How do I know if I being over-charged?

by | Dec 15, 2023 | Latest Post | 3 comments

Reading Time: 14 minutes

I never know when I am going to be fired up to write something and today was no exception. We have a localized group from social media called NextDoor.co.uk.  It’s content is 90% matters of local interest. People are very generous with their time and their contributions and it is a good site to belong to. My eye was caught by the article below:

I have a leaky shed, it is only 6x8ft , some guys came to see it, said it was a half days work, that they would leave felting on and cover it over paying articular care to the corner where it was leaking. The charge would be £250. I thought that was excessive and he said his day rate was £400, I make this to be £120,000 a year for a 5 day week. Am I, aged 80, out of touch? The advert is in the local REACH.

I have been among other things self-employed pretty much my whole working life and I am somewhat akin age-wise to the complainant. I have also purchased goods and services so I can write from both sides of the fence so to speak .

I will now take a deep breath and proceed. It is my hope that others will avoid falling into traps that it is so easy to do.

The overall rule would buying any goods or service is ‘caveat empator’ or buyer beware. In other words the onus is on us. This Latin phrase means that an individual buys at their own risk. Potential buyers are warned by the phrase to do their research and for example ask pointed and relevant questions to the seller. In this case, Joan R**** from Glastonbury has acted correctly in seeking advice and she has been given it in spade loads by the kind people of Next Door.

It is all too easy to cast someone in the role of bad guy but, folks, we must look at the position from both sides. Only fair, mate!

Older people

First of all, on the fact that the questioner is 80 years of age. I’m afraid that legally this is not relevant. A person is either compos mentis, of sound mind, or they are not. If the former, it behoves them to seek ‘on the ground’ support and advice.

When I have gardening clients on the aged side and I do not think that they are capable of understanding something, I ask a neighbour to be a witness. For example, if someone is partially sighted and asks for work it is wise to put something in writing. The work has finished, the witness or typically a neighbor should be called in to verify that the work has been done to good standard.

Have they done the whole job?

Part of any such work is taking away spoil and I have known people leave rubble in a corner,  promising to return shortly, and they never do. Ideally, the person you have engaged should take everything away with them at the time.

Naivety

Very common.  Another problem I find as the seller of work is the naivety of some customers. Typically, they have not requested professional help for some years and in the case of women, their husband who used to do everything has departed this life so yes, they are totally out of touch. Incidentally I find that older people are not naive but very sharp. They have to be in order to survive. It is the disconnected person that is a danger to themselves and indeed the lazy person.

Historical reflection

When I started work, it must have been in the late 70s, there were people who would work for a fiver an hour but typically it was man with spade for £10 an hour. Coming up to the current day, if you work for 20 pounds an hour this is an inclusive rate. Within this you have to find the following: Your equipment and the cost of maintaining it, travel costs, your own personal cost such as national insurance and tax and then there is your time. If you are employed by someone else, all these costs are covered and your salary of so much a year is your benefit to the company minus all the costs they have to pay including their profit.  If you are working for yourself, and get say 12 pounds out of the 20 for your self, for the maintenance of life for you and your family, I would say that is pretty good.

Estimating – guess work?

Estimating is an art but it is also a science. Those of us that offer work have to be very good at estimating a person’s circumstances and deciding how much they can afford. For most this may not be the way to move forward. Basically you are in a certain price range. The person can either afford it, or they cannot. I frequently go around to people and give them a price and they may decide to do it themselves or get a second opinion. When someone is a pensioner I may throw in extra features for no extra charge.

This is where Joan to whom this article is dedicated needs to go. If you go to three suppliers each of whom give you the same price, that is probably the going rate for the job.

When I turn up and quote for a job I do give the man hours so if there are two of us it’s £40 an hour, one person £20 an hour. Some people think that the 20 pounds covers two people. In that case I would be working for less than the minimum wage.

Crazy times, crazy prices

I remember once many years ago complaining about a quote from a dentist. He shrugged his shoulders and said ‘that is the price’. No one has to defend themselves. It’s not like we are selling water.  You can quote £1000 per hour and that’s not immoral it’s just stupid. You could charge £1 an hour and find yourself a laughing stock. Any incoming trader with any sense would see what others are charging and fall into line.

Glastonbury is a funny place, there’s a few streets that are very old-fashioned and there is a lot of council property on the outskirts. The main street is a world of its own about which I have written very frequently in this diary.

Certain types of trade are very much in demand and this is normally reflected in the price. There are certain areas in London, actually most of them, where parking is difficult and any job carries the risk of a parking fine which of course you cannot charge to the client. If people don’t want to work in such an area then you have to pay what is in effect of premium

How do you spot a bad supplier?

