Homeowners who were left thousands of pounds out of pocket at the hands of their ‘cowboy’ builders have revealed the emotional turmoil they have experienced at the hands of their constructors.
Their accounts come amid growing calls for the Government to introduce a statutory licensing scheme which regulates builders and protects customers seeking redress for poor workmanship.
Claire Paladino, 38, and her husband Leo, 43, from Northamptonshire, were keen to build a two-storey extension with a garage on their property in August 2019 when they hired RWMT Building and Landscaping Ltd after seeking several quotations.
Describing her experience as ‘absolutely horrendous’, Mrs Paladino, who was pregnant at the time with her fourth child, claims she lost the sum of £39,000 to a builder who did not complete work, used cheap materials and whose construction did not pass building regulations.
Claire Paladino, 38, and her husband Leo, 43, from Northamptonshire, say they were charged extortionate prices for the work which was never completed
The couple say the builder left waste and rubbish at the front of their garden and did not complete their planned extension
The builder assured the couple that they would remove the rubble left dumped in their garden but the couple say this did not happen
On August 15, Ms Paladino met with the director of the company Ross Phillips at the building retail company Travis Perkins Builders Merchants, where he had begun to compile a large order including blocks for the driveway, gates, fence panels and bricks.
A total invoice of £10,649.06 was paid directly to Travis Perkins.
Ms Paladino said: ‘We went and met him and he had already started this big order with the bricks and paving and in hindsight I realise he didn’t need that stuff there and then but obviously you’re excited you think that you’re going to get your house done you don’t really know the protocols.’
Work began at the house on August 19 with the builders demolishing the existing garage and undertaking ground works to lay the patio but Ms Paladino says the builder handed her another invoice for £8,650 that same week for labour costs.
This was shortly followed by yet another invoice of £3,070 on August 21.
Ms Paladino continued: ‘We ended up being backed into a corner and paying it and then slowly as things started going along we were getting a bit panicked because the invoices that were coming in weren’t tallying up with what progress we were seeing and we had several meeting with him.
‘Me and my husband started to say we were not going to pay him until he comes to speak to us and we are still not going to pay him because this is silly but he would end up walking out of here and we would end up paying him the money.
‘It was really awful. My husband always said that he was very enchanting, he told you what you wanted to hear.
‘Towards the end when we really realised what was going on we were in quite deep money wise. We had spent so much and we were talking to independent builders who were advising us you need to play it cool and get what you can out of him.’
During the build, Ms Paladino described how the building company’s digger driver cut through her water pipe leaving her unable to use her washing machine for five months and causing her garden to become water logged.
On another occasion the digger caught a gas pipe next to the house and also hit her front porch canopy – all of which caused damage.
She was told these problems would be fixed but she claims they never were.
Ms Paladino also paid for an invoice for roof materials that were never supplied.
In September, the company began laying back garden patio slabs but Ms Paladino claims she later found the slabs had not been laid using the correct materials and some slabs were missing and others laid without being cemented or sealed
Ms Paladino says the builder agreed he would clear the building waste and general rubbish left outside her home but did not return
Ms Paladino continued: ‘When I say it was bad I am not exaggerating. It was awful but we could live in it but we were left with no washing machine and we were having to rely on family. We had one toilet and there are seven of us that live in the house.’
On 16 September 2019, the company began laying back garden patio slabs but Ms Paladino claims she later found the slabs had not been laid using the correct materials.
Some slabs were missing and others were laid without being cemented or sealed – this caused mould to grow within a short space of time, making them unstable and dangerous.
Throughout October and November, Ms Paladino continued to receive invoices on a weekly basis for a number of works including £1,150 for bricklaying, £2,650 for more brick laying and bathroom sanitary ware,
She also received an £3,600 invoice for block and beam flooring material – which she says was never carried out.
In November, Ms Paladino and her husband realised they were at an impasse and stopped paying for the invoices – which they felt were disproportionate to the progress of the work
Ms Paladino said Mr Phillips removed the company’s equipment from the couple’s home and agreed they would clear the building waste and general rubbish dumped outside her home but this did not happen.
