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Is this normal charging for a tradesman?

(12 Posts)
Wigeon Wed 29-Jan-14 20:55:24

Rain was spluttering out of the gutter along the top of our roof, so we got someone to look at it, establish what the problem is and quote to fix it.

Two men came round, climbed up a big ladder, had a look, looked round the bottom of the down drainpipe, and established that there was a huge, thick weed growing in the drain along the side of the house (ie the one underground) which was entirely blocking the drain along the side of the house and stopping the rain even coming down the down drainpipe. They un-connected the down drainpipe from the top gutter (as a temporary measure) so the rain currently just goes straight off the gutter along the roof onto the surrounding ground.

They had a bit of a look at a manhole cover which straddles the boundary between our house and next door, to see if they could access the drain from there, but couldn't (because someone in years past has helpfully half-built a wall on the manhole). They told DH that they'd need to come back and dig up a bit of the front garden (just gravel) so they could get to the drain and hopefully excavate out the weed from the pipe, so the water can flow freely again, and that they'd send a quote.

Now they've sent an invoice for £140 (inc VAT) and a quote for £324 to actually get to the drain and fix the problem. DH can't remember exactly how long they were there, but thinks it was about an hour.

Is it normal for them to have charged £140 just to come out, and see what the problem might be? They didn't do anything to fix it. Or AIBU because clearly tradesmen can't live on air, and they did spend an hour investigating and determining what the next steps would be.

Any advice on whether this is normal practice or not?

Wigeon Thu 30-Jan-14 09:36:48


OnePlanOnHouzz Thu 30-Jan-14 11:59:21

What did they say when you arranged them to visit ? Did they say there would be a call out charge ? Did they give you any paperwork with their contact details and a right to cancel notice ? If they did - Did you sign to waive your 7 day cooling off period ? If they didn't , then you have 7 days from when they do (which might never happen by the sound of it ) to cancel - it's the law ! Do a bit of Internet searching on sale of goods in your own home - it's an act that stop you being ripped off !!!

Plumpcious Thu 30-Jan-14 13:05:27

I don't know if the charging is reasonable but I'd be suspicious of anyone saying you had a problem with your drain without getting a second opinion. I remember watching one of those rip-off tradesmen programmes where they have an actor pretending to be the householder and hidden cameras to catch what the tradesmen are doing. In one case the tradesmen said the drain was blocked and they would put a camera down it to check the blockage. The guy then sat in his van for an hour doing absolutely nothing - there wasn't even any sign of him having a drain camera with him.

I don't understand about your downpipe. Does it empty over a drain with a grate over it, or does it go straight into the ground? Otherwise wouldn't you have noticed that water wasn't draining at ground level?

Why did they need to disconnect the downpipe from the guttering? Surely the water from the gutter is now pouring down through the empty hole?

And this weed - it's growing underground in a drain, ie with no sunlight? So it's a grow-in-the-dark plant? Unless it's the roots of a plant, in which case the growing roots will have cracked the drain and it will need replacing. Perhaps that's going to be the next thing they tell you.

Hopefully PigletJohn will be along soon. Definitely get a second opinion!

Wigeon Thu 30-Jan-14 13:55:00

Thank you for replies. smile

OnePlan: No, they didn't mention a call out charge. They didn't talk about right to cancel etc but they aren't actually selling goods that I can return - they are selling their services, so does that still apply?

Plumpcious: Actually, I don't think they are necessarily complete cowboys, because DH saw the massive weed blocking the entire pipe himself, poking out of where the bottom of the downpipe met the drain which goes out underground from our property to the road and the main sewer. So although the weed was in the pipe underground, it was stopping water draining from the roof gutters down the downpipe (with all that heavy rain we've had recently), and the downpipe was commpletely full of water which couldn't drain away. So it was just splashing out of the gutter.

They did try to yank the massive weed out, but it was stuck and seemed to go quite a way down the pipe, so they couldn't get it out. So they said they'd need to get to the underground pipe to get at it. Again, DH was watching them and says that the weed really was stuck.

Funnily enough, we actually had a really similar issue when we had a kitchen extension done 18 months ago - the original large metal drainpipe on the back of the house was completely stuffed full of a massive weed of tangled, thickish roots (which the builders called a triffid), which had been almost totally blocking the pipe. Honestly, it was HUGE. The house is about 60 years old and I think it had probably been growing for all that time! In that case the water had been forced to go down another pipe instead.

