Should tradesmen charge for travel time?


traffic-jam I recently read this article ‘The day I took on the tradesmen’s guild’ by Simon Read, the Independent’s personal finance editor, that raised an eyebrow. He hired a roofer for a small repair and was shocked to see that he had been billed for the roofer’s travel time.

“...a roofer had submitted an invoice for an hour and a half's work replacing a couple of roof tiles that had blown off, when he had only been at my home for 45 minutes. That, to me, seemed unreasonable."

He goes on to say:

“I don't begrudge paying the going rate for expert work, but it didn't sound fair to be charged around £90 an hour while the roofer was sitting in his van in traffic.”

I can relate to this because I know what it’s like to travel great distances for work. When I was working as a stonemason in Bristol, I did a job in Dorset that was a 2 hour drive each way. The travel costs took a lot out of my wages, not to mention the fact that I was leaving the house at 6am and returning as late as 8pm. I didn’t charge for travel and I put up with it because it was a big job and at least I could get a full day’s work in. But what of the tradesmen who do travel great distances for small jobs?

The main question is whether a tradesman should charge a client for travel time. I think the answer is no, personally.

Now, let me be clear that I'm making a distinction between that and a call out charge. Call out charges are a necessary and good thing. Urgent plumbing, heating, roofing and electrical problems, as well as locksmith work necessitate call out charges. Why? Because on a job that can be done in minutes, the hourly rate would be so small that it wouldn't be worth the trip. Clients simply have to pay a call out fee in order to get someone willing to do it.

[caption id="attachment_3146" align="alignright" width="300"] Getting to work in rural Cumbria frequently takes over two hours[/caption]

There are two important differences between charging for travel time and charging a call out fee:

1. The client knows up front that there is a call out fee, and how much it is.

2. The fee is the same for every client, no matter how far away from the tradesman they live.

The first point is the bigger one, and if Mr. Read knew about the extra fee up front, he wouldn't have taken issue with it. One of the most important rules for any kind of tradesman is to be clear about your fees upfront. There's no excuse for doing otherwise, and any ill will generated as a result sits squarely on the shoulders of the tradesman.

The second point is more nuanced. Why shouldn't a tradesman charge a larger fee to customers who are further away? I will argue that it's not in the tradesman's interest to do so.

Firstly, the client has no control over how long it takes you to get to their house. Nor do they have an easy way to choose tradesmen who have shorter travel times to their home. Yes, you can look for a local tradesman, but why would they necessarily be coming from their home when they head over to yours? Tradesmen who do small jobs pop from one job to the next, and it’s down to them to optimise their schedules for travel time.

Secondly, travel time accounting is open to abuse. As if to prove the point, Simon Read’s roofer eventually came back to say that he had ‘misread' the clock in his van. Customers have no way of verifying travel time, and they know that. The biggest problem from the tradesman's point of view is that billing for travel time leads to a lack of trust. And as we all know, you won't get repeat work and referrals from a client who doesn't trust you.

My conclusion is that Simon Read has a point around not being told upfront, but tradesmen who do small (especially urgent) jobs should charge a call out fee, and roofers after the recent weather are a prime example. It’s completely fair and reasonable. This is what Mr. Read’s roofer was trying to do in essence, but he handled it very poorly by adding travel to his hourly rate and not stating that up front. A storm in a teacup perhaps, but also a good learning experience.

31 Comments

  1. I totally agree with the CEO! At the end of the day if you are honest and upfront it does not lead to complaints. If you provide a written quote for work then this should include overheads and profit, but you have to be reasonable to win jobs and be fair to ALL customers.

    On my travels I have heard and witnessed horror stories of Emergency Plumbers taking credit card details from customers prior to attendance, then the charge for attendance, call out and minimum pipe repairs being in the region of £360 for less than an hours work. This is wrong and in my view I do not know how these companies can sleep soundly knowing they have just ripped off vulnerable people at a time of need.