In December, Building Control visited the property raised concerns with the oversite floor construction, the garage floor, which appeared to have been concreted to a level the same as the house finished floor level, and said a short drainage run had been concreted without prior inspection by building control.
After multiple attempts at contacting Mr Phillips failed, Ms Paladino spoke at length with a solicitor but could not afford to take the case forward after being advised that it would cost her in excess of £10,000.
She also contacted Trading Standards and was told the matter was being considered.
Ms Paladino added: ‘I am a realist I know that I’ve got to sort it out and I refuse to let it ruin my life.
‘My husband works in food manufacturing he works 12-hour shifts and just to keep our head above water he is working 12- hour night shifts as overtime
‘And the effect physically, mentally and emotionally on my husband has had a knock on effect on me. It has been absolutely horrendous.
‘There’s that cross over period when you think you are being ripped off but when you ask people they’re like ”oh no don’t be silly”.
‘Once we realised we had been ripped off he signed an agreement with me.
‘I was more than generous I said that if he paid me about £12,000 that I would leave him to go his way and he agreed to pay me. He agreed that he would pay me £6500 over the next week and then £200 a month thereafter but I din’t see a penny off him. Not one.’
Northamptonshire County Council Trading Standards have confirmed that they did receive a complaint and that they are still investigating.
Jane Barrett, 54, from Kettering, was another victim of the same builder who says she was left ‘in a bit of a nightmare’ after spending £32,000 to have her two-bedroom bungalow extended, in September last year.
Ms Barrett, who lives with her partner Andy, their daughter and granddaughter, said she paid £10,000 up front for the building materials but soon saw the builder begin to ask for additional payments every week.
She said: ‘We paid £10,000. He said it was to get the building materials and he also explained that it was a bit of a start up company so he didn’t have anything that we could go and see other than in the local area what he was working on.
Jane Barrett (pictured with her partner Andy and their granddaughter), 54, from Kettering, says she was left ‘in a bit of a nightmare’ after spending £32,000 to have her two-bedroom bungalow extended by the same builder
Ms Barrett says the builder left a pile of rubbish and waste in her back garden and did not collect them
Ms Barrett says the slabs on the roof (left) were not sealed and there was a live cable hanging from it. She also noticed damp coming in through the roof (right)
Waste that had been dumped in the front of the garden was not collected by the builder
‘So we took him at his word handed over the money and they came and started by knocking down our garage and the extension that we had on the back of the house.
‘We were paying out sums of money every week, so £3000 here and £5000 there and not a lot was going on.’
In addition to the slow progress, Ms Barrett said the builders dug out the foundations in the wrong place and left her paying an additional £3,000 for concrete and charged her for block and beam flooring – which was never fitted in.
During the building process, Ms Barrett and her partner also noticed the roof that had been placed on the extension was too low and the floor inside the extension was a foot lower than the rest of the house.
She said: ‘We did question it and all the time we’re handing out money to pay wages. We were getting to the point where we’d nearly blown the budget and we still only had the shell.
‘We were supposed to have skylights in the extension and when his partner was putting the roof on he told my partner that we’d agreed not to do that but we hadn’t so we swallowed that as well.
‘So we had to keep improvising to keep him sweet because we didn’t want him to walk off and not do it.
‘It carried on till November and we were still waiting for the bi-folding doors and the windows to go in.
‘By this point we had accepted that he wasn’t going to change the roof so he came in November just to do a few bits and pieces and he told us he’d been using our money to get bits for other areas because he was taking on lots of work.
‘By this point we had handed over nearly all of our money. I think we had about £3,000 left of the actual budget but he said to us if you get the bathrooms I’ll get it all tiled and I’ll put the bathrooms in. We bought bathrooms but he never showed up again.’
With an unfinished property, Ms Barrett’s partner Andy got in touch with building control who said the floor appeared to be a ground bearing slab which was not suitable and the roof joists were 620mm apart when they were supposed to be 450mm apart.
This meant they were not strong enough to support the roof.
Ms Barrett said: ‘Building control came and said the concrete floor was fine but the roof would have to come off because it was an accident waiting to happen. He said if you get really bad weather this is going to come crashing down.’
After multiple attempts to contact the builder, the couple borrow another £17,000 to try complete their build.
