Series following tradesmen and looking at cowboy contractors. Tommy Walsh meets Sue, who was taken in by a door-knocking con man who took £12,000 of her savings.
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'When a crisis strikes your home...'
-How can I help?
-I've got a bit of an emergency.
'..or you want major work done...'
-Who do you trust?
-I feel so stupid.
'..you need one of the good guys,
'but you don't always get them.'
Oh, my goodness!
You don't ever think it's going to happen to you.
We'll hear the stories of devastation and despair
left behind when building work doesn't go to plan.
I don't want to look at you. I end up in tears.
'And we'll tell you how to avoid becoming a victim yourself.'
You have always got the safety net of the building inspector.
'But most tradesmen are there to help.
'And we'll follow the response teams who are there for you 24 hours a day...'
-It's a nightmare, innit?
-You just have to make sure you don't fall through the ceiling.
-'..seven days a week.'
-I think we'll have to pull this out.
It would have probably burnt the house down while they slept.
From plumbers to roofers, electricians to locksmiths,
we meet the men and women who help you out in your hour of need.
Coming up -
size matters -
when plumber Dave tries to bail out a business with a drain disaster...
I'm 18 stone, full of muscle. Ha-ha! Got to get through that.
'..a desperate mum to help with the boiler breakdown...'
There was no hot water. It looks completely dead.
'..and a door knocking conman leaves behind a weighty problem
with killer consequences.'
I'm afraid this is a ticking time bomb, that's what it is.
If someone knocks on your door and gives you a cheap price for a job
that seems too good to be true, well, it probably is.
In Britain, it's estimated cowboy builders cost homeowners £1.9 billion a year.
In Birmingham, Sue Harris became part of that statistic
when she and her husband decided
to renew a retaining wall at the side of their detached house.
They also wanted to replace the old uneven driveway.
And it seemed a lucky coincidence that around the same time,
a man claiming to be a civil engineer
knocked on their door and suggested he do the work.
He spoke to my husband and asked,
were we interested in having the driveway done?
Former social worker Sue and her husband Peter have full-time care
of their four young grandchildren, two of whom are disabled.
They wanted the repairs done, so the children and their friends could play safely.
The driveway, erm, was made of two levels.
It looked a bit like a rockery, erm,
at the front and at the side there was, like, paving slabs.
Erm, it was just a bit of an eyesore.
There was structurally nothing wrong with it.
We thought, "Let's get it all done onto one level,"
and it would look much better.
The knock on the door at their Birmingham home
seemed like a ready-made answer to the family's problems.'
He was working in somebody else's drive.
He convinced us that he could do the job.
He said that it wasn't too big for him. He'd done big project before.
He claimed he was a civil engineer.
He even gave the couple his business card to prove it.
But I didn't check him out. Unfortunately.
That turned out to be a costly mistake
because the man who arrived on her doorstep was
none of the things he claimed to be.
And certainly wasn't qualified or even capable of doing the job.
We trusted him. We took him on face value. It was a big mistake.
What followed was a classic case of a dodgy conman on the make.
As a result, Sue and her family are more than £12,000 out of pocket.
Their home and garden are in danger of collapsing
and their new wall is so unsafe,
it's a real danger to people passing on the pavement outside.
The warning signs make me want to weep. And Sue certainly has.
I'm finding it very hard to cope with what's happened.
It's just a constant worry. I'm not sleeping.
I'm just worried that potentially I stand to lose the house.
Erm, but more so that one of my family
or somebody's going to get hurt.
Erm, I just feel completely helpless.
Sue had no experience dealing with building works
and the dodgy door-knocker took full advantage.
We gave him money upfront. I think it was about £3,000,
so he could buy materials.
When we later asked for a receipt,
he said that if we wanted a receipt, it would cost us more money.
So, our impression was that he was on a tax fiddle.
Erm, but given he'd started to dig up the drive, we didn't
feel in a position to say, "Well, you know, we're not going down this route."
This is a really common mistake.
If the builder asks for a cash deal and doesn't want to give you
paperwork, you might think you're saving yourself money.
But if things go wrong,
a lack of receipts or paperwork will be a problem.
Set out with your builder right from the start
when and how you're going to pay your instalments.
In this case, not only was Sue paying out money,
she was also starting to worry about the quality of the work.
He'd brought in some bricklayers to do the wall.
