So-called ‘cowboy’ builders who demand overpayment for delayed and shoddy work are a curse on householders. However, as a Court of Appeal ruling showed, the law takes a tough line with dishonest tradespeople.
The case concerned a builder’s work for four clients, performed at a cost of almost £35,000. In each case, he presented himself as a solvent and stable businessman although that was far from being the case. The clients complained that his faulty work was long delayed and left incomplete.
One client received an electric shock each time she touched a washing machine he had installed. He left another client’s home uninhabitable so that she and her children were left homeless and had to move in with her ex-husband for months. She spent her life savings to get her home back into some sort of order.
After he was prosecuted, the builder pleaded guilty to engaging in unfair commercial practice, contrary to the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. The Regulations require tradespeople to exercise skill and care in their work, to adopt honest market practices and to observe the general principle of good faith.
In sentencing him to nine months’ imprisonment, a judge noted that he had strung along and grossly misled all four clients. Making false promises, he simply ignored their concerns. Each of them was asked for more money and at least one of them was asked for cash in order to evade VAT. He behaved aggressively to one of the clients before walking off the uncompleted job.
Ruling on his appeal against the sentence, the Court had no doubt that the custody threshold was passed given the litany of wreckage and disaster he had left behind him. It was no excuse for him to argue that he was a victim of his own success, in that his business had mushroomed to the point where he was unable to keep pace with his commitments. It was a case of excessive greed rather than a businessman getting out of his depth. The judge’s decision that only immediate custody would suffice as punishment could not be faulted.
Cutting his sentence to six months, however, the Court noted his powerful personal mitigation. He was of previous good character and had received numerous positive references. He had performed charity work and had a sound working history, and his imprisonment would impact on his young family. He had wisely decided that he no longer wished to run his own construction company.