Tape Record Your Builder?

As I popped into my local newsagent for a pint of milk, I was intrigued to see the Daily Mail’s front cover headline: “Tape Record Your Builder”. Jo Swinson, a government minister, unveiled a new 'consumer bill of rights' and encouraged homeowners to record conversations with their tradesmen to hold them accountable. See article.

On the face of it, the idea of recording conversations with your tradesmen might seem like an effective, if uncomfortable way to get a verbal contract in writing, as it were. But in fact, it’s just another daft government idea that attempts to solve a complex problem with a simple solution.

Firstly, a conversation is just that, a conversation. Agreement in conversation is often followed by another conversation with a more nuanced version of the agreement. Things change. People change their minds and in a complex building project, unexpected challenges come up. That’s just the nature of the game.

But that’s not to say that you shouldn’t make formal agreements. Part of the point of writing a contract is that you’ve given it thought and discussion and settled on something concrete. A contract is a clear distinction between conversation and agreement. You can easily refer back to the contract and if it needs to be changed or updated, you can agree to tear up the old one and write a new one. Seeing what has been written and putting your name to it is a crucial step. See our article about contracts.

There is another problem with the suggestion of tape recording our conversations with tradesmen. It’s why the whole notion feels uncomfortable to us when we imagine ourselves doing it.

What’s the most important thing in a business relationship? Trust. What are you saying to someone when you record a conversation with them? You’re saying that you don’t trust them. The relationship can only go downhill from there. Signing a contract does not convey lack of trust, it conveys professionalism and fairness. There is a copy for both parties, who have had a chance to review and sign. It cuts both ways as well: as much a benefit to the builder as to the homeowner. Recording a conversation is completely different. It can present a misleading picture of the agreement and it can only be used against the other party. It is, by its nature, an act of aggression.

Considering that lack of trust is one of the biggest problems that plagues our industry, this is about the last thing we need.


  1. I totally agree with you. So the govt expect home owners to say "wait before we discuss any thing let me just turn on my recorder" or there want home owners to hire CIA, MI5 agents to secretly install listening devices around their homes before a builder walks in. Opoohs that also infringes my rights as I need to be informed that the conversations is being recorded.

  2. Typical of a politician that hasn't done a days work in their life other than sitting around telling other people how to do their job. In my experience and other trades people we could do with a bill of rights as builders and a programme called rogue customers as we quite often get shafted more than customers do.

  3. I will have to remember to take along my solicitor next time I quote for a job, just to be on the safe side. A totally ridiculous proposal that will put tradesmen on the back foot before even starting the job. There are trade bodies and schemes around to promote consumer protection, if public awareness was increased as to the advantages of using scheme members this alone would reduce the number of rogue traders.

  4. I totally agree, The name of the game is flexibility and in this industry, there are constant changes to contracts on both sides while the job is in progress which is only to be expected.
    The press and MP's would like everyone to think most tradesmen are untrustworthy and rogue, but this is only a minority in my 30 years of experience and just used to verify there own jobs.
    I Don't pretend i can be a mp or journalist as i have no experience in that field. So how are mp's and the media qualified to suggest major changes to our industries codes of conduct.
    It will build distrust on both sides and surely exactly what we are fighting to root out of our industry.

  5. crazy idea,it would totally ruin the trust beetween customer and tradesman from day one.


  7. Honesty is always the best policy, right from initial contact. Honesty is the very foundation of trust.

  8. I totally agree with all the comments made above. I talk and discuss options and slight changes to a project all the time, and it doesn't always involve a change of fee +ve or -ve. This is another MP wanting customers to believe that all tradesmen are qualified to appear on certain tv programmes. Trade bodies, trust and recommendation best improve and sustain good customer relations.

  9. agree 100% why dont we record conversations with politicians instead?

  10. Many thanks to JON @ Better Bristol for the gardening work for me, very effecient & hard working,will welcome him for furure jobs. C. Fullbrook

  11. DJ Design,you got it bang on they always go back on there word,I think knowing or having your conversation recorded puts you off doing the work,trust goes a long way.