They raised concern because he wanted a single wall
and their view was that it was pointless
cos it wouldn't be able to contain the weight of the garden.
And the quote was originally £8,000.
It ended up that we gave him £12,600.
What makes this all the more upsetting is that the money
they used was an inheritance from Sue's mum-in-law
and a lump sum from her husband's pension.
Against her better judgment, Sue let the work continue.
And at first, it seemed fine.
At the time, the drive did look good.
But very quickly, within, probably eight weeks,
we started to have concerns about it. But he assured us it was normal.
It was just the ground settling.
But we soon realised, you know, that there was
something drastically wrong.
It had been a bodge job from the very start.
This crack here appeared first. This is quite deep.
I can put my hand right down here.
And underneath, I can find, like, a hole.
Like an empty space underground. Erm, and it's...there's just nothing there.
When the conman returned, claiming he would put things right,
he wanted another £2,000.
But this time, Sue told him no,
because she didn't have any money left.
We felt that, you know, his work should be guaranteed.
And we didn't have any more money. He took every penny we had.
'It's a heartbreaking story.
'Later in the programme, I assess the state of Sue's wall
'and try to give her some useful advice.'
YOU need to pass this on to somebody else.
So that YOU don't have to worry about it.
Come on, we'll sort something out.
If you run a business,
a catastrophic plumbing emergency can threaten your livelihood.
Plumber Dave Taylor is on his way to an urgent call-out
from a business duo who can see their profits flooding out the door.
It's Friday afternoon in London's trendy Soho.
In less than two hour's time,
the area will be packed with office workers and tourists,
kicking off the weekend in the bars, pubs and clubs.
But not in this one they won't!
Unless Dave can save the day.
The men's and women's toilets are blocked and overflowing with sewage.
Owners Richard and Steve stand to make a loss of £5,000 if they can't open.
And they can't open unless the toilets are functioning.
Twice a year we have to lift up the covers...
-Yeah, do it ourselves most of the time...
-..and ram it down...
..but every so often, it needs professionals.
And that's exactly what Dave is.
And he understands the owners' sense of urgency.
They need to get the bar open to take money.
I really need to just get them open.
Any major works after that, we can sort out.
Dave heads directly to see the scene of the blockage.
-We're going to have a quick look. Ah, you got the covers up?
Oh, OK, bruv.
It's a real stinky mess. But before the even gets started,
Dave's faced with a bit of a challenge.
He needs to get to the drains through the access hatch.
I'm 18 stone, full of muscle. Ha-ha! Got to get through that!
How the hell am I going to do that?
I'm going to get in there... I ain't getting in there.
There's no way...
But fair play, he has a good go!
No way! God, no! HE LAUGHS
-That's pretty poor access, isn't it?
-Send a small person!
Dave needs to come up with an alternative approach pretty fast.
I'm just going to try with some long rods to see if I can have
a feel round, just using experience, see if I can feel something.
If I can't, I'm going to have to get...some little fellow
over here ASAP cos they're not getting open.
Later in the programme - can Dave get the pub open in time,
or will they need to swap him for a pint-sized plumber?
We should have been open at four.
We're just waiting now because there is nothing we can do.
'The good guys won't leave a job until your problem's solved.
'But the bad guys, they just care about your money in their pocket.
'In Birmingham, Sue Harris paid over £12,000 to a chancer
'who knocked on her door and offered to do her driveway.
'I've come to have a look at the devastation this uncaring conman left behind.'
-Hello, Sue, isn't it?
-Yeah, it is.
I'm Tommy. I've come to look at your problem.
'We're going straight out in the rain,
'so Sue can show me the state of play.
'The uneven cracked driveway is obvious.
'And so is the state of the retaining wall.'
Now, well, that doesn't look very healthy.
I see there's some concrete posts there. What's that?
When I complained to them that the wall was cracking
and that the drive was cracking,
they came and said that they were going to put in "godfathers".
Godfathers, is it? Oh, is that one of his...
-One of his civil engineering terms, is it?
I said to him, "They look like fence posts to me."
And he said, "No, no, they're godfathers and they'll support the wall."
Yeah, he came with his father and his son.
Firstly, they tried to tell me because there are trains
running along the back, it was the vibrations.
And I said to him, "Well, if that's the case,
why has the existing wall not cracked or moved?"
So, how did that impact on you and your family?
-I mean, it must have been stressful.
-It's been really stressful.
Erm, we've... We've given up work to look after the children.
