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Patrick Collinson and Jill Papworth. Saturday 5 June T he kitchen tap needs fixing, you'd like the hall and stairs decorated, you want a new shower installed and the roof could do with some patching up. The headache is how to avoid the cowboys and find an honest trader to provide a good, reliable service at a fair price.

When friends and family can't recommend anyone, it's hard to know where to look — sticking a pin in the listings in local business directories to find a firm is not recommended. Your trading standards service may operate a Builders' Register , with lists of plumbers, roofers, electricians and so on who have been recommended and have undergone a strict vetting procedure by trading standards.

Use the post code search at the Trading Standards website to find your local office then search on that for a register. LAATSN requires businesses to comply with all trading standards legislation and civil law obligations, to refrain from high-pressure selling, to have an effective complaints procedure and a strong emphasis on customer service. It now hosts 70, tradespeople recommended and rated by members, and the site works hard to weed out fake recommendations.

We find people every week doing this and chuck them out," says Pete Tynan of Which? Members can also leave negative feedback if a builder they used was disappointing. But you have to be a Which? TrustMark consumer helpline is a not-for-profit government-backed scheme supported by trade bodies, local trading standards and consumer groups.

The logo means that technical skills, quality of work and financial status have all been checked and that the firm has signed up to a code of practice that includes insurance, health and safety and good customer service. On the website you simply put in your postcode and say what sort of trader you want. The database is then searched within 50 miles of your postcode and comes up with a list of trader contacts in order of those closest to you. TradeMark has on average over , trader's details viewed online every month.

RatedPeople claims to be the UK's largest trade recommendation service, "where consumers can find and choose traders in their area based on what others have said about them". The way it works is that you post your location and the job you want doing on the website, giving a clear description of what you're after. Up to three "recommended traders" who subscribe to the service then contact you to quote on the work and you can read online what other customers have said about them.

After the job is complete, you go back and rate the trader on the work they have done which adds to or detracts from their list of customer recommendations. The site, founded in , claims to have more than 25, trader members, to have accrued over 55, posted ratings, and to help 15, people connect with expert tradespeople each month. Before contacting traders on the list, consumers can access feedback left by previous customers, plus online images of previous work carried out.

Trustatrader also claims that it checks out and monitors traders who join the service to see that they are, "fully experienced in their trade, have proof of any qualifications required by law and of membership to trade associations, have public liability insurance a signed code of conduct have five recent and glowing customers references". While useful for checking customer views of traders you may be considering, be aware that recommendation sites do not give the same assurances as government-backed sites.

Customer ratings on such recommendation sites can also be rigged by rogue traders getting friends and relatives to post false references saying how great their work is, Mr Carter adds, though Rated People disputes this. Get more than one and, ideally, at least three. Be wary of firms only willing to give you a mobile number. But where materials need to be bought in advance, it's reasonable for the trader to ask you to pay a fair percentage of these costs as the job progresses.

Agree any stage and final payments before work starts. Local recommendations Your trading standards service may operate a Builders' Register , with lists of plumbers, roofers, electricians and so on who have been recommended and have undergone a strict vetting procedure by trading standards.

Approved trader schemes TrustMark consumer helpline is a not-for-profit government-backed scheme supported by trade bodies, local trading standards and consumer groups. Commercial directories RatedPeople claims to be the UK's largest trade recommendation service, "where consumers can find and choose traders in their area based on what others have said about them".

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