The Consumer Lawyer

Cowboy builder scam

This week I read the horrific story about Colin Juffs from North Finchley who fell victim of a cowboy builder and ended up committing suicide. Within his heartfelt suicide note to his sister it was clear that he simply did not know what to do when the builder kept on increasing his charges and did not know where to turn.

No one should ever be put in this situation, especially with the consumer laws we have in this country which greatly protect the consumer. Here’s my mini guide on the subject:

Avoid getting scammed

Prevention is always better than cure so it pays to do some due diligence before hiring a builder/tradesman to carry out work in your home. At the very least you should:

  1. check them out online by doing a Google search against their name – this will show if anyone has had a bad experience with them in the past
  2. ask if they are a member of any trade association and, if they are, contact them for a reference or at least confirmation of their membership
  3. ask them for references

Most importantly, agree everything in writing, including what works they are going to do, what the timeframes will be, and how much it will cost and NEVER pay all of the money upfront. Only agree to pay in stages and when you are satisfied that each stage has been properly completed. A reputable builder will agree this.

If you do fall victim to a rogue builder

If you think you are being scammed by a builder, take the following steps:

  1. put your dispute in writing to them, setting out the deal you agreed with them and what has gone wrong
  2. tell them to stop work until they have responded in writing (not verbally)
  3. if you dispute: i) the quality of their work, or ii) the need for them to do additional work they are trying to do, call in an independent trader to give you an opinion
  4. if you are still in dispute, contact your local trading standards. You can also terminate your agreement (whether it is written or verbal) and call in a reputable firm to take over. If the cowboy builder has done a shoddy job you can then claim money from them representing the cost of putting such works right.

Most importantly, never suffer in silence.  There are always many people who are willing to help.

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