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Thursday, 25 April 2019
THESE two men allegedly conned a vulnerable man nto paying them £5,600 in cash to clean moss off the roof of his home.
The pair were photographed by the Henley Standard on top of the man’s bungalow in Westleigh Drive, Sonning Common.
They are said to have told the householder that they would normally charge £12,000 for the work but that he could have it done for a “reduced” price if he paid immediately because they wouldn’t be in the area for long.
The also promised to apply a special coating to the roof to stop the moss growing back when there is no proof that such “treatments” work.
The men, who are in their thirties or early forties and thought to be from the South-West, are now being investigated for rogue trading and possible fraud as well as alleged motoring offences.
They were discovered at the property on Wednesday last week as part of a week-long undercover crackdown by trading standards officers from Oxfordshire County Council accompanied by police in an unmarked car.
The Henley Standard was present when enforcement officer Declan Anthony arrived with Henley police community support officers Janice Smith and Mark Bell and neighbourhood police constables Barbara Taylor and Alex Norrish.
The men were on the roof using pressure washers but not wearing any protective clothing, goggles or safety harnesses.
They are not thought to have had public liability insurance. As soon as the investigation team arrived, the two men climbed down and began speaking with Mr Anthony and the police officers.
They then walked the team around the bungalow while pointing at the roof and explaining what they had been doing.
After about 10 minutes they went back up on the roof to fetch their equipment before cleaning it and packing it away in their van.
One of the men, who appeared to be in charge of the business, spoke with Mr Anthony for about an hour while the other sat in the passenger seat of their vehicle.
The pair made a series of calls on their mobile phones. They also stood glaring at the PCSOs and took photographs of them and their car as well as the Henley Standard reporter.
They drove off after the enforcement team had taken their details.
Mr Anthony spoke to the homeowner, who lives alone, and several neighbours and discovered that a man had been knocking on doors the previous week asking if they were interested in the roof moss clearance “service” but were not given a price.
Other residents asked him to leave but the vulnerable man is said to have accepted a follow-up visit and was given the “quote” when the two men visited.
This was considerably higher than the £10 to £20 per square metre charged by other firms, although many warn against cleaning tile roofs with a jet washer as it can cause damage.
The men were driving a white Iveco van that had belonged to another trader from Newbury and still had parts of an old logo visible.
The vehicle wasn’t taxed and hadn’t been registered to the new owner since being sold in January and had only a few days left on its MOT. This will be investigated by the police while a surveyor will be called in to assess whether the roof work was necessary at all and, if it was, what the householder should have paid for it.
Mr Anthony said: “We will be investigating the amount of money handed over for the work in terms of both its value and necessity.
“In cases such as this, if there is found to be overcharging or unnecessary work, then we’re invariably looking at criminal charges.
“There are several pieces of legislation which the traders may have fallen foul of, from the consumer protection from unfair trading Regulations to the Fraud Act. It would all depend on the severity.
“It is not uncommon for people to be repeatedly targeted once they have agreed to something for the first time, especially if they are elderly or otherwise vulnerable.
“Rogue traders choose their targets by operating in areas where homes have clearly been adapted for use by the elderly, such as the installation of level access or handrails.
“Incidents such as this can have a significant impact on people’s lives. While some take it in their stride, others find their confidence and trust in other people is severely knocked.”
This incident was the most serious one uncovered during the crackdown in which the investigation team routinely stopped at every household where work was being conducted.
Three traders were cautioned for failing to offer a 14-day cancellation period for their services. Two were working in Henley and the third in Sonning Common. Three other people were cautioned for transporting garden waste without a licence.
Mr Anthony said: “The other traders we spoke to were actually doing a good job and their customers were happy but they hadn’t quite understood the law.
“We dealt with them through warning letters because they were happy to take guidance on doing the right thing.
“One trader said he was glad that we were actively enforcing the law because he was sick of being undercut by rogues. People can work for a lower cost when they’re not paying for the right licences and it isn’t fair on those who are reputable and honest.
“We carry out investigations and enforcement work all year round and hopefully last week will have raised awareness and inspired confidence in what we do.”
Across Oxfordshire, 10 warning letters were issued and nine possible criminal offences uncovered.
• Anyone who fears they are being targeted by a rogue trader should call Citizens Advice on 0345 404 0506.
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