They unconnected the pipe up the top to stop the rain splashing out of the roof gutter, but yes, it now will just be falling from the gutter to the floor (or I assume it is - haven't actually checked as although it rained last night, that meant it was cold and wet and so I didn't go outside!)

So I do believe their diagnosis I think. Just rather surprised to get a bill for £140 at this stage just for the diagnosis rather than the fixing and so wanted to see if that's at all normal.

Plumpcious Thu 30-Jan-14 16:03:18

OK, so your DH has seen the weed so that's a bit reassuring. What line of business are these men in: roofing & guttering? How much do they know about drains? Or specifically digging them up, and disconnecting and reconnecting a section?

And they're left you without a downpipe? So the water flowing from the guttering will splash against the wall of your house. If it's left like that and you have a lot of heavy rain then the wall will become saturated and you'll end up with damp walls on the inside (and I'm speaking from experience).

As for their bill: if you invite a tradesman round to give a quote, then no, I wouldn't expect to pay them for that visit. But perhaps because they attempted to fix the problem they think they're entitled to payment. Or perhaps for easy-to-fix-on-one-visit jobs it is the norm to expect payment - after all it wasn't the kind of job that would cost thousands and you shop around for quote. But they didn't fix it, so why should you pay them? I'm still a bit hmm about them.

TheHouseofMirth Thu 30-Jan-14 16:18:00

Why don't you call them posing as a new customer with a similar problem and ask them how they charge?

OnePlanOnHouzz Thu 30-Jan-14 20:08:40

Yes it still applies ! I sell a service and I have to give my clients info on how to cancel if they wish ! It's a law to protect you from being mistreated like this !

Wigeon Thu 30-Jan-14 22:11:43

Plumpicious - DH had just showed me it (I was out when they originally came) - the drainpipe is actually disconnected only about a metre off the ground, so the rain is dripping into the exposed drain and at the moment doesn't seem to be soaking the wall. But clearly we do need to fix it before it might do so.

OnePlan: On our legal rights, I've just found this really useful stuff from Citizens Advice, which says that they weren't obliged to tell us about any call-out charge / charge for just assessing what the problem was, although that would be good practice, and any charge should be reasonable. So I am composing an email to protest that we were given no indication that there would be a charge (we thought they were just coming to quote), and that the charge of £140 is unreasonable.

But it seems that they might be entitled to charge something "reasonable" - is any charge "reasonable", considering they didn't fix it?

Wigeon Thu 30-Jan-14 22:17:49

Oh, by the way, inspecting the (terracotta looking) drain in the ground a bit more closely, you can clearly see that it's cracked and a strong plant root is growing through it. You can reach slightly into the main bit of the drain and try to yank another bit of root, but it's stuck fast. So it looks like it's quite possible that other bits of the drain are also cracked and the whole drain (between our house and the boundary, which is about 2m - 3m) might need replacing...

Something our buildings insurance might cover? No idea how pricey these kind of things turn out to be. There are many advantages to owning your own home, but this ain't one...

OnePlanOnHouzz Fri 31-Jan-14 10:39:07

hi ! that's a really interesting site - I had a poke about on it while, I'm having a coffee break ! this page mentioned the kind of thing I was referring to
good luck with your letter ! hope it all works out for you !

Wigeon Fri 31-Jan-14 13:26:10

Thanks, OnePlan. Latest update: DH emailed him to say that he thought that it was unfair not to be told there would be a call out charge, and that £144 was an unreasonably high amount. The guy left him a voicemail to say that he didn't want to lose customers, so he'd waive his own call out charge, and we could "just" pay the call out charge for the drain guy (the intial people were handyman types as we initially guessed we just needed some muck scooping out from the roof gutter, but when it turned out to be a drain issue, then sent a drain man, who was here for about 10-15 mins just to have a look).

And that cost would be £80 + VAT, so £96. So DH is emailing him back again to say that the drain man never mentioned a call out charge either, and £96 for 15 mins looking (not fixing the problem) is too steep too!


Have now rung Dyno-Rod because at least they are a big company - and they can send some one before 6pm today, with definitely no call-out charge (which I triple-checked!!)

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