Trader recommendation websites must vet firms, says watchdog | Recommendation sites

Popular trader recommendation websites must vet the firms they advertise and tackle fake reviews under new rules designed to protect households from cowboy builders and tradespeople.

Nationally, unscrupulous traders cost homeowners about £1.4bn a year, according to trading standards authorities, a problem that is escalating as demand for home improvements, loft conversions and extensions increases.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is publishing draft advice aimed at the websites and apps commonly used by people to find a builder, plumber or electrician, with Checkatrade, MyBuilder and Rated People among the best-known names.

The CMA, working alongside various trading standards organisations, analysed the conduct of unnamed recommendation sites and found problems including a failure to remove fake reviews, inadequate vetting procedures and a failure to sanction rogue traders.

As many as 775,500 UK households are ripped off every year when having building work or home improvements done, suffering an average loss of about £1,800, according to official estimates. The Guardian has reported on a number of egregious cases including a carer who lost almost £13,000 after falling victim to two sets of cowboy builders.

“More and more people are using sites and apps like these to help them find the right trader, from rewiring the kitchen to fixing a leak,” said George Lusty, the CMA’s interim executive director for consumer protection.

But we’ve seen worrying evidence suggesting people could be misled into thinking these sites actually check traders – and will take action when things go wrong – which isn’t the case.”

Lusty said the advice had been drawn up to spell out to trader recommendation sites their obligations under consumer law.

The steps they should take include conducting appropriate checks before traders are allowed to advertise, tracking poor reviews and operating transparent complaints processes, the CMA said.

The sites and apps also need to act upon complaints, including removing problem firms from their listings, the watchdog said, adding they also needed to have an “effective, transparent and impartial process concerning online consumer reviews”.

Mike Andrews, national coordinator for the National Trading Standards e-crime team, said consumers had come to “rely on these platforms to put them in touch with competent and honest traders”.

“This draft advice is the start of ensuring that platforms take their responsibilities to vet and verify those traders they promote much more seriously and, should things go wrong, that they provide consumers with a way to complain.”

Businesses will have until the middle of August to respond to the consultation after which a final version of the advice will be issued, with practical tips advising consumers on how to safely use trader recommendation sites.


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