BBC TV's Rogue Traders landscape expert Mitch Westwood said "duff" landscapers were setting up in increased numbers, while BALI chief executive Sandra Loton-Jones said many newcomers to the industry were unaware of the legislative position, including VAT and Work at Height Regulations.
Westwood backed the confidence trade associations give consumers in a market where more rogue traders are setting up, while recognising the role of small operators working as "jobbing gardeners".
Gardiner backed Westwood's comments, adding: "There is no question that, from a price perspective, operators who work in the domestic market and are VAT registered are at a disadvantage when competing against non-VAT-registered businesses. The domestic client is unable to reclaim the VAT charged by the VAT-registered contractor yet the contractor must charge it by law.
"The non-VAT-registered operator is immediately 15% (17.5% from January 2010) cheaper before selection of materials and labour is even considered.
"While there are undoubtedly 'rogue traders' among VAT-registered contractors, there is a greater risk of becoming the victim of an unscrupulous landscaper among non-registered companies if they are not members of a recognised trade association or customer protection scheme.
"Indeed, it is arguably more important for sole traders and small businesses to belong to a trade association with strict entry criteria and recognised industry standards so that the client can be reassured of their professional capabilities and trustworthiness."
"The member is also then protected against unscrupulous domestic clients who exploit smaller contractors by trying to extract last-minute discounts for often spurious claims of dissatisfaction with the work completed.
"However, there is, undeniably, a major contingent of sole traders and micro businesses, outside of landscape trade associations, that operates effectively and efficiently and represents all that is good in the industry."
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