The couple say that because the roof and concrete floor that was laid was incorrect the height inside their extension was just seven feet high
The roof was not the correct height and was left incomplete leaving the couple having to borrow additional money to complete it
She added: ‘We couldn’t get hold of him at all so everything had to go on hold. We borrowed the money to get the roof taken off and a new roof put back on and then of course Covid happened so we’re still not finished now.
‘We’ve had to borrow another £17,000 and we’re still not finished but mostly its because we’ve had to take out everything that he did and basically re-do it.
‘We’ve been living in two rooms for over a year now so it’s had a bit of an effect on my granddaughter, she’s 7 now, and my daughter. It’s been a bit of a nightmare.
‘We know we are not going to get any of our money back that’s gone but the reason I’m speaking out is if it stops somebody else from going down the same line that we have then I’ll be happy with that.
‘I think that if people are prosecuted or have problems with Trading Standards they shouldn’t be able to just set up another company.
‘It’s been like this for years and years and nothing has changed so I’m not the first and I’m sure I wont be the last.’
Elsewhere Becci Barker, 40, from Doncaster, was left spending £47,000 for work on a two-storey extension in November 2018 but the construction ‘wrecked’ her family’s life and she had to employ another builder to come and complete the work.
Becci Barker, 40, from Doncaster, was left spending £47,000 for her building work
After finding a builder through the building site Trust a Trader, Ms Barker was contacted by Emerald Property Group Llt and work soon began in February 2019.
However construction started off slowly and she continued to encounter a number of problems concerning the standard of work including a failure to complete work on time and not performing their contractual agreements.
She later found out that the building group had lost their membership with the Federation of Master Builders.
Ms Barker said: ‘I wanted to make a complaint to the Federation of Master Builders to see if there was anything that they could do and they told me that they had been expelled and couldn’t explain why because of data protection but they were no longer members.
‘Then in November they knocked through my house which they said would take ten days. I was actually out of my home for four months. I had to stay with my mum in a one-bedroom council flat with my son. My husband had to live on site and my two dogs had to go and stay with my stepdaughter.’
As building work continued Ms Barker returned to her house one night to discover there had been a gas leak in her property.
Cadent came and inspected the leak and advised her that there had been a substantial leak at the point where the gas hob had been removed and explained that the valve that was still on the pipe was the wrong kind of valve.
When Ms Barker confronted her builder about the leak, she found out the firm had not employed a gas safe registered plumber.
She continued: ‘I came in one evening and thought I could smell gas, rang the gas board, they came out and they found that the builders had not capped the gas hob off. They’d used the wrong sitting and this had been taken out two weeks prior.
‘So I had had a gas leak in my house for two weeks. The gas board condemned it and turned the gas off and reported them to the health and safety executive because of risk to life.
Construction began slowly and Ms Barker began to encounter a number of problems. She says the builders laid a floor in her kitchen which was not level
Ms Barker says the builders left her with very little space to access her garden from the front and her neighbour kindly allowed her rights over a bit of land in order for her to be able to have more space
Despite assurances that they would be done by 2019, the kitchen was still in a complete state in February this year
Ms Barker says she was left with a gaping hole from upstairs and nothing had been put in place to cover the hole
Ms Barker says the radiator cap was not capped by the builder (left) and sockets were left damaged (right)
‘When I contacted the builders they said they wouldn’t have known that was the wrong sitting as the person they had used was not a gas safe engineer.
‘I said what are you doing having gas being worked on by a normal plumber and he back-peddled and said we’ll sort it out.’
Despite being told the work would be completed by May 2019 in her contract, Ms Barker said building work was still going on at Christmas that year and had taken a considerable emotional toll on her mental health.
She said: I’ve got a history of mental health which the builders knew. The last straw was when they left me with no kitchen, bathroom all over Christmas and my husband had to keep peeing in a bucket and I was staying at my mum’s.’
In December the gas board confirmed there had been a gas leak in the property and categorised it as ‘immediately dangerous’
In February 2020, Ms Barker contacted a solicitor who confirmed the building group had breached their contract.
Ms Barker ended up asking other builders to come in and do the job and asked Emerald to give her the materials she had paid for.
