According to research published by the FMB (Federation of Master Builders), three in four UK builders are at risk from “cowboy clients”. This is research that should peak the interest of many a window and door installer, as this year seems to have been the worst, according to the comments and messages on here, for home owners deliberately abusing companies.

So I guess this report shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, rather than a confirmation of what we already know to be going on right now. Although this is a report focused on the building sector, it will draw sympathetic feelings from the window industry, and so is worth a read.

To clarify, this report says the word “clients” and not “home owners”. Nor does it make a clear distinction as to whether it is solely company clients or home owner clients. So I would guess that it is a mixture of the two.

Read the article on the FMB website here

The report

Here is the report and what it’s findings were:

Three quarters of construction SMEs say ‘cowboy clients’ are hampering their business, according to the latest research by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

Key results from the FMB’s UK-wide research into the impact of ‘cowboy clients’ – clients who delay or withhold payment without good reason or make completely unreasonable demands – on small and medium-sized (SME) construction firms include:

  • Nearly three quarters think ‘cowboy clients’ are a serious problem for their businesses;
  • Nearly a quarter have had to wait for more than four months for payment from a client or large contractor;
  • Fewer than one third are always paid within the standard 30 days.

The negative effects that late payment is having on construction SMEs include:

  • 30% have had to delay payment to suppliers;
  • 20% say late payment stopped them from having the confidence to grow their business;
  • 16% had to borrow additional funds from a bank or other lender;
  • 8% almost went out of business;
  • 5% had to withhold wages and salaries from staff;
  • 4% had to let staff go.

Sarah McMonagle, Director of External Affairs at the FMB, said: “There are so many horror stories of people being duped by cowboy builders. However, our research shows that there’s a flip side to this story with three quarters of small construction firms being hampered by ‘cowboy clients’. Typical cowboy client behaviour can include a demand for the builder to complete tasks not included in the original brief or quote and for no extra payment. The worst type of cowboy client seeks to delay or withhold payment on spurious grounds, for instance by discovering make-believe faults. Nearly a quarter of construction SMEs have had to wait for more than four months for payment from a client or large contractor. Fewer than one third of builders are always paid within the standard period of 30 days and this is completely unacceptable.”

McMonagle concluded: “Late payment is having a direct impact on the ability of construction SMEs to grow and prosper. One in five builders say delayed payments from clients have stopped them from having the confidence to grow their business. Worse still, nearly 10% say that they nearly went out of business because of this. As we edge towards Brexit, we need the construction sector to be firing on all cylinders to shore up the wider economy. The last thing we want to see is thousands of builders going to the wall because of their customers refusing to pay on time. We strongly recommend that builders and clients do everything they can to protect themselves by using a written contract that includes an agreed payment schedule. Clients rightly demand a high level of service from their builder but home owners also need to keep their end of the bargain by paying on time.”

I think one of the most important stats in that menu of bad news is the fact that 20% of companies have been unable to grow because of late payments due to lack of confidence. And it’s understandable. Why would a company risk investing to grow, if they’re worried that their clients are going to withhold funds that are rightfully theirs? They wouldn’t, they would go bust. So some will keep onto their money and plans, restricting their growth and therefore the wider industry’s growth. Sad really.

No protection

That is a depressing set of bullet points in that research. Evidence that when clients go rogue, as some businesses do, it can cause a huge amount of damage and can in some serious cases bring a business to the edge of bankruptcy. All because the end user thinks it’s OK to take advantage of a good, honest business to try and shirk out of paying what they agreed. It’s wrong, it’s immoral and it’s downright dirty.

But, for years now consumer laws have changed so heavily that businesses have little to no protection against such clients. There has been a debate on Twitter for the past few days as to whether it is legal or not for an installer to claim that the windows and doors they have just fitted into someone’s home are still theirs if the final balance has not been paid. A dramatic last resort yes, but what other practical and fruitful avenues do window firms, and builders in the case of this report, have when it comes to taking action against a rogue client? There are so many laws, bodies and institutions out there for home owners, but business seems to have so very little.

If you ask a window and door installer about this issue I can almost guarantee that every single one could tell you a story about how a home owner withheld a large balance due to something insignificant. Or a large snagging list would appear just as it was time to pay up. Or that they have gone on holiday just as you finish their installation and they cannot pay until they return. All tactics and methods that some less than honest home owners would use to avoid paying, or at least ask for compensation. This is not OK. Yet, who can we turn to. I can’t think of a body out there with a specific aim of protecting businesses from bad clients. But why is that? Business of all kinds is what makes an economy work. So why do we not have anything of any quality out there to fight the corner for companies?

I understand that conusmer rights are just important, and we all have to be protected from companies who use bad practice or break the law. But they have moved so heavily to the side of consumers that I believe many are now starting to realise that if they play certain cards and use the law to their advantage, they can unfairly screw over a company and look for freebies or compensation where there is no valid reason. And the worst thing is, the laws are so weighted towards the client, that most businesses feel compelled to roll over and just give in. How have we got to this point? Where has the respect for business gone? Have we all gone so completely anti-business as a society that we think it is OK to treat the people who actually makes business work like this?

If so, then it’s time for companies to start talking tough to clients who think that this is indeed OK. It’s time to start calling out bullsh*t where it is. Running a window company, or any company for that matter is as hard as it has ever been. If there are no institutions with any teeth left to protect the good companies out there, then we need to do it ourselves, even if it means having some pretty fresh conversations with clients.