Cowboy builders have been jailed after causing major damage to the home of an elderly couple in Worcester Park and quoting £300,000 for unnecessary repairs.
Thomas William Penfold, Managing Director of P&T Property Services Limited, was convicted of fraudulent trading and money laundering. He was handed immediate custodial sentences of four years and three years respectively, to run concurrently.
His employee Glenn Steel was convicted of fraudulent trading and was jailed for 30 months. The case was brought by Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards, the trial took place at Guildford Crown Court in January and they were sentenced today [24 February].
The couple were aged 89 and 84 at the time of the offence. The husband has since died, and the wife does not want to be identified.
In September 2017 a member of staff calling himself Paul cold called at the couple’s home, claiming to be from the company which rendered the front of the house a few years’ previously. They said any necessary work was still under guarantee and would be of no cost to the couple.
The trader then realised there was unfinished building work in the house – the couple had recently parted company with a different trader who had been completing a renovation project, including building an extension. The trader offered to complete the work at the same cost. The couple agreed and paid P&T £20,250 for the work.
On their first day of work, P&T demolished the living room wall while the couple were at a hospital appointment and without their knowledge or permission. Penfold claimed it just fell apart while they were removing plaster. In a subsequent interview, the husband described his feelings: ““I was in shock, I just couldn’t believe that my wall between the living room and the hall could just crumble.”
Penfold and Paul also said the loft was in poor state and the whole roof would need to be replaced. After initially asking for £300,000, they agreed a price of £270,000 for the work. The couple felt trapped by the builders and felt they had no choice but to agree. The company had also offered to supply extras ‘for free’ such as a stair lift, and paving the front and rear gardens. Steel wrote the quotes, contracts and paperwork from P&T to the couple, officers were not able to identify Paul.
The couple transferred £75,800 to P&T, but their bank suspected it was a fraudulent transaction, froze P&T’s bank account and alerted the police. The police then contacted trading standards to investigate, who visited the home the same day – officers described it as a ‘building site’. The couple did get this money back, but the original £20,250 had been withdrawn from the company account shortly after it was transferred and couldn’t be returned.
P&T tried to thwart the investigation, falsely claiming that the couple wanted trading standards to withdraw as it was ‘causing alarm and distress’; and that the investigation could ‘have a serious and detrimental effect to the clients, their mental and emotional health along with their life span’.
Trading standards called in a building surveyor who saw no reason for the demolition of the living room wall, and found that the roof simply needed a few new replacement tiles. He said P&T had caused major structural damage, the actual cost of the works would have been a maximum of £90,000, and it would cost up to £5,000 to put right.
As well as investigating the offence, trading standards helped the couple make their home habitable again. Initially by finding a plumber to restore running water to the first floor, and referring to Surrey County Council’s adult social care local handyman scheme meant that trip hazards were removed and a handrail was installed up the stairs. Officers also helped source reputable traders to continue the work.
In their investigations, trading standards discovered the company had also fraudulently taken money from a south London couple. The husband was in an extremely vulnerable state and was undergoing treatment for cancer when P&T cold called in August 2017 offering to clean the front of the house.
The couple were then advised that urgent work was needed to the roof, and were given an initial quote of £18,865. The company subsequently said there was additional works needed as the roof was unsafe and could kill anyone underneath it. They paid a total of £67,615 to P&T for work which was found to be unnecessary and contravened building regulations. The husband has also subsequently died.
Trading standards will now see if they can confiscate Penfold and Steel’s assets to compensate the victims.
Denise Turner-Stewart, Cabinet Member for Community Safety, Fire and Resilience, said: “Penfold and Steel’s treatment of these two vulnerable couples is nothing short of disgusting and their prison sentences are exactly what they deserved. I would like to thank both couples for reliving these hugely distressing events with trading standards officers and in court so we can bring these criminals to justice.
“I would also like to thank our trading standards officers for the long hours and hard work on this investigation, and for their support for both couples.
“It’s vital we bring these cases to court. These people are more than rogue traders, they’re organised criminals who are knowingly targeting vulnerable people with the aim of stealing tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds from them. Our message to these criminals is we’re looking for you, we will find you, and we will work tirelessly to bring you to justice.
“I urge residents to never employ a cold caller, and to look out for vulnerable family, friends and neighbours. If you know there are cold calling traders are in your area, please call the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0808 223 1133 or the police on 101.”
For advice, and for a cold calling pack with door stickers, visit surreycc.gov.uk/tradingstandards