The term ‘Pikey’ is used for workers from the traveling population or gypsies if you like. I’m sorry to say that their reputation precedes them. If you get a knock on the door from someone who is so-called ‘working in the area’ then it’s 90% certain that they are suspicious. If someone asks for work and they live some distance away that is even more suspicious. For example, the man who prunes trees came from Frome.  Midsomer Norton is about 10 miles from from where he claimed to work from.

He had a very attractive postcard size advertisement saying that he did all sorts of things and called himself Mr Green. I have found through long experience that people who refer to themselves as Mr. or indeed Mrs are not to be trusted. I am sorry to say this, I don’t want to say it, but if you observe a trend over the decades then you say so.

If you receive a knock on the door from one of these people,ask  them where they got your name from if indeed they knew it in the first place.  If they say they were ‘just passing’, that is a dead giveaway and you should not engage in any further conversation. They cannot trespass on your property so just close the door. Other con artists can also be identified by their excessive politeness. Professional people maintain their distance. After a time you will get the idea.

Paying cash up front

Another thing you should try to avoid is to pay cash up front. With an established firm, if goods and materials have to be purchased then the suppliers should do so out of their own resources and give you an invoice or included as part of the bill. When I requested my plumber to get some new radiators he did so and charged me at the end. The point is that a radiator is nothing until it is successfully integrated with the system so it is only at that point that it becomes useful as opposed to a piece of useless metal.

There is an exception to this. If you are an unknown person, and you are asking for a substantial amount of work to be done, particularly if it is more towards intellectual property, then the firm concerned may decide that they do not wish to take the risk of non-payment and will ask you for an estimated initial contribution. This happens with legal firms.

There are people who come along with unrealistic expectations, they have no idea how much the work is going to cost or more importantly how much the escalation will cost. In a recent case in our Close someone disagreed with the builders about the construction of a wall and they ended up losing the case and having to find £22,000 in costs. Some actual like the thrill of combat.

In my own work, remote view consultations and healing, I will normally take advance payment from those I do not know. Once I get to know them, and they have paid me a couple of times, I take them at their word when they say that they will for example pay by a bank transfer

Being taken (or taking) to court

I have been taken to court once, and I am glad to say only once, by someone whose daughter thought that I had overcharged for a job when she was not present to see the detail. Litigation ran in the family as I was soon to learn. I eventually settled before any court proceedings could take place. The funniest thing was that it was only £150 that was in dispute. Believe me, any figure however insignificant  can escalate to the £1000s once the legal system gets into gear. Overall advice on this one, and this applies to every aspect of life, avoid court if you possibly can.

Another more subtle factor is that it can drain your life away from you. If you have a court date, say 8 months in the future, it never leaves you and you are forever rehearsing your arguments and the strength of your case, maybe losing sleep. The problem is that the law does not work logically and rationally. If you expect the law to be fair and human then you are in for a long wait. Sorry guys, that’s the way it is.

GREED

It is an unfortunate aspect of human nature that money brings out the worst in us and that includes duplicity and greed. The animal instinct seems to come out and people you thought were quite nice actually turn out to be marauding beasts in human form. One of the most unlovely scenarios are members of a family fighting over the will of the mother or father. I hear of people grabbing the rings off the newly deceased. Not a pretty thought.

The thin end of the wedge

Anyway, I digress.

Back to Joan. As a correspondent has correctly said, the leak may be what we call the thin end of the wedge. There may have been other issues which the leak is revealing which may indeed involve electricity or basic structural matters. People often try to do jobs themselves and actually make the problem worse so the quote may have included paying attention to such matters. The supplier of work is not going to include an item saying “£200 to correct the balls-up by an amateur doing a bodged job”.

Joan will do the right thing if she asks for a detailed written quote. That will put off most of the cowboys. She would also do the right thing if she asked for a second quote. The question is, who do you ask for a quote in the first place. Bringing up someone who just gives their name and phone number is a risky occupation. There are organizations such as RatedPeople and Checkatrade.

To be a trader you have to have references from a number of people. Also, Joan could ask around as she has correctly done in this case perhaps if a little late. Informal exchange of information, AKA Gossip, can be valuable.

.Never mind, Joan has not parted with any money.

Time for which you cannot charge

There is another factor that buyers of services tend to forget. It is the time taken to travel to and from an appointment to view, and the time taken to travel to and from the actual job. If you’re working in a place like Bath or indeed Bristol then there is time and stress from finding a parking place if you cannot use the front drive of the customers area.

Let’s say it takes the best part of half an hour to get to a job (avoid School opening and closing times). Even if it is near to another job it is still time consuming. Multiply that by four, or more if the job takes more than a day, and you have some idea of the time that cannot be charged for and somehow has to be covered.

Don’t be afraid to ask…..