    TCF-treat customers fairly

  2. I also think the point here is about Transparency. I often charge travel time to my clients, but its based around them wanting me to do the job!
    They know up front and it’s based on a clear drive. If there is bad traffic then that’s my problem. And it works and works well as long as they know. And they know I have many choices of my work, and often some of my clients are further away than others, so they understand if they want me, they have a choice, as indeed I do. So why would any tradesman work one hour's drive away, with no travel time, when he can work 5 minutes away? I think For me its about my clients wanting me back. And they all know I have choices. So Its just a simple case of being open, and fair! Both ways.

  3. I totally agree with the other comments, be open with your customers, it will save bad feeling later. As usual though it only takes one person in the trade not doing things in an honest manner to make a story for the newspapers and give the public the wrong impression of tradesmen. I am sure the majority of tradesmen are decent and straight with their customers purely because if you are not, bad news will travel quickly and you will find yourself with no work and a poor reputation in no time.

  4. I have a 25 mile working radius within which I do not charge for travelling, with the exception of genuine call outs, i.e. Out of normal hours. I've never had a client quibble reasonable travel charges when I explain my policy. Not sure travelling to work during normal working hours should ever be classed as a call out. What else would you be doing?

  5. I have operated several times as a sole trader over the years, and as a self employed tradesman it has never been my custom to charge travelling time.
    I normally work on the basis of quoting for time and labour plus goods supplied which will include all necessary costs incurred in securing that sale, it is important to determine your working area as there an economic limit on the distant one is prepared to travel to effect a job. E.g., as yet, I have managed in this way to avoid initial assessment visit charges (basically free
    estimates) but make a point of carefully covering all sales costs incurred with a markup on materials if a discreet client assessment is made. Sometimes it is an advantage to initiate budget price system based on customer cash purchases where necessary to keep costs down to affordable. Remembering, at the end of the day, that the tradesman has to 1., make an honest living and 2., serve client requirements. It is nigh on impossible to operate successfully on any other basis.
    There is absolutely nothing wrong with making a profit, for profit is the reward taken by the entrepreneur for bearing the calculated risk involved on any venture.

  6. Tradesmen should charge travel time to cover wear and tear on there vehicle it is only fair.
    The way to do it is be open and transparent about the charges so state that you are charging let's say 20-30 pence per mile, then state your hourly/daily fee and materials are extra.
    If the tradesman gets held up in traffic this is the risk everyone faces but at least he/her knows there is a fixed mileage fee included in the contract.

  7. Usually the customer has a fixed price for a job if it is over 1 days work with no travel time limited to a 10 mile radius and over that then the extra fuel and time would be calculated into the cost take it or leave it!
    If for instance then job hopping is involved such as minor works maintenance then the hourly rate would increase dramatically this would then cover me for extra fuel and time to fetch materials and hop from job to job. There is a lot of time wasted on small jobs such as to and forth getting the tools you require from the van dust sheeting up and then clearing away debris from the job in hand before doing it again in 1 hours time If the customer Knows the hourly rate then sometimes it would be in his/her interest to get all the materials on the job before I start
    but the moral of the story is charging for travel time no but yes in a round about way which is reflected in hourly or daily labor cost

  8. I actually read the article in the independent that day and in general it is typical of most customers' attitudes that they deserve something for nothing. You will always be in work if you do it for free and bring your own lunch. Most members of the public believe that the vast majority of your fee goes to wages rather than overheads. On other sites the client posts the expected job budget, this is usually about half the realistic figure for their works. Another problem for most tradesmen is finding 40 invoiceable hours in a week when they have actually worked about 60 when you include behind the scenes. I had this same argument with 2 friends who called out a plumber recently (I thought their fees for the total jobs were fair) I cannot say about whether £90hr is a fair rate in central London, however if that is the rate then that is what the customer must agree to pay. I do believe in transparency however, if you intend to charge travel to and fro then explain this when they call. I do a 2hr (£50) minimum fee even if I'm there 30 minutes. That usually equates to 1hr driving, 30mins of job and 30mins of admin. If I billed for 30 mins on say 3 jobs a day (which actually take over 6hrs total) I would spend more in overhead than collected in revenue. If you leave site to fetch materials then this should be billed at standard day rate. If you work on jobs over 30mins drive then you need to factor travel into the price. Dress this however you like but customers are less weary if you charge a higher day rate less travel not sure why.