My husband's retired, so income is very low. I've got a five-year-old girl.
She's got autism and she's got severe hypermobility,
so she's unstable on her feet.
And then we've got Bryn, he's two next month
and he's got cerebral palsy.
-So, he obviously will need good access..
..and stable ground to go over as he gets older.
I think for my husband as well because the money we used was
left by his mum, who died suddenly.
-So, it was her legacy.
-Yeah. And I think he, you know,
he feels quite upset and distressed.
But it clearly can't be left like this. Something has to be done.
So, let's go and have a look and see what we can...what we can do,
what we can salvage. Don't worry. Come on.
'So, who can you turn to if you find yourself in trouble, like Sue?
'Well, the Citizens Advice Bureau is a good first call.
'They can help you make a complaint
'to Trading Standards in your area,
'who could then investigate or even
'prosecute your builder.
'Some Trading Standards
'offer a drop-in service,
'so check what's on offer
'where you live.
'But their message is clear -
'they're there to help.
'And Sue really needs that help.
'The workmanship on this wall is absolutely shocking.'
Well, this doesn't look very good, Sue, I'm afraid to say.
It's so much out of plumb, it's ridiculous.
These markings here, my husband put on. This one is from June this year.
-And that one in front?
-That was a couple of months previous to that.
So, June, May, so that's April.
So, in April, that's moved out of plumb just under two inches, 50 mil.
But you've got all this, which is about four inches, which is
-100 mil, that's moved out prior to April.
'It's quite clear this wall is not wide enough or substantial
enough for the amount of weight it's meant to support.
'That's why it's bowed and rotated towards the pavement,
'which means the foundations are not suitable.'
They've built this on the edge of the old foundations for the old wall.
So, if we take that, say, as the foundations,
and the old wall's in the middle, then they've put another wall,
this wall, outside of the old wall
and they're loading on top of the old foundations.
But the foundations aren't strong enough.
So, all that weight is pushing on those foundations
and rotating it all and that's why this is leaning over.
This is an extremely dangerous structure
because that's a good eight foot tall and that weighs many tonnes.
And that could fall at any time. I'm afraid this is a ticking time bomb.
'The posts is the builder referred to as "godfathers" are no solution.
'And what's more, they aren't even on Sue's property.'
The contractor has built this outside of your land - on the public highway.
So, the local authority then, it's their responsibility
to correct this and take the person who constructed it to task.
'But ultimately, it is the homeowner's responsibility.
'Sue's done the right thing and informed the council,
'because if the wall collapses, anyone passing by could be injured or killed.
'What really needed to happen before things got this far was for
'Sue to have spoken to the local council's building control team.
'It's important to liaise with them.
'They will come and inspect your builder's work,
'so you get an independent assessment of what's going on.
'But there is some better news about the condition of Sue's driveway.'
That can be cut back, stabilised, and then infilled
and then that can be re-tarmacked, that section.
So, you'd save three quarters of the drive.
'But it's the wall that's worrying Sue. And quite rightly.'
My fear is somebody's going to get injured.
-If this falls on top of someone, they'll be killed.
I'm just scared.
Don't be too downhearted because with your problems you've
got with the two babies, you've got your hands full in there,
so, really, YOU need to pass this on to somebody else,
so that YOU don't have to worry about it.
Come on, we'll sort something out.
'My team has been in touch with Sue's supposed civil engineer
'and asked for his side of the story.'
'He did call us back but declined to comment on either
'the state of the driveway or the wall.
'Sue's resigned to the fact that she won't see her money again but says
'she wanted to talk to us so others don't make the mistakes that she did.'
The trouble for Sue is she knows she's made
a mistake by falling victim to a doorstepper.
And if she'd taken time to do a little bit more research, checked out his work,
she might have been able to avoid this mess for her and her family.
Sue's learned the hard way but make sure you don't.
Be wary of hiring anyone who just knocks at your door.
The rules say tradesmen must display and provide
their full business name and contact details.
They must give you proper paperwork, detailing total costs
and the contract arrangements, including the duration,
the right to cancel and any conditions.
Tradesmen can be fined up to £5,000 for not adhering to the rules.
But my advice is always the same.
Whether they're door knockers
or not, check them out.
Go online, look at established
review sites, look at other work
they've done and talk directly
to their previous clients.
Do company checks and compare prices
with other contractors.
