Builder jailed after successful Trading Standards investigation

This story was published 22 December 2021

A rogue trader who stopped home improvement work after his North Yorkshire client had paid a £11,500 deposit has been sent to prison for 10 months at York Crown Court after admitting fraud and a consumer protection offence.

A court

Thomas Howell, formerly of Ceres Road, Wetherby, was investigated after a couple from Tadcaster complained to our Trading Standards Service about Howell’s behaviour.

He had done some satisfactory work for them in late 2019 and in March last year arranged to build a conservatory, add a porch and block pave a driveway at their home and took a payment of £4,500 to install footings and a £2,500 deposit towards landscaping work.

However, he then pressed his customers to pay a further £9,000 for materials, in order to secure them before the anticipated Covid-19 lockdown, which was causing supply problems.

The householders were already concerned about the quality of work to the foundations Howell had constructed and found work stopped completely when they had paid the additional £9,000.

In mid-April, they asked Howell to return their deposit as the lockdown appeared likely to continue but he failed to do so, falsely claiming his bank had put a ‘hold’ on his account.

An independent surveyor called in to assess the work done by Howell found a number of faults, including conservatory foundations of inadequate depth, which did not comply with building regulations, failure to bridge a public drain, and failure to tie the porch roof to its walls or correctly install a lintel above the porch door.    

Howell pleaded guilty to fraud in respect of the £11,500 deposit he had received from the householders for work which was never started and dishonestly claimed he could not return to them, and also to failing to exercise professional diligence in undertaking the conservatory, drain and porch work, at a hearing at York Magistrates’ Court on 3 December 2021. 

Magistrates did not consider that their powers of sentencing were sufficient and so sent Howell to York Crown Court for sentence.   

In sentencing Howell, His Honour Judge Hickey said that he accepted that his conduct had not started out as fraudulent but that it had very quickly become so. Howell was also ordered to pay compensation of £4,500 to the householders.

County Councillor Derek Bastiman, portfolio holder for Trading Standards, said: “We know that the pandemic created very difficult trading conditions for small businesses, but it is simply not acceptable for a trader to retain £11,500 when he made no effort to complete the work he had been paid to do, and then lied to the householders about the whereabouts of their money.

“That fraud was made worse by the poor standard of the work that had been completed and I am pleased that the court has recognised the impact of Howell’s actions on our residents in passing sentence today.

“I am very proud of the work done by our Trading Standards team and this case should act as a warning that this sort of behaviour will not be tolerated in North Yorkshire.”