She added: ‘My friend ended up paying again for some other builders to come in and finish the job and I was just crying saying I just want my house back.
‘All I asked Emerald for was the materials and they owe me a hell of a lot more than that but I just wanted my materials which only came up to £3,350 even though it had cost me £15,000 to repair the damage and get it it finished and they assured me that I’d get it.
‘I sent over the receipts to prove what I had paid which they agreed. Everything was fine and then out of the blue they told me that they are not going to pay me. That the company had gone into liquidation and I would have to take it up with the liquidator.’
Ms Barker has reported her builders to Trading Standards and Action Fraud but has said she would like to see more done to hold rogue traders to account.
She said: ‘They should’t be allowed to do this it’s not fair. They’re a limited company and they have limited liability and they can just set another company up – it’s wrong.
‘They shouldn’t be allowed to trade. They should not be able to start up and trade again.
‘This is our lives they’ve wrecked its not a quick fix. We started in November 2018 and my building is just now waiting to be signed off now two years later.’
A spokesperson from Emerald said they had sent an agreement to supply Ms Barker with materials and had sent a contractor to go there. They have said the outstanding money will be paid to Ms Barker in the next three months.
They have since sent a settlement agreement to Ms Barker – which she has refused to sign.
The group said: ‘We’re not walking away. We’ve done a personal settlement agreement. We came to an agreement where she got a contractor. We paid for them and we also paid for materials. There’s just over £3,000 left to pay for those materials which she fronted and we were in an agreement with her.
The builders left a massive drop from back door into her back garden due to plans which Ms Barker says were inaccurate
Despite telling her she would only need to be out of the house for ten days, her bathroom was found like this four months later
Ms Barker says the floor in her son’s room had been damaged and did not match up
Holes in the garden were covered with plywood (left) and Ms Barker says she was left with a gaping hole at the side of her house as she waited for a window (right)
‘Obviously because of Covid the agreement kind of went but there’s a track record of us paying people and making settlements.
‘It wasn’t a nice time for us. We’ve not walked away from what happened. We were left in a pretty awful situation. It wasn’t a very nice time but we are doing the moral thing. We’re also settling with two other clients which they’re happy with.
‘We’re trying to do the right thing. I understand the frustration but there were quite a few issues when we were on the job as well.
‘I would like to add that she paid us up front. So she paid us the full amount up front and we still got work done so it doesn’t make any sense because if we were what she is trying to brand us as then why would be walk away from the job and not do any of the work.
‘We were very honest, very truthful. We went down the right route, we tried to follow as much procedures as possible but we didn’t have any money at the time so we weren’t able to settle with anyone.’
He added: ‘The Emerald brand we continued with. We haven’t done anything wrong. If we had why would be rebrand the company back in Emerald.’
After knocking down a partition wall they were left us with mess which remains even after she moved back into her house
Meanwhile Gus Digennaro, 51, and wife Barbara Lavarone, 50, from Denton, Greater Manchester, had decided to transform their two-bedroom bungalow into a family home by adding an extension when they found themselves trapped in a ‘nightmare’ which cost them £64,000.
The couple were recommended a local builder from a friend in May 2018 and plans included knocking down the garage and converting it into a bedroom, adding an extension to the side and a new roof.
In July that year planning permission for the new roof was granted and the couple were advised by their builder it would need a minimum of 1.2 metre increase to the existing roof height.
Mr Digennaro said in October the new roof was installed but was left untiled until December, resulting in rain damage to the family’s personal possessions.
He eventually tiled the rood himself with the help of a neighbour to make it weatherproof.
Mr Digennaro said: ‘In the end I had to put the tiles up myself and because he didn’t put the tiles on. He asked us to move out at this point and obviously all our personal belongings at the front of the house got damaged and that’s when the problems started.’
Gus Digennaro, 51, and wife Barbara Lavarone (pictured), 50, from Denton, Greater Manchester, had decided to transform their bungalow when they found themselves trapped in a ‘nightmare’
Frustrated with the lack of progress, in November, the couple began to slow down their payment and asked an architect to check the roof height after neighbours pointed out that the roof looked higher in proportion to the house.
