Cowboy Builder Simon Fielding has been jailed for two years and three months for conning customers. The 56-year-old from Leagram, Chipping in Lancashire, charged a couple almost £8,000 to fix their leaking roof. He persuaded them that they needed a whole new roof, but instead of providing new tiles, he simply turned the old ones over. When the couple complained, he threatened to remove them.
The Lancashire Telegraph reported that Sara Cole (34) and her husband Nicolas (34) arranged for Ribble Valley Roofing to check the leaking roof at their home in Wiswell. The company did the work in May 2014, and charged £850. However, weeks later the problem returned, so the couple called the company back. A man calling himself David Fielding arrived and said the whole roof would need replacing, and quoted them £15,000.
According to the Lancashire Evening Post, the couple negotiated, and Fielding agreed to use reclaimed tiles (along with a few of the existing ones) to do the work for £6,500. However, during the work, the price rose to £7,900. Then as the work was almost finished and almost £8,000 handed over, Fielding said the cost of materials had risen, and he would need another £3,600.
The couple smelled a rat, searched for their builder online, and discovered he had previously appeared on the BBC's Rogue Traders programme. They told him they wouldn't pay any more until the roof had been inspected by a building surveyor. That's when he threatened to take the slates back.
They called Lancashire Trading Standards. They called in a building surveyor, who found that the tiles hadn't been replaced - and had just been turned over to look new. The surveyor added that these tiles were at the end of their useful life, and so should not have been reused. The builder hadn't even solved the initial leak.
Trading Standards then took Fielding to court. During the case, Preston Crown Court heard that separately another of his victims was told she would have to pay £12,000 for a new roof - and after she paid him £9,000, he left without finishing.
After he was jailed, it emerged he has 11 similar convictions for 26 offences. He was subject to a suspended jail term when he was busy ripping his latest victims off. County Councillor Azhar Ali told the Evening Post: "We hope this sentence sends out a very clear message: ignore the law and you'll end up in court; ignore the court and you'll end up in jail."
Beat the cowboys
A survey by Sainsbury's found that over a five year period, over six million Brits fell prey to a cowboy trader - and had to pay nearly £3.7 billion to rectify their work. The problem is that we're not property experts, and often we have no experience of hiring tradespeople, so it's easy to be convinced by someone who seems to know what they are talking about.
If you need to employ someone to do some work on your home, the first stage of protecting yourself is only to employ someone who is approved. The Federation of Master Builders has a list, the government runs a standards agency called TrustMark, and Trading Standards will have a list of approved traders.
Once you have this list, call them and request references of satisfied customers. You should also check with family and friends whether they would recommend anyone on the list. When you have narrowed it down to those with the best reputations, get a handful round, give them a written description of the work that needs to be done, and get them to give you a written quote.
You're not necessarily looking for the cheapest quote - just one that seems fair. Once you have chosen a tradesperson, you should ask for a written contract specifying the work, the cost and any deadlines.
You should also arrange that you will not pay for any work until it is completed to your satisfaction. There's also a government scheme called the Home Improvements Guarantee, which lets you put money into a 'holding account', which is only signed over to the builder when you are happy with the work.
Even with all of these steps, building work is always fairly stressful. It's just that taking the right precautions should reduce the chances of you being ripped off.