On another matter, every worker should have professional insurance.  In order to obtain this they have to show relevant qualifications.  This means that if their drill goes through a junction box and blows up the house electrics, you can claim against their insurance company for consequential damage. I heard another case where someone fitted the flue of a wood burning stove and did not allow enough space between the flue and the surrounding floorboards. This set fire to the attic of the house and tens of thousands of pounds of damage was caused. The problem is that accidents or mishaps give no advance notice. Don’t be afraid to ask the supplier.

Bad trading habits

I recall another bad trader who said that he had a supply of tarmac and the cost was something ridiculous like three pounds a square meter. He was very pushy because he said the tarmac would call and become useless. The Living unit that I was in at the time eventually had to pay £1500.

I recall another trader to whom I complained about rising damp. He was a roofer and said it was due to a leaking roof and it would cost so many hundreds of pounds. Funnily enough, I called in another person who was a gutter specialist and said that it was due to a leak in a gutter. Now, both these may have an element of truce in them but I need someone to get to the root of the problem and so I declined both their offers.

The roofer put me off when he arrived because he had put on the most high powered deodorant which put me into a state when I could not breathe. He then rang me back twice to ask me whether I had thought about it. Calling people is not a good idea. They will make up their mind in their own time  – thank you very much – and provided you have furnished them with your telephone number or contact details then that’s job done and you move on.

Help from outside authorities

As for going to outside authorities such as Trading Standards, you have to go through hoops even to get their attention so typically, to qualify, you need to have written evidence that you have ordered the job, you need written evidence of payment, and you need a lot of evidence to show that the job was not well done. This will consume hours of your time and there will not be an instant response.

The Citizens Advice Bureau can be diplomats and smooth the way and thus avoid appearance at court. The earlier their advice is sought, the better, and the less expensive for the complainant. However, when I last observed, the CAB in Bath was overloaded and will no doubt become more so as people get poorer and struggle against inflation.

Lack of due diligence

In some cases with new workers it may be lack of experience on their part. I have known people who have promised to do work that was actually beyond them and they have had to give up. I am guilty of that myself when I went to see a disheveled garden in Peasedown, not examining the ground well enough and discovered that it had been used as a dumping ground for cinders, metal items etc far more than could be carried away even in the boot of my voluminous Volvo.

On that occasion I did a morning’s work and decided it was more than the £250 that I quoted so I wrote it off and walked away. Obviously I did not charge and he had a little bit of work done for him. Occasionally I have accepted work that is above my competence and that is partly due to my desire to please,  which is sometimes misplaced. Mea Culpa.

How do you estimate value?

Anyway, back to Joan and the quote. It is not relevant that the shed is only six by eight foot. If there were two people, divide the requested £250 by 2 and then take away the cost of materials and costs. There is not much left in the kitty. You always have to put a bit in for contingencies in other words unexpected discoveries that are more difficult to charge for (uplift is the term) during the work or indeed after it. I call the quote ‘not unreasonable’

Is bartering the answer?

It looks like Joan is going to get some free help which is good. Maybe those in genuine need should ask around this excellent community of Nextdoor and see if anyone is up to it. If ever the dreadful digital currency comes in and cash is abolished then bartering will become intrinsically more valuable in keeping society together.

Oh, to mention rules and regulations. I was once quoted £500 for a an electric link between the plug in my garden shed and another newly erected shed. Anything to do with electricity has a ton of rules and regulations attached to it and you have to follow them. If they do not follow them and a fire ensues, you as a worker will not be able to claim successfully in your insurance so it will have to come out of your own pocket. So, TO ME, it seemed a lot, but to the electrician he knows he has to go through all sorts of safety measures,

Unless you are in a position to judge the effect of these rules on the quote then you should decide …..is it worth it? Do you really need it? Could you do it yourself?  Could you call in a favour from a friend?

However, if it is dangerous NOT to proceed then bite the bullet and pay up. See it as an investment.

Joan and others – Hope that helps

Brian

Search all 1,533 articles

Subscribe

Sign up to my FREE newsletter!

I don’t spam! Read my privacy policy for more info.

Archives

YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY THESE ARTICLES

We would love to hear from you.

If you have not registered, then click on ‘logged in’ and scroll down to ‘register’.
It only takes a minute 🙂

3 Comments

  1. Editor

    From Joanne Christoforides

    Brian,
    I’ve just read your latest blog/diary/post titled, ‘How Do I Know If I’m Being Overcharged?’ I found the link on the Nextdoor app. I briefly peruse the threads there first thing in the morning.

    I loved it! It was engaging, entertaining and witty, so of course it made me smile. Some valuable home-truths very tactfully delivered.
    Thank you.

    Jo

    • Editor

      Thanks for that. We must all look after each other – no one else will

    • Editor

      Thanks very much for those thoughts. I focus myself on others and the inspiration comes to write. Day after day. I don’t know where it comes from 🙂 Ed.

Submit a Comment