How you can beat cowboy builders

As a kid I used to love everything about cowboys - from what they wore (boots with spurs and Stetsons) to their steely gaze and coolness in a showdown.

Today, I feel a tinge of sadness that my childhood memories, from the celluloid world of John Wayne, have been tarnished. The meaning of the word 'cowboy' has changed drastically: it now defines the worst of workmen.

How to spot a cowboy

Unfortunately, it's not easy to spot the wolf in sheep's clothing when you're looking for a tradesman to do some work for you.

My family and I have unfortunately fallen foul of this new breed of cowboys - and we're not the only ones. I've been contacted by a number of Moneywise readers about their experiences with cowboy builders.

The Federation of Master Builders says up to £1.5 billion worth of work is carried out by these reckless scoundrels each year. And the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has told me that it receives over 100,000 complaints every year about dodgy tradesmen.

And yet, despite the sheer size of the problem, it's a notoriously difficult area in which to recover damages and get redress. As a consequence, you have to do all the groundwork at the start of any contracting work to give yourself the protection you need - just in case your builder turns out to be a bit shady.

Where's Paul?

The builder we appointed was so unreliable that I nearly put him on the missing persons list. He was affectionately known as "Where's Paul" as a result. There were broken promises, missed appointments and lost opportunities - he didn't answer; he didn't write; he didn't call. I felt like a spurned lover.

He didn't have insurance, wasn't professionally qualified in any respect, didn't do contracts ("my word is my bond"), but nonetheless carried himself with the confidence of a master builder.

I felt helpless - because cowboys like "Where's Paul" don't carry a gun and holster, park the horse outside the house, and knock on the door saying "Hello Pilgrim". There are, however, some very clear steps you can take to avoid the pitfalls and mistakes I made, first time round.

For more read: How to keep rogue traders from your door

Always go for a reputable tradesman. To find these elusive people check out the OFT Approved Code logo, which certifies that the business operates to higher standards than the law requires (

Also, look out for the Trustmark logo. This is a scheme, endorsed by the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills, to help people select honest and reliable tradesmen ( Your local authority will also have a list of registered contractors in your area.

Don't engage with any contractor who wants to do a deal for cash under the table. If you're worried about a builder, you can find out whether he's solvent with a simple credit check. It will only take about 60 seconds and will cost under £6.

Also ask the firm to provide references - and make the effort to follow them up and check out the quality of their work.

Make sure you sign a clear and explicit agreement about what the contractor will and won't do. In addition, never pay for the job in advance. Instead, make sure you and your contractor agree a payment schedule for works completed, and always allow for a final payment at the end of the job.

If it's a job costing between £100 and £30,000, you should try and put it on your credit card. That way, if it all goes awry, you can get your money back under the Consumer Credit Act.

Naturally, you should file all the paperwork and get the contractor to sign for receipt of all payments. If it's a large job, consider hiring your own project manager.

Should the builder, after all your preparation and planning, still turn out to be a rotten apple, then you have recourse to the courts, credit card companies and the accredited trade bodies and associations that they belong to. If you're struggling to get your money back, contact Consumer Direct for help (

We would all be better off if we heard a little less of the phrase 'cowboy builder', and the word 'cowboy' could reclaim its rightful meaning once again.

Have you been a victim of cowboy builders. Tell us about it below...

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Your Comments

I can't understand why when these bad people who are taken to court are not put on a list with there photo. The rest of us wouldn't fall foul of the same scam.
OK there are others not yet caught but we would narrow the field a bit.

Is it me or is this too simple?

If you get judgement against anyone in the county courts and they don't pay, they should be deemed in contempt of court, which they obviously are, and sentenced accordingly. But the Government and the courts just can't be bothered to put effective measures in place and I can't be bothered to vote at elections!

Me and my husband thought that we were buying a new house from a respectable company. We naively thought that the term “cowboy builder” only referred to some local, small traders we didn't realise the term could apply to the big boys as well. We tried to buy a house from Keepmoat Homes – I say try because we failed to buy the house due to Keepmoat giving us two weeks notice to exchange and complete. If we hadn't been in a chain this may have been doable but as we were our buyer had to wait for searches to come back so it was impossible to exchange/complete. The thing is they knew several weeks earlier that the house was due to complete but for some reason they decided not to tell us – they also decided to be very economical with the truth on other matters too. We went through a complete nightmare with them but what is stopping this company doing what they did to us to someone else? And when I say what they did I don't just mean not giving us reasonable notice to complete I mean the whole saga which can be found on . Our website is the only means to stop others going through what we did, if it helps just one potential buyer of a Keepmoat home skipping the months of hell we went through then it has done it's job. Sadly reporting this company to the relevant bodies has made no difference – no one seems to care.

WeatherAll (NE) are among the worst builders I hae ever come across. 

The owner Mark Fittes ended up trying to intimidate my dad who is in his 70's after making the worst jobs I have ever seen in my life. His company even walked off the job once they had taken a sufficient amount of my parents money, leaving an awful unfinished dangerous mess. 


Whilst we later found out he wasn't VAT registered yet he charged us 20% VAT.


 The only time you see Mark George Fittes is when he is trying to extract more money out of people. He never gets his hands dirty and just uses cheap subcontractors, cheap materials and cheap hired equipment. 


Trading Standards told him to give my parents their money back, the police who came out to visit my parents agreed that what he had done constituted Fraud and I should imagine the VAT people will be wanting their money back from numerous other previous jobs.


 I seriously wonder if this man even keeps any reliable books. Indeed every time you mention this man and his companies to the authorities, the first thing they say is that he's well known to us. Indeed Fittes has previous unpaid CCJ's if you care to check on-line. 


Luckily my dad is one of five brothers and my mum also comes from a large family so the word has been spread far and wide. My Dad has also spread the word at the local Golf Club and across the area I live in. My sister was also horrified by the mess Fittes left as was her husband as well as other family members.


 Take my advice and steer well clear of WeatherAll and total cowboy Mark Fittes, who drives around in his girlfriends black range rover but has very little in the way of assets himself. 


You will know him if you see him, as he's a smarmy and slimy type of individual, he also sometimes employs a fat salesman called Neil Farrer, who I would also watch out for as he's also very economical with the truth. 


Mark Fittes previous companies include WeatherAll Home Improvements (Birtley & Cramlington), North East Building Solutions, BSG which operated in the Washington and Sunderland areas, and his latest company WeatherAll (NE) which is Ponteland based. 


His companies have a nasty habit of going belly up after a year or two and he constantly tries to get more money up front out of customers. 


WeatherAll are currently Ponteland based and operate in Northumberland and the North East of England.


 You have been warned.


The company trades at



8 Fellside 

Darras Hall



NE20 9NJ 


07894 555572 


Any complaints about either Fittes or Farrer (or their subcontractors) should be made straight to Northumberland Trading Standards, Northumbria Police/Durham Constabulary,HMRC and other such authorities. 

Hi Ardent,
Sorry to hear about all about your troubles.  Suggestion for you: goto and search for 'graham w cheyne'.  Might be an idea for you to investigate further?  I have survey report, photos and emails to back up what I am saying.  Are you in same boat?