A surprisingly high number of people have had a bad experience with cowboy builders.

One survey found that up to 40% of homeowners have had to contend with shoddy workmanship, damage to their property and even theft in their time.

Last year the Citizens Advice Bureau is reported to have dealt with over 25,000 complaints about dodgy builders who did a substandard job, took far longer than they had promised, or never got round to completing what they had started.

The problem of cowboy builders is obviously widespread but there a number of warning signs that should alert you and set the alarms bells ringing.

Here are seven signs that you may have encountered a cowboy builder:

1. Unsolicited approach

If a builder turns up at your door saying he’s spotted some work that needs doing on your home, or that he is working in the area and wondered if you need any jobs doing, then be aware. This is a common approach of a cowboy builder.

2. Lack of references

A reputable building firm should be able to provide references from people they have done work for, and even photographs and examples of the work. If these are not forthcoming on request, you are entitled to suspect they are hiding something.

3. Shoddy workmanship

An untidy work area, nails sticking out and screws missing are all signs that that your builder is not up to scratch. If you are suspicious, you are well within your rights to ask for an update on progress and to check the quality of the work.

4. Cash in hand

It’s not unusual for builders to request cash, especially for small jobs, but if they want cash for a large job, don’t want to pay VAT and don’t want to give you a proper quote or receipt, you should question just how professional they are.

5. Are they known locally?

The best recommendation you can get for a builder is from someone who has used them and been pleased with the results. If no-one in your area has heard of a builder or can vouch for their work, then you might want to dig a bit deeper before you engage them.

6. Indifference to health and safety

Working without hard hats or safety harnesses, leaving the site untidy so accidents are more likely to occur and working at height without adequate safeguards – these are all indications that your builder is not following best building practice.

7. Are they easy to find?

If the builder has only a mobile number but no landline, registered business address or website then the chances are you are dealing with a cowboy.