  9. I had a discussion with a landlord who wanted some boilers serviced and repaired in various locations. He thought he should not pay for my time to go and and get materials to fix a boiler. I argued that if he did any work on the properties then the tenants are paying for his time to get materials etc. He was adamant that this was not so, even though i was trying to stress that the rent they paid covered this. I thought of hiring him to do some decorating work on the house as he doesn't charge for that type of work.
    At some point you have to get paid for the hours you are working. Once you are in the van you are at work, if i am on holiday or have a day off, i don't go out and sit in the van! How as a tradesman you charge for that time is up to the individual. I personally have a higher 1st hour charge, which covers the time to get to a job, if the job is further away then i would discuss a higher charge with the customer. There are always customers who call you out but don't want to pay a call out fee.

  10. Travel time certainly not but fuel costs yes. If your company wants to price a job that is more than an hour away that is your choice and if you win the work your business costs should be covered but its your choice to add extra hours onto your day. If you work on a day rate the day rate should be the same for all areas as long as your business costs are covered

  11. I have carried out a number of breakdowns for a company. Most of these jobs have been broken switches or sockets entailing no more than 30-45 minutes on site. The company pay £30.00 per hour and led me to believe when they initially contacted me that included travel. This was acceptable to me until they sent me to a job which entailed a 64 mile round trip , two hours travelling and approx ten pounds worth of fuel. I invoiced for 2.75 hours only to be told they only pay for time on site. £22.50. I do not work for them now!

  12. I think this is a very sensitive subject and prices should not be discussed. Its the same as a clerical worker discussing there wages with a colleague, it doesn't happen. That aside transparency is key, but this topic is not something I expect to be bought up, especially from MyBuilder!

  13. Travel time should be included in the quote.(overheads)

    I have a set day rate and half day rate and normally work in my local regional radius.

    Or price the job on price work only no day rate.

    £90!!! Get lost !! Sounds like he's desperate for the cash!

  14. I charge £40 plus vat for the first half hour and £40 per hour thereafter. The little bit extra in the first half hour covers admin and diesel. Most small problems solved within half hour so most jobs are £48
    No complaints yet.

  15. It makes no difference whether a tradesman is actually working on site or sitting in a van driving to the job, he still needs paying and as a company the overheads still need paying and revenue still needs to be earned. The customer should be clearly told upfront what the estimated travel time/expenses are and if he is not happy with that then a) he needs to find a tradesman closer to the site or b) both parties have to come to an agreement/compromise .

  16. In 8 hours I got to make my daily wage, at least as much as a taxi driver!, I agree that charging for traveling time is a fair practice as neither the fuel is free nor the MOT or vehicle servicing ....

  17. I made it company policy not to work outside of my home town to avoid this problem, but also because while I'm out of town I can't be working and earning anywhere else.

    I charge £25 per hour but I pay my mechanic £58 per hour and my solicitor over £100 per hour. There are very few people who can do what I do (or want to) but lots of people who will say it's just a simple job, lol. Fortunately most people look bewildered when I say how much I want and say - are you sure that's all? maybe I'm too cheap or maybe they were expecting to get lifted as usual.

    I charge for time spent on the job whether I'm there or buying materials for the work provided that's what I'm doing. I've never stopped for coffee in City Plumbing on someone else's dime. At the end of the day it's about being fair.

  18. I don't charge travelling time. What I do is when I work out the quote I have a good idea how long the job will take me, then I simply add on a daily travel amount depending on the distance for x amount of days travelling to cover my fuel costs.

    So not really charging for my time, just the fuel cost. Like if I am working in Leeds which is around 20 miles away, I will charge £10.00 per day for travelling to and from work.

    I always breakdown my quotes clearly so that the customers know what they are paying for before the job starts.