'It's 4.30, and back in London,
plumber Dave Taylor is engaged in a battle to help Soho bar owner
Stephen Richard open in time for the Friday night trade.
If he can't unblock their facilities,
they stand to lose £5,000 in takings.
Steve watches anxiously
while Dave tries to clear the blockage with rods.
We can't open until it's done
because we can't obviously have no toilets. So, we're...
We should have been open at four.
We're just waiting now because there's nothing we can do.
It's an unpleasant job. The bathroom floors are swimming with waste.
If Dave can't clear this, they'll all be up a certain kind of creek
without a paddle.
That, my son, is putrid.
That is pure cack.
Determined Dave is making some progress.
Well, by luck and by chance, I've managed to lean through,
drop this into that trap that I was telling you about and get it to drop.
But he's not particularly enjoying his job today.
And the trouble is, we're in a little area with no ventilation,
flooded with sewage.
Thank the Lord, we managed to get that to drop!
So, if we're lucky and we have a bit of a clear-up for them,
we might be able to get the boys open in about half hour or so.
And then we'll have to come back and do a bigger job one morning. But...
for the moment, we might have a result. Lucky!
But there's still work to do.
Having dealt with proper number one, Dave moves on to number two.
It's cheap, recycled toilet paper,
which doesn't break down, it ends up clumping up like that.
So, what happens, that's a problem on its own, so now I've cleared the
front drain, that one's run away, I've still got this to deal with.
So, this is affecting this toilet back here.
But the only thing I can do here is, erm, go and get a black bag
and dig it out.
Dave's been a plumber for 15 years and nothing much fazes him.
This is a normal Friday afternoon, if I'm honest.
You get these ones come in when you think, you know, "Right,
"I'll just wind down now, ready for the weekend."
You get a call about three o'clock.
You know it's going to be something someone's either put off all week,
thinking it's going to get better, another company's been out
and can't resolve it or, like these poor fellows,
they've just been caught out at the wrong time.
He uses fresh water to flush through the drain as he clears it.
It's what it is. I don't tend to think about. I just get on with it.
It ain't everyone's cup of tea but most people are pleased to see you!
If you resolve it, most people really like you!
Well, rather you than me, mate! Clearing the clumps of paper
and pouring water through is bringing results.
I think it's probably a combination of the drains need a really good clean
and...the toilet paper's not breaking down properly.
But he's still not happy with how the drains are flowing.
Not running correctly. So, we'd need to come back here.
But if I can get them out of trouble for tonight
and over the weekend, I'll come back and see them, early part of next week.
Dave's pretty certain he knows what's caused the pub toilets difficulties.
Without getting too bogged down in the details,
it's to do with the toilet paper.
You know, someone will come in, they'll use...
that is not even a lot, really, but look at that.
That is exactly how it goes in the drain. That's it, look.
That's no good. That's probably what's caused half the problems here today.
It does that. And then the next lot comes along and it does that.
It seems the Victorian London drains have difficulty dealing with
today's modern loo roll.
You'd be amazed how much work we get just purely
because of cheap paper and the thick, quilted paper doesn't break down.
So, it comes into a drain that's tight like this,
and it will just sit there.
The answer is for the club to go for the more bog-standard stuff.
If I could give you a message, buy decent paper, spend a bit more,
I'd just use a good quality two-ply paper. Make life a bit easier.
Dave's pretty pleased he's sorted out the pub's issue with tissue.
-All right, buddy. Have a good one.
-Excellent, Cheers. Thank you.
-I wish you well. Thanks a lot.
He seems pretty pleased, so I'm pleased. Yeah, they're nice guys.
You got to help nice people, don't you?
And the owners are delighted they can open.
If he hadn't got here this quickly, we wouldn't be open now.
So, thankfully, we, you know, we haven't lost too much money tonight.
It's a good result all round,
particularly for the customers - all hoping for a night
on the tiles.
Last year, 20% of all UK homes experienced boiler problems.
And that keeps heating engineers like Lee Turton pretty busy.
Today, he's on his way to see a mum who needs her heating
fixed as a matter of urgency.
Kirsty Hood is at home in Glossop, Derbyshire,
looking after her three-year-old, Elijah, who has chickenpox.
He needs to stay warm
and have lukewarm baths to stop the spots itching.
But at the moment, all that's available is freezing cold water.
She's been without heating and hot water for two days
and she's desperate for Lee to fix the problem.
