If you’ve ever been given the run-around by a builder or tradesman you can at least
If you’ve ever been given the run-around by a builder or tradesman you can at least take comfort in the fact that you’re not the only one. But LUCY BOON found a solution to stop the cowboys from riding off into the sunset with your cash — and your sanity
AS reported in the Times last year, a customer deposit scheme called the Home Improvements Guarantee (HIG) looks set to turn the tables on cowboy builders who take thousands of pounds of homeowners’ money and then disappear without completing the job.
The HIG, which is backed by Trading Standards, ensures that no money is paid to a builder until the customer is entirely happy with the work done.
The scheme is the brainchild of Harvey Ellingham, an electronics engineer, who decided to set up the HIG after his elderly parents were ripped off to the tune of £23,000 by unscrupulous builders.
Customers wishing to take part agree on a programme of work with one of the 250 builders who have signed up to the initiative.
Then instead of handing any money direct to the builder, they place an agreed amount into an HSBC bank account, which is looked after by Transpact, a secure processing company appointed by the people running HIG.
Once the work has been completed, the homeowner has to sign off payment before the builder receives any money.
In many cases the task will be done in stages, with each stage needing to be signed off before any partial payment is made.
Where a dispute occurs that cannot be resolved, an independent surveyor gives a final verdict on whether the builder has done a satisfactory job.
If a builder goes bust or disappears before the work is completed, the team behind HIG will organise for another builder to complete the task — and the money to pay for it will still be in the secure bank account.
Mr Ellingham said: “My aim in setting up this website was to create a level playing field between customers and builders.
“Homeowners can sleep peacefully at night knowing that their money is safe and won’t be handed over until the job has been done to their satisfaction.
“Equally, the builders have the reassurance of being able to see that the money to pay for their work is there and sitting in a secure account.”
Once builders and tradespeople have been vetted and signed up on the HIG website, Mr Ellingham’s company gets three per cent of the final contract quote excluding VAT.
Homeowners pay nothing to use the service and they also receive, free of charge, a guarantee for up to 10 years on the work done.
Mr Ellingham told Standard Property that it’s also possible for consumers to find their own builder and ask them to sign up to the scheme — something that should be music to the ears of any Henley local who has been burnt by a builder and wants to make sure they’re covered next time.
“We’ve been going for two and a half years now, so we are still quite young, but so far we’ve had 485 projects gone through,” said Mr Ellingham.
“Only one of those projects ended up with an issue — the house-owner asked for a surveyor to check the work before the cash got released as he wasn’t happy with the result.
“In this case, the house-owner used our surveyor — we offer a reduced rate, too, which is another bonus — and the surveyor did indeed find that there was an issue with the work. The builder was surprised — he genuinely thought he was in the right — and he came and fixed the work before any money changed hands.”
Mr Ellingham added: “We explain to potential builders what we do and why we do it, as well as vetting them — credit references and insider checks, etc. If they pass, then you can go ahead and use them.
“Of course, the biggest vetting of all is that the contractor agrees to sign up in the first place! If they’re planning on leaving the job halfway, because they want to start another project simultaneously, then they’re not likely to agree to use an HIG as it means they can’t access the money until the job’s done.”
Mr Ellingham’s website has the backing of the “Buy with confidence” scheme operated by his local Trading Standards department.
For more information, visit www.higuk.co.uk. Mr Ellingham also has his own YouTube channel where the video of his interview on Sky TV’s Property Panorama programme can be viewed at https://youtu.be/1nz-cuoyCyE
SADLY, Harvey Ellingham’s elderly parents aren’t alone in being ripped off by unscrupulous builders.
Standard Property spoke to several local readers about their experiences, who having been ‘burnt’ had the following advice to offer:
1. Do not accept the cheapest quote.
2. If you can, go from a personal recommendation and if need be WAIT for a good builder — the good ones will be busy on other projects and you WILL have to wait until they are free. Schedule in a future date for them to begin.
3. Do not pay a deposit, or pay for anything in advance. Have staged payments built into the contract and insist that each stage is completed before moving on. If they choose to move on to a new stage before another is completed, at least then you still have your payment held.
4. Forget former customer references. Instead, go and see a current project in progress. If you talk to their current client, you can get a sense of how complete the project is, how happy they are, and how likely the builder is to be finished on time.
5. Have a very detailed breakdown of labour and materials costs. Try to have as much as possible already chosen (tiles, flooring, bath suite, kitchen units, light fittings and switches), as the more detail you can write in, the better. If you don’t know what you want, make sure there is an allowance written into the contract, and that the amount is very specific. (For example, if you’re going for wooden flooring, does that amount include underlay? Is VAT included?)
6. Make sure anything agreed verbally is documented by both parties.
7. Take photographs with a date stamp showing every week of progress in the project.
8. Agree in advance what constitutes an ‘extra’ — eg labour and materials to be accounted for.
9. Know your rights. Visit the consumer advice website www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/regulation/consumer-rights-act for information.