Customers should scrutinise claims of on-line builders’ lists, says Tony Merricks.
The head of the anti-cowboy taskforce has urged consumers to adopt a cautious attitude to claims made by dot-com companies that offer vetted lists of builders.

Tony Merricks said the dot-coms failed to take into account county court judgments against builders and urged consumers to compare the insurance provision they offered with the government’s quality mark scheme. The quality mark is currently being piloted in Birmingham.

Merricks accused the dot-coms of using the government’s marketing campaign to promote their own businesses, and said that the government scheme offered customers more security.

He said: “There is evidence that these schemes are piggy-backing on the government’s initiative in Birmingham. People really should take a close look at what these schemes are offering.”

Merricks ruled out any tie-up between the DETR and the dot-coms. He said: “In due course, the quality mark will go on-line.”

Dot-com firm Improveline, which has about 5500 active and registered builders and a marketing budget of £4m for 2000, said it was seeking to co-operate with the government in any way it could. Improveline chief executive Marshall King said: “I’m surprised we are being criticised in this way. We fully support the government initiative. We have developed the technology platform and we’d be delighted to help in any way we can.”

He added: “It is untrue to say we do not check for county court judgments against registered builders. We take a feed from credit bureau Dun & Bradstreet and update our records every two months.”

Homepro, formerly Hi-revolution, also said it was not in competition with the DETR and emphasised that it wants to co-operate with the government. A spokesperson said: “We have a national poster campaign at the moment and this in no way refers to the government’s initiative, which is in its early stages. This year, we have budgeted to spend £2.5m on marketing. We have been marketing since October with nothing specific to Birmingham.”

He added: “Homepro is a success in its own right, with 5378 builders registered so far.”

Merricks also hit back at what he described as negative publicity surrounding the government scheme, and insisted that the quality mark pilot was progressing well.

Ten weeks into the Birmingham scheme, 393 builders had applied for registration packs. Of these, 281 had requested support to get their companies up to speed.

Merricks said: “Support can be help with training, health and safety or assistance in filling in the forms. Some companies don’t know what a customer complaint system is.”

At the 10-week stage, one firm, Birmingham-based Gillman Group, had successfully completed the accreditation process and a further six were being processed.