-Hiya, Gas Care.
-Hi there, come on in. Thanks.
Kirsty also has a six-year-old and a busy husband.
So, it was literally cold washes in the morning
before everybody had to get off in the morning.
The family aren't keen to repeat the experience,
so Lee needs to get to work.
-So, what's the problem you've been having?
-Erm, well, yeah...
Yesterday morning when we got up to kind of get the kids dressed
for school and showered and all that, that we...there was no hot water.
During the day, my husband had a look at it and there's no pilot light on.
-It looks completely dead.
-So, we've still...
We've not had any hot water still for, erm, yesterday,
-and obviously today as well.
-OK, no probs.
Lee quickly examines the boiler.
Whereabouts is your programmer for the boiler, you know,
to turn your heating and hot water on?
-Oh, that's upstairs in the airing cupboard.
-Upstairs. Right, can I get to that?
-Yeah, no problem.
-It's in the corner.
And your room thermostat. Have you got one of those in the hallway?
Erm, yes, it is down in the hallway downstairs, yeah.
I'll just have a quick look at that.
He turns the room thermostat up, as well as the one on the boiler -
and the heating starts up.
It's fired up, so it's working.
Although the heating has come on,
it definitely doesn't sound right to Lee.
The fan's very noisy.
And it looks like it's been sprayed with a lubricant in the past,
to keep it going.
So, I'm thinking that maybe at some point this is sticking
and that's why the boiler might not be firing up.
But it has fired at the moment.
He explains the situation to Kirsty.
When I first arrived, the thermostat was turned down to zero,
so I'm presuming because your husband's been trying
-to get it working, he's turned it up and down.
-Basically, I've turned all the external controls on.
-I've turned the thermostat up.
-Right, that's fine.
-It is firing up.
Boiler repairs can be quite pricey, often between £300 and £500 -
and aren't normally covered by home insurance.
Make sure yours is serviced annually by a registered engineer
and keep the area
around the boiler clean.
Plus, don't overheat your home.
Now the system has started again,
the family will be able to keep warm.
But there's no guarantee it will keep going
and they can't risk another breakdown.
I think the next course of action would be to order a new fan.
It is working in the meantime and hopefully it'll keep going
until we can get that ordered for you.
But I think that's the next step.
Lee gets straight on the phone to order what's needed.
Hiya, mate, it's Lee.
The cost to supply and fit a new fan for a standard
combi-gas boiler is between £200 and £300.
So, I'll have that for tomorrow, yeah?
-OK, thanks, mate.
-'See you later, Lee.'
-See you now. Bye.
It's good news. There's a suitable part in stock.
It'll be here tomorrow. So, as soon as it arrives at the office,
-we'll give you a call and come and fit it for you.
-That's perfect. Thank you very much.
Hopefully the fan will keep going until the new one can be fitted.
And little Elijah will be able to have a bath and stay toasty.
It's a bit of a relief, obviously, for kind of bath time,
for the boys tonight, cos obviously with Elijah's chickenpox,
we want to make sure we can bathe him
to make sure the spots keep clean and are not getting infected.
So, he has been able to get it to a state where we're OK operating.
We've got water again now.
Hot water again, so until the part arrives, that we've got it
ticking over, so we're not in a desperate state at this stage.
-See you now.
Lee plans to return
and make sure the heating's working for Kirsty and her family.
Top and bottom of it is the fan needs replacing anyway, erm,
because of the noise coming from it.
And eventually it will pack up again,
so we've ordered the fan and we'll come back tomorrow and replace it.
It's a good result for Kirsty and little Elijah.
Have you got all your pieces?
And these are the telltale signs that your boiler might need attention.
The radiators don't get as hot as they should.
It takes a long time to get hot water from the taps.
Or you hear strange banging noises
from your pipes or boiler.
But remember, call the professionals
and make sure they are on
the Gas Safe Register.
There's good news for Sue from Birmingham City Council.
They're taking her case really seriously
and have tried to track down her builder.
They told us...
But the council say they ARE determined to support Sue and her family.
They told us...
It's good to know that Sue's not now left to deal with this nightmare on her own.
Tommy Walsh meets Sue, who was taken in by a door-knocking con man who took £12,000 of her savings and left her with an unsafe and potentially fatal garden wall.
A pub needs bailing out when their toilets block, leaving smelly sewage spilling out across the floor. Can plumber Dave get the job done before opening time?