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January 11, 2016 - 11:14

Plumbers 24/7 Ltd was sentenced at Bournemouth Crown Court yesterday (7 January), following a prosecution by Dorset County Council’s trading standards service.

They were ordered to pay £15,000 for misleading an older customer about the price of drainage work and the fact that they claimed work was required when it was not.

The company and one of its subcontractors, Russell Stephen Lane, mislead Mrs Binks, 72 years old, about drainage work needed at her home in Kington Magna, North Dorset.

Mrs Binks contacted the company, finding them in the ‘Yellow Pages’ after she discovered a blocked drain. Two men arrived in a van and had a quick look but it was too dark to carry on, so they arranged to return the following day. One of these men was Mr Lane.

The court heard how the following morning they produced some paperwork which they initially asked Mrs Binks to sign. It had no prices on and they told her that if she didn’t sign they wouldn’t be able to start. The men then carried out some work including unblocking the drain and lining some of the pipes in the drainage system.

The final bill was £7,800. They had been there for approximately 5 hours. Mrs Binks felt obliged to pay there and then as she felt intimidated and threatened. She also stated that just after she had paid, she witnessed the two men “laughing and doing a little dance” in the garden.

Trading standards had the works examined by an expert, who estimated that £2,083 would have been a reasonable charge and noted that parts of the work were unnecessary.

The jury agreed with trading standards that the price charged by Mr Lane was so significantly above what a reasonable charge would have been that the demand to pay that amount could only have been made dishonestly.

Mr Lane’s sentencing was adjourned.

In mitigation counsel for Plumbers 24/7 Ltd, Mr Raudnitz, acknowledged that while the company could not know exactly what had happened at the property their due diligence had fallen short of what was necessary and that the company itself had not acted dishonestly. The trial judge, Judge Johnson, agreed that these circumstances were at the lower end of culpability for the company and so sentenced it to a fine of £1000 per offence but also ordered it to pay £5000 to the victim and £8000 in costs to the county council.

Richard Herringshaw, principal trading standards officer, said:

“I am pleased with this result especially for the victim Mrs Binks.

“It takes courage to make a statement and give evidence at court. Without her evidence we would not have been able to take this prosecution and the company and Mr Lane would have simply got away with it.

“This will have been a costly episode for the company and will hopefully ensure that it takes more care, especially with the pricing of the work it carries out.”

“Anyone who suspects they may have been scammed in a similar way should contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06. This is the first point of contact for any consumer wishing to complain about a business or wanting to know what their rights are". 

More information can be found at www.buywithconfidence.gov.uk . For consumers without internet access, Citizens Advice can also help find a trader who is a member of the trading standards-approved ‘Buy with Confidence’ scheme.