  12. What a ridiculous suggestion. What exactly would she be expecting to achieve? Most customers in my experience either want a detailed quote in writing / rely on feedback and recommendation or more usually a combination of both. Is this supposed to be a substitute? In the seedy world of British politics, the practice of recording conversations with someone whom you're about to enter into an agreement with probably seems quite normal. These people are utterly clueless!

  13. I was appalled to see this headline. I for one will not be doing any work for anyone who feels the need to record our conversation. I take very seriously the need to build a bond of trust with my clients and a clear agreement / contract is what is required for before work commences. The idea of a politician putting about the idea that tradesman are not to be trusted is laughable. Maybe some of our MPs should try a bit harder at sticking to their own promises.

  14. Have to say that I love my job and always get on well with customers, it's good to have a chat with them just about everyday life which I find relaxes both sides and gives a better work environment and experience for the customer. At the end of the day you're there to do a job but like everyone has said trust is the first and most important thing that has to be gained and I have some great conversations with great people as I'm sure most decent tradesmen do, but if I was told I was being recorded I think I'd just do my job in silence and leave because although all conversations are always above board and very respectful you're straight away casting doubt as to if you can even trust the customer...

  15. Notice it's all tradesmen that don't like the idea, have they not seen cowboy builders? How can you expect people to trust someone they don't know from Adam.
    I run my own business and don't have any problem with anyone recording me, as I have nothing to hide.

  16. To be honest most people don't know anything about the law and that includes tradespeople. Getting intention and agreement or merely sales puff, offer and acceptance or liability down in an objective format is a great idea. But you need to know something about the law to achieve the end goal. This should be taught as part of the national curriculum.

  17. Rogue traders - pah! My experience is rogue clients. All smiles and friendly until it's time to pay.

    Its a strategy people use: wait for the job to be done, then complain, however good the job is, or what you have said to the tradesman when he asked you if you were happy about how the way the job was progressing. He'll probably knock some money off for a quiet life and to protect his reputation.

    Its a dispicable way to behave. Government ministers should be standing up for the victims, right? Or do they view all tradespeople as inherantly dishonest? Some kind of lower class of people? If you re-read the article and substitute the word 'tradesman' with 'black man', 'Jew' or 'homosexual' there would (rightly) be a massive scandal, and heads would roll.

  18. stupid ,, why let anyone do work for you if you feel the need to record them ,lol some idiots around , and why always tradesman never dodgy solicators or accountants is it

  19. Customers have always been king. And rightfully so, they pay our wages, but everything is stacked in favour of the customer, it makes us honest tradesmen out to be rogues before we even get our tools out, I really don't like this idea at all

  20. What a silly idea. As a reputable trader we follow the law, but those who rip people off and already do not follow the law now, still will not follow the law in the future.

  21. Load of rubbish.

  22. Lesson from reading this is clearly: don't trust any telephone conversation. The best builders I used are the ones that always do what they say. Why are there so many builders that do not feel they can stand up to what they say and try to find rescue in the cases where the customer does not stand up to what they say?

  23. This is exactly why im starting a 2nd business and hoping to get out of the building game.Its bad enough we work long hrs (many unpaid) and have to cut our quotes to the bone to get some of the work.Now it appears that we are universally viewed as con men.Its enough for me:(

  24. 'Tape Record' really, shows how out of touch this government is, who now-a-days has a 'Tape Recorder'!

  25. Now 'tape record', in a couple of months 'video record' maybe. It is going to be very entertaining for the politicians to watch videos of builders at work instead of thinking how to raise the level of life

  26. I totally agree with all the comments above. We as tradesmen seem to have no rights. If we all were to quote customers and to say before the visit started "do you mind if we recorded this meeting" then we don't think anyone of us will be doing much work at their property. It's all about trust, we have to trust the customer in what they require as they do us in our ability to do our job. I agree there are bad so called trades out there and we all have to pay the price for them, but if the customer asks for previous work history, insurance and refs then all should go well. And the government, don't make me laugh what do they know about the building trade.

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