Fake Lancashire: Rogue traders prey on the vulnerable

Mandy Maxim, of Trading Standards

Mandy Maxim, of Trading Standards

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The onset of winter could see rogue traders picking on vulnerable people to dupe them into ‘repairs’ on their homes, trading chiefs warned today.

Lancashire County Council’s Trading Standards department deals with around 1,000 doorstep complaints every year - but this is thought to be the tip of the iceberg.

Officers have prosecuted 10 roofers in the last year, and obtained several thousands of pounds of compensation for victims, but are warning residents bogus property repairs can be a recipe for distress and ever-increasing bills.

Lancashire residents have lost amounts varying between £100 to £100,000 to rogue builders and roofers.

The alarming figures were revealed as part of the Evening Post’s Fake Lancashire series, highlighting behind-the-scenes work to protect the county’s residents from being conned.

One Fulwood grandmother knows only too well the devastation rogue traders can leave behind.

The 68-year-old, who is too afraid to be named, had to fork out more than £4,000 after a doorstep caller left her grandchildren’s playroom a potential deathtrap.

The retired nursery nurse agreed to have some work done at her Preston home to replace a roof slate after other neighbours had used the same trader.

But once she had handed over £2,000, the worker, who had left a fake address, disappeared, leaving the job half done.

The conman claimed he would fit a flat roof on their conservatory, where their grandchildren aged four and two, play. When the roof was later examined, an inspector said it could have fallen down.

The victim and her husband had to pay a further £2,000 and face two weeks of building chaos as a legitimate firm came to put the damage right.

She is now encouraging people to use Lancashire’s Safe Trader list, which 1,500 workmen have now signed to reassure customers they are reputable.

She said: “ I was convinced he was bona fide because I had seen he had done work at neighbour’s homes.

“If I had known about the Safer Trader scheme at the time I may have thought twice. I will never make the same mistake again.

“It cost a lot of money to put right but it wasn’t just about the money - I was more upset that someone could do something so awful to another person. It was like theft.

“In one way I’m glad he did not finish the work. If he had, I may not have known about the hazard until it was too late.”

The ‘Safe Trader’ scheme enables people to check a list of Lancashire traders who have given a commitment to treat customers fairly and honestly. Traders on the scheme are then monitored through customer feedback.

Mandy Maxim, Trading Standards manager, said: “Most complaints received are from older or vulnerable residents, although anyone can be targeted. A number of young parents caring for children have found themselves the victims of rogue traders over the last year.

“Common complaints include starting with a small job, then claiming the whole house needs major work. On a recent case in East Lancashire, a small section of re-felting on a bungalow became an overpriced £12,700 re-roof.

“Others include starting with a low quote then increasing it for unnecessary work, or charging extortionate amounts for extras - a Lancashire pensioner was recently charged £3,800 for four lengths of wood to attach barge boards to.”

County Coun Janice Hanson, cabinet member for public protection and waste, added: “Rogue traders prey on the most vulnerable people in our society, targeting them in their own homes, and charging extortionate amounts of money for shoddy work. One of the best ways to tackle these people is to raise awareness about their practices. We all have a responsibility for older neighbours and relatives, and should be checking to ensure they do not become victims of doorstep crime. Report suspicious people or vehicles as soon as possible and use traders who are members of the council’s Safe Trader Scheme.”