VICTORIA BISCHOFF: Why is finding a decent tradesman such an ordeal?

As Money Mail Editor, I have no problem calling out financial firms if they try to pull a fast one.

At times, l admit, I almost enjoy holding their feet to the fire. But that’s because I’m confident in my knowledge of this field; I have a good idea of what is fair and when companies are breaking the rules.

Yet when it comes to dealing with skilled tradesmen such as builders, plumbers, electricians and the like, I am entirely at their mercy — and they know it.

There are thousands of honest tradesmen out there who do a fantastic job for a fair price. But often it’s not easy to find one

Take my experience last weekend, for example. My husband and I are looking to have our modest, two-bedroom flat repainted. So we asked a decorator recommended by a friend to give us a quote.

Full of charm, he wandered around for a few minutes before presenting me with his best price.

This turned out to be a jaw-dropping £7,500. When I balked, he swiftly knocked off £2,000 — so much for his ‘best price’.

Now, I’m all for haggling, but that’s a liberty and £5,500 still sounds far too high to me. Yet I don’t really know how long the job should take or what a fair price is for that amount of work. And he spun a good yarn about the intricacies of painting a wall white.

So we got a second quote, which came in at around £1,300. This should have been brilliant news. But now the ‘if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is’ warning bell was chiming in my ears.

We aren’t expecting Picasso, but we’d like to avoid a disaster.

I know there are thousands of honest tradesmen out there who do a fantastic job for a fair price. But how do you find them? 

And if you know of any in South London, please give me their number! In the meantime, another firm with good reviews online is coming out next week, so I’ll keep you posted.

Tempting disaster

Why, amid a cost-of-living crisis, is Tesco Bank actively encouraging customers to increase their credit card limit?

I’ve had the same cap for years and never come close to maxing it out. So I was surprised to receive an email out of the blue this week informing me that I’m eligible for a £2,000 uplift.

‘Requesting an increase is easy,’ it said. And, as if the bank knew it was treading a dangerous line, added: ‘But there’s an increased risk you might take on too much debt, which may be costly or take longer to pay off. So you should think carefully about whether you need a higher credit limit’.

That’s a bit of a cheek, given the idea hadn’t crossed my mind until Tesco waved it under my nose.

Eyes peeled…

Another reminder to check your bank statements carefully, as BT recently helped itself to an extra tenner from my account without warning.

The telecoms giant hadn’t bothered to alert me that my contract was about to end or that my bill would increase as a result.

No doubt it hoped I wouldn’t notice — never mind that it had only just dished out a 10 pc price hike in April.

After making a complaint, the money was refunded. But surely an email reminding loyal customers to renew their deal is not too much to expect?

Best the M&S pest

My least favourite thing about shopping in M&S is its ear-splitting self-service checkout machines.

Over and over again a woman’s voice screeches the same message: ‘Someone gets their shopping for free every week in this store. Scan your Sparks card and it could be you.’

Following an in-depth research project (in which I spoke to five colleagues), I’m confident I’m not the only one who finds this irritating. So you, too, may be thrilled to learn there is a volume (or mute) button at the bottom of the main screen.

I couldn’t believe it when my husband casually tapped it last weekend, as if everyone is aware of its existence.

While on the topic of M&S, I’d also be curious to know if any Money Mail readers have ever won their shopping for free after scanning their Sparks card?

Let me know by writing to the email address below.