Mr Digennaro said: ‘At one point some of my neighbours had made comments that the roof looked higher in proportion to the house and the builder said it was five inches above the actual drawing and he said you’re allowed flexibility. You’ve got a metre.
‘We found out in January that the roof was non-compliant. The council said that if we didn’t take it down or replace it then they would. So we had a choice to either apply for a new application, new planning permission or change it.
‘So I had to go to the bank and borrow some more money to get another builder to finish the work and change the roof that he had put on wrong. ‘
Ms Lavarone described how the ‘cowboy’ builder ‘never thought twice’ of the consequences.
She said: ‘We both feel very upset and angry for what happened to the family. I would never have thought a person could leave my family in a position of homelessness and our home to near ruin and a mess.
‘The builder never thought twice on the consequences leaving a whole family on the street just days before Christmas and finding an easy excuse to take responsibility away from himself.’
A quantity surveyor report carried out in June 2019 by Don Waterworth later confirmed the builder had carried out works to a ‘appallingly poor standard’ and said the couple had unfortunately found themselves employing a ‘cowboy’ builder.
Mr Waterworth also said the builder had not provided a written quote, nor contractual documents and terms and conditions – which is contravention of the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
The builder had also left the home in an ‘uninhabitable state’, with works that were incomplete and a roof which has been ordered incorrectly by contractor, the report went on to say.
In his report Mr Waterworth said: ‘This is a serious mistake by the building contractor and one which will be proved to be costly’.
He went on to say: ‘At the time of my attendance, the property was not habitable. Indeed there were no elements of the work undertaken by mr terry megrim which could be construed as ‘completed’.
The roof that was put on the property was left untiled for three months and resulted in rain damage to the family’s personal possessions
Mr Digennaro says the roof the builder supplied was 40 degrees opposed the 30 which had been approved by planning
A quantity surveyor report confirmed that the builder had carried out works to a ‘appallingly poor standard’. Pictured: Brick work by the builder
A quantity surveyor report said the couple had found themselves employing a ‘cowboy’ builder
‘It was patently obvious at the time of my attendance that the builder clearly did not possess the necessary skills, experience and integrity to carry out works of this type.
‘I would advise that the works completed by mr megrim are no more than the value of £10,000 at best.’
Mr Digennaro added: ‘For me that’s deception. He continued to maintain the roof height was compliant and we’d paid all the money that we’d originally agreed for the build. So he didn’t complete the work as per the contract.
‘His company has been dissolved so he can hide behind that company legally without having any recourse against him unless it’s classed as a criminal act.’
Trading standards have since dropped the case and explained to the couple they could not identify any criminal evidence to continue the case and said they would have to pursue it as a civil matter.
The accounts come as figures from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau showed that in 2020 they received 39,862 complaints about home maintenance and improvement.
In 2019 this figure stood at 46,346 and the year earlier the number of complaints reached 49,493.
With growing calls for stricter regulations to be in place for the building trade, Isabel Davies, from Tunbridge wells, Kent, is now trying to gather 100,000 signatures to take her petition calling for a licensing scheme for traders to parliament.
Ms Davies, who herself has been stung by a rogue builder, said: ‘After doing thorough research I realised there’s such a grey area in this. I’m a teacher but I am also studying law and we are regulated but builders aren’t regulated.
‘They are not regulated at all and I understand that they have the Federation of Master Builders but that’s not under the government.
‘I am asking the government to bring in a legislation to change the law and to also make it a criminal offence.
‘There needs to be a law to protect both sides. There needs to be strong regulations, strong checks and we would like to build a company that is governed by the Government.
‘It would be impartial to both the customer and the builder and would ensure regular checks are done every month and references are thoroughly checked and available to the customer.
‘If once the checks are done and an inspector goes and looks at every builder’s work on every property they do and finds that it’s not up to standard then they have an opportunity to fix it. If it’s still not fixed then they lose their licence and they have to train. That’s what we’re stretching for.’
She added: ‘Ideally I would like to get over 10000 signatures to really take it seriously and then I would like to think that we as a community as in the people who have suffered horribly can come together and we can actually go to the house of commons and say what we want. To say that things need to change.’