    I have never added on any fees to a final bill on invoice day. the only time a bill is more expensive than the original quote is when the customers have added on extra work to be done.

  19. The tradesman knows how far the job is away from his house he should price accordingly then it's in the price no fuss

  20. I think adding petrol costs on to the price is fair, but I wouldn't charge for time, saying that I wouldn't work somewhere where it would take me more than an hour to get there.. unless there is accommodation arranged

  21. Reading Simon Read’s comment about the builder sitting in traffic and charging the homeowner I thought I’d ask a controversial question - should tradesmen be charged to look at a job!

  22. I could write a book on tradesmen but here's just one example;
    Man drives to my address, gives QUOTE for job, he said 5 days would be ample. When job started, he was turning up at 10am or 11am and going at 3 - 4pm (all to beat the rush hour). Consequently our 5 days quote went into 8 days and cost us £800
    instead of £500. My point is that he came and quoted SO KNEW WHERE WE LIVED! Why not turn the job down in the first place because of distance. No tradesmen should not charge for travel - they choose where they live and they choose where they work. If you worked in an office in London you would not expect your Boss to pay your train fares just because you choose to work there!!!! Any travel expenses should be reflected in the original quote.

  23. I personally cover a thirty square mile radius and i have never charge travel time to any of my customers.
    If your contracting out further distances then the pricing should be included in your quotation so that the customer knows exactly were they stand and not be hit with any hidden charges which may cause you problems.

  24. Last year at 7pm my cousin, who is 75, called out a plumber as her central heating boiler failed. The plumber called said it had a faulty board cost £350 and a £70 call out charge. I wasn't too happy told her to pay the call out charge. I then called on a friend to call. It wasn't the board it was a simple £40 gas reset switch.

  25. If the roofer had just Invoiced £90 without mentioning time factors..would Mr read still question the price?

    The customer is not happy unless the tradesmen is doing the job for nothing and the Tradesman is not happy unless he does as little as possible during the day.

    It is a complex world
    That is made all the more complicated with questions!

  26. I could write alot of words about this scenario suffice to say it's nice and easy to have a go at the roofer I don’t hear anyone having a go at the financial guy who may earn an over inflated salary in the city for bringing the country to it's knees and then have a go at the poor bloke who’s trying to make ends meet. No-one likes a large bill and if you look at the complaint from the poster that’s the very reason we have so much shoddy cheap labour in this country. I bet he would have been delighted if he had been charged £30 for the job, he would have been boasting at his next dinner party. Then 2 years later at his dinner party he would have been astonished when the roof gave way and collapsed due to water damage and he would have been totally confused as to why it happened. The moral is you get exactly what you pay for and if it's cheap then there’s a reason.Also remember please there may have been a reason the customer had to go further afield to get someone.

  27. I can understand tradesmen charging travel time when they live in rural areas.
    But, in my opinion, there should be no charge when they reside in towns or cities.

    Before I retired, I was self employed. My work took me to all parts of Cleveland.
    For over 20 years it never entered my head to even think of charging for travel time.

  28. O dear I always allow travel time etc in my estimate its simple you price jobs on a where u are basis occasionally example im a decorator I done a job on the corner of Oxford st and bond st in London recently here we go have to pay 12 congestion charge 10 petrol 55 parking have to upload and load my van on a red route area potential 100 fine because it's all camerad up thats 172 before I've picked up a brush had to drive in estimated job.

  29. I cover an area of roughly 40 miles radius. I do have a minimum callout charge which varies slightly on distance to job. I do not charge for travel time but I do charge for additional fuel costs.

  30. Two different things here if you are on a quoted job then yes you allow for traveling cost in your estimate,but a day work jobs you have to cover traveling expensive s as an electrician I might have 2,3 or even 4 jobs a day with varying distances between if I worked for a company that sent out on jobs then I would expect to be payed from the time I arrived at work to the time I got home no matter where I went

  31. My tradesman's website stated "No call out charges". However, the bill included an amount of £95 which he said was an "Attendance charge".

    On top of this I was charged for doing the job. Is this acceptable?

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