Stop the Cowboys: How a loose tile turned into £80,000 bill for vulnerable couple

It all started with a knock on the door from a friendly builder who said there was a loose tile on the roof.

Monday, 3rd November 2014, 8:18 am
Mrs L was scammed by a cowboy builder

Two months later Buckinghamshire residents Mr and Mrs L were £20,000 poorer – and the builder wanted another £60,000 when the work was finished.

It wasn’t that the work was poor.

It’s just that they charged too much.

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Way too much.

For the Buckinghamshire County Council Trading Standards team this is one of the many tragic stories of doorstep rogue traders that cost vulnerable residents in the county an estimated £14 million a year.

And the impact, say Trading Standards officers, could be much less severe if more residents looked out for their neighbours.

So to coincide with National Consumer Week this week (November 3) they have launched a county-wide campaign to recruit Good Neighbours.

For Mr and Mrs L, the good neighbour was their building society, for whom alarm bells rang when they asked for a cheque for £40,000 payable to the builder.

When he came to collect and realised the society was sending a representative around, he suddenly made his excuses and left – never to be seen again.

But not before a loose roof tile had turned into guttering replacement, fascia board renewal and damp course repairs, and the replacement of their crazy paved paths with block paving stones. And in the midst of all this he ‘discovered’ the drains were in a bad way.

“It was a very vulnerable time for us. We lost our son unexpectedly, and my husband wasn’t well,” said Mrs L.

“If my husband had been his usual self, we would have queried it, but we just said ‘go ahead’.”

Weeks later, when the work was finished, and Mr and Mrs L had given him cheques worth £20,000, the builder said he wanted another £60,000.

Mrs L knew they had no more than £20,000 in the bank, so she had no option but to visit their building society to draw £40,000 from savings.

“We must have been mad,’ said Mrs L, looking back at their experience.

“But she is eternally grateful to the vigilant building society.

“I had just got home with the cheque and the lady from the building society phoned to say that when the man came to collect the cheque, I should ask him to wait and see their manager.”

When the builder arrived, Mrs L asked him to wait while she called the building society manager.

“But then his mobile phone went and he said he had to go and see somebody urgently, but he’d be back to see the building society manager,” said Mrs L.

“He went, but I haven’t set eyes on him since.”

Mrs L said the quality of work was good, and a surveyor, brought in by Trading Standards officer Tim Day, agreed but estimated the actual cost of the work at only £5,000.

“They kept finding new jobs to do, and asking for cheques, but we didn’t smell a rat at any time, as their work was good,” said Mrs L.

“It was when the building society stepped in and the police and Trading Standards got involved, that we couldn’t believe it had all happened.”

Mrs L is clear on her advice to residents concerned about a doorstep trader: get some advice from Trading Standards, Citizens’ Advice or your solicitor.

Her experience was three years ago.

Sadly, Mr L has since passed away. S

ince then, a friendly neighbour has kept an eye on Mrs L, and Trading Standards officers have kept in touch regularly with her about progress on the investigation.