiles, and where relevant, we also show if they’re limited to a particular job size based on their license, trade category and state they service,” Tucker says.

You can also check up on them at LicensedTrades.com.au.

Other steps to stay safe

Checking licenses aside, here are some of the other key steps you should take before the tradesman starts your job.

  • Ask for examples of work. Take a look at previous projects to get an idea of the standards you can expect and if the work aligns with your plans.
  • Read online recommendations, including online reviews or client feedback.
  • Ensure their insurance - and your home insurance, if relevant - covers them while they work at your home.
  • Keep track of all interactions, records and receipts you have with the tradesperson or company throughout the process.
  • Be wary of those that ask for large upfront payments.

Help, it’s already happened

If you’re already the not-so proud owner of some shoddy work – or a shonky salesman that’s taken your money and run, there are steps you can take.

Start by talking to your tradie directly and calmly explain the issue you have. If you can’t resolve it between you, get in touch with the company they work for directly. Provide them with copies of records and receipts of work carried out or planned and explain what your concerns are and what you want to happen.

If the direct approach isn’t effective, you may be able to lodge an official complaint with the consumer department in your state or the agency for your state listed above.

They will likely ask for records of all interactions, so have them handy.

At the end of the day, most tradies are looking to leave another satisfied customer on their books. But it’s always best to safeguard yourself and be prepared by doing the checks and balances before you begin.

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