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Beware of Builders Offering Cut-Price Work - Court of Appeal Cautionary Tale

Every householder should understand the dire risks involved in opening their doors to those promising to carry out cut-price building work. A Court of Appeal decision provided distressing examples of almost the worst that can happen.

A householder approaching retirement age was taken in by a workman who knocked on his door, offering to paint the front of his home for £1,000. He was introduced to another man – the offender – whom the workman described as his business partner. The pair proceeded, over a period of months, to carry out various works which they said needed doing around the house.

The householder paid £85,800 in cash, of which the offender received £9,000. A further £41,000 was paid into the bank account of the offender's wife. The pair then abandoned the site and disappeared, leaving the work unfinished. Expert evidence indicated that some of the work was either unnecessary, substandard or both, and that the householder should have paid no more than £24,000.

The stress that the householder suffered for a time rendered him unable to speak or communicate effectively and caused him to shake physically. He was left depressed and emotionally drained and with a legacy of debt that required him to carry on working beyond his planned retirement date.

A retired nurse suffered a similar experience when she sought a contractor to mend a leak in her roof. A workman again introduced her to the offender. The pair told her that she needed a new roof and quoted her £6,000 for the job. As their bills mounted, she eventually put her foot down. They responded by walking away, leaving her roof open to the sky. Rainwater damaged her loft and bedroom, and her garden, which was left strewn with rubble and rubbish, could not be used during the COVID-19 lockdown.

A subsequent inspection showed that it had been unnecessary to replace the entire roof and that the standard of workmanship was abysmal. The overall cost to the woman, including remedial works, ate up more than half of her life savings. She suffered clinical depression, severe stress and sleepless nights.

The offender was arrested and, after initially denying any wrongdoing, pleaded guilty to five fraud and money laundering charges. He was sentenced to a total of six years and seven months' imprisonment. In dismissing his appeal against that punishment, the Court described his crimes as despicable. He preyed on vulnerable victims with seeming complete disregard for the impact on them. His sentence, although stiff, was neither wrong in principle nor manifestly excessive.