Where can I find a trustworthy builder? Why is my energy bill so high?

Citizens Advice Havering is launching a new service to help those who need to apply for Universal Cr

Citizens Advice Havering with the answers to some common questions. - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Ima

Citizens Advice Havering with some invaluable advice on trustworthy handymen and skyrocketing energy bills.

Query:

I’ve been saving up to have my kitchen redone, but I’m a bit worried about it.

Last time I had any work done on the house, it took more than double the time I thought it would and ended up costing me a fortune. I’m looking for a different builder this time, but how will I know I can trust them?

Advice:


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Many of us will take advantage of the warmer weather and bank holiday weekends coming up to improve our homes, and it’s important to make sure the job goes well.

Here are some steps you should take when choosing a trader:

  •  Find a Trading Standards approved trader - use the internet to search for one in your area or the government’s approved trader scheme at www.Trustmark.org.uk/find-a-tradesman
  • Get references or recommendations - ask people you know or ask the person you hire for examples of work they’ve carried out in the past. Try to avoid contractors who won’t give references - it’s a sign they could be dishonest.
  • Find out if they are a current member of a trade body - trade bodies have codes of practice and can help resolve problems if things go wrong, so check your trader is a member. Ask who they are registered with and then check the trade body’s website.
  • Only use certified traders for gas and electrics - it’s dangerous to use someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Check the Gas Safe Register by searching About Us at www.gassaferegister.co.uk for a list of traders and find a registered electrician at www.electricalcompetentperson.co.uk who can certify their own work. When you’re having a kitchen fitted, it’s worth checking whether the person you’ve hired will be doing the electrical or gas work themselves. If not, check who they will be using and whether they’re registered.
  • Get a written quote - this is different to an estimate. A quote is legally binding and the builder can’t change it without a good reason - for example, if you ask for extra work to be done. Try to compare quotes from a number of contractors to make sure you’re getting a fair price.
  • Get a written contract - this should cover exactly what you’re paying for and everything you’ve agreed on, like timings, payments, who will pay for materials and subcontractors.
  • Think carefully about payment - opt to pay in stages rather than upfront. Where possible, try to pay by card as this can afford you extra safeguards if something goes wrong.
  • Keep copies of receipts - also keep your written contract as evidence, as well as photos of any problems if they arise.

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Query:

My energy bill really shot up last month. I don’t feel like I’ve been using any more heating or electricity than usual, so I’m worried I’m being overcharged.

I’ve tried to contact my energy supplier for support, but no one ever seems to answer the phone or respond to my emails. I’ve waited on hold for nearly an hour several times before giving up. What should I do?

Advice:

It’s normal for your energy bills to change depending on the time of year and how much gas and electricity you’re using.

But if your bills seem strangely high, then it’s important to investigate why. Firstly, check your meter is working properly and your usage has definitely not gone up, even accidentally.

Also check what heaters you have and whether you’re using them correctly. Night storage radiators and immersion heaters in particular can cause very high bills if used incorrectly.

There are a few things worth looking into. It could be that your bill is an estimate, in which case you need to give your supplier a new meter reading. If it’s not an estimate, check your last meter reading to see if it matches the one on your bill.

If you still don’t have an answer, your supplier might have raised their prices. In any case, you’re doing the right thing to contact them.

Customer service varies between suppliers and, unfortunately, we hear of many bad experiences similar to yours. We also know the problem has worsened during the pandemic.

If you’re struggling to get through to them, you could make a formal complaint. We offer advice at www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/energy.

If you would like to talk about a problem with a contractor or about your utililty bill, call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.

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