Consumer: Don’t let the rogues get away with it

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Spring is traditionally a time for dusting, DIY and household repairs. Sophie Hazan hears that it is also a time when cowboy builders strike.

ROGUE traders have been causing misery for hundreds of residents living in West Yorkshire and needlessly costing them thousands of pounds.

From workmen pocketing cash deposits but never starting the promised job, to shoddy workmanship that has left homes in danger of collapse, complaints have poured in from victims of cowboy builders operating across the region.

Consumerwatch can reveal that in the last 12 months, West Yorkshire Trading Standards has received 1,149 complaints about builders, which includes 402 householders living in Leeds, 172 in Wakefield and 60 in Dewsbury.

A woman living in Morley, Leeds, paid £20,000 for the construction of a dormer bedroom and roof renovation work at her home.

Not only was the work that had been carried out poor and unsafe, but the builder failed to get planning permission, and Leeds City Council has since ordered her to pull down the illegal structure.

A householder in Keighley was shocked to discover that his £14,000 conservatory had been built on wooden foundations directly over a public sewer. If Bradford City Council or Yorkshire Water needs to access the sewer in the future, the extension might have to be demolished.

A consumer living in Huddersfield lost £74,000 after a company boss placed his company in liquidation six months after starting work on a two storey extension at the man’s home that was never completed.

The job had originally been priced at £65,000, and was supposed to take 12 to 14 weeks.

A ‘workman’ who accepted a £3,500 deposit for building work at a home in Bradford disappeared with the money, without even starting the job.

David Lodge, spokesman for West Yorkshire Trading Standards, urged members of the public, who are contemplating building work at their homes, to do their homework before employing a trader.

He said: “Traditionally, at this time of the year, complaints tend to be on the increase in terms of building problems.

“Part of this is that more people are likely to take advantage of the fair weather in which to get repairs on their property done, and part of this is the fact that rogue builders will be taking the opportunity to increase their business while consumers are turning their minds to home maintenance.

“What I would advise people to do is to spend more time shopping around for workmen, not be complacent and not to feel pressured by cold callers visiting you at home.”

Graham Hebblethwaite, West Yorkshire Trading Standards’s chief officer, added: “Rogue builders cause misery to their victims who are left seriously out of pocket when work is abandoned in an unfinished or even unsafe condition.

“This Service can and will take action against the minority of builders who engage in unfair commercial practices.”

West Yorkshire Trading Standards’s top tips for avoiding bogus builders are:

* Don’t agree to have work done ‘there and then’ with people who knock at the door. If the deal is genuine it will still be available once you have had time to think about it;

* You do have ‘cooling off’ rights - but these will be waived if you agree for work to start straight away;

* Where possible always obtain a number of quotes and shop around to compare prices and specifications;

* Make sure you get an itemised quotation and you agree what is and what is not included in the price;

* Remember there is a difference between a written quotation and an estimate;

* Try to do business with people who have been recommended or at the very least you know the identity of;

* Do not give money in advance of work starting, and agree a series of staged payments. Ideally only pay when you are satisfied with the work;

* Always obtain a receipt or invoice, and remember if you can pay using a credit card or other form of credit you may have extra protection;

* If you use traders who are claiming trade association memberships check with the trade associations that they are genuine members, and what their scheme provides if things do go wrong; and

* Remember that it is always worth doing your home work beforehand, to avoid lengthy disputes later.

Report suspected rogue traders or get advice on employing a reputable trader by calling Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06,

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