Cowboy builders have topped the Office of Fair Trading’s league of consumer complaints, generating 700 more than second-hand car salesmen in three months.

Figures compiled from trading standards offices across the UK show that domestic repair and maintenance and home improvement firms were the subject of 18 670 complaints in the last three months of 1999. The OFT said that the number of complaints about rogue builders had risen almost 20% in two years.

It is the first time that the second-hand motor trade has been knocked off the top spot.

The most common grievance about builders was defective goods or substandard service, which lay behind 10 390 complaints. Next came selling techniques, including misleading claims; these accounted for 2829 complaints.

Housebuilders fared better, only causing 973 complaints. The most common grievance concerned defective goods or substandard service, with 561 complaints made.

A spokesperson for the DETR said that the figures should be an incentive to legitimate builders to help clean up the industry’s act by joining its quality mark scheme.

“Traders can fully back our cowboy builders initiative, which is as much about providing protection for consumers as it is about the construction industry sorting itself out,” he said.