Sylvia Rook, lead officer at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute said the organisation can only pursue cases that breach criminal law.
She said: ‘I think the important thing to identify is there are two types of law. There is civil and the criminal law and Trading Standards can only get involved in criminal law so there has to be a breach of legislation.
‘If a consumer has a problem with poor work that’s a civil contractual matter. They have a right to make a claim through civil law under the Consumer Rights Act because the work had not been done with reasonable care and skill.
‘So if they contact Trading Standard and it’s in relation to bad workmanship then the matter will just be recorded on file and nothing can happen because it’s civil.
‘In terms of the regulation there is an issue with the fact that anybody can be a builder. If I’m a reputable builder I will be a member of a trade association, but I don’t have to be.’
Ms Rock said those stung by poor workmanship should first lodge a call with the Citizen’s Advice Consumer Helpline.
She continued: ‘The first stage is to complain to the citizens advice consumer helpline.
‘They will get advice from trained advisors on what they’re rights are and complaints are accessible by Trading Standards so we get to see all complaints from consumers in our area.
‘That gives us a chance to see if there’s a pattern of trade and to be able to see if there are any particular problems that Trading Standards can get involved with because if we can we certainly do. It’s just a matter of having our hands tied with what the law says.’
She added: ‘As far as the consumer is concerned they just have to provide information about the complaint and everything else is dealt with by Trading Standards.
‘They have to give witness statements, they have to be potentially willing to give statements in court if necessary, so that means meeting the builder possible face to face.
‘In terms of a civil case the consumer is taking action themselves because the work has not been done well. They only have to prove their case on the balance of probabilities but Trading Standards have to prove their case beyond all reasonable doubt. ‘
Ms Rock advised those looking for a builder to look for those belonging to good trader schemes and to seek independent sites for reviews.
She added: ‘You need to get quotes form three different builders and preferably recommended by family or friends. If you can’t get a recommendation, then there are a number of good trader schemes. There’s buy with confidence, no rogue traders here and trust a traders is another one.
‘Look for businesses which have good reviews on independent sites but just be aware there are some sites where people can pay to have bad reviews removed.
‘Get the quote in writing so you know exactly what is being agreed, you know what your times scales are so there are’t any nasty surprises half way through and if they say any more work needs to be done when they’re with you then they should give you a new quotation so you know exactly what they are saying you need doing.
‘It helps trading standards if there is something in writing rather than if it’s just a verbal exchange.’
Barrister Joshua Dubin, who specialises in property law at 3PB Barristers, in Oxford, said ‘one of the important pitfalls’ for the building industry was the fact that there was not a scheme which required traders to demonstrate their competence.
He said: ‘The main regulations are the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. They penalise people for using unfair commercial practices. ‘You can’t do things that distort the economic behaviour of the average consumer.
‘For instance, you wouldn’t normally go with somebody down the road to the cashpoint and pay them £10,000 in cash to fix your gutter. So why do some people do that? It’s because the rogues have used commercial practices on them which have distorted their behaviour.
‘There are some areas where tradesmen are required to regulate. But there are other schemes which aren’t quite regulation but can give us a certain amount of security, like Trust Mark, the Federation of Master Builders, the Considerate Constructors Scheme, and Confederation of Roofing Contractors.
‘If you go to a barrister or a solicitor, you know that if they’re in practice they will have professional insurance if things go wrong.
‘This is perhaps where one of the important pitfalls is for the building industry, because there isn’t any scheme which requires people in the construction industry to demonstrate competence and – before they can offer their services – get insurance.’
He added: ‘With the construction industry you’re going to have good builders who want to join the professional bodies, but if you’re a sole trader and especially if you’re dishonest, you’re not going to want to spend the time and money going through that process if you can do the work without having to prove you can do it.
‘A lot of people that we employ will have some sort of public liability insurance. But the rogue won’t, and so when things go wrong there is nothing to back it up in terms of suing them in civil courts.’
Addressing why there were not any regulations in place he added: ‘I suppose the answer is, like all these things you start off saying there should be a voluntary code; and then you get a voluntary code and it doesn’t work well enough, and then government has to step in.’