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Dispute with Cowboy Builder, How to get my over-payments back?

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Dear All,


I come to this website by searching for some advice for a serious dispute with my cowboy builder recently.


Please bear with me with my long nasty story:


We hired the builder in late April 2017 and agreed to make stage payments in contract.

The whole project was quoted £35k


We paid him 10% deposite and the first stage payment £9k in advance (what a mistake I know).

The first stage payment is supposed to cover the material and labour cost till bricks are laid up to roof level (which was not written in contract but agreed verbally).


I did get 3 references for the builder and one is from a senior employee of the council, for which he was doing a similar extension.



I had trouble with him right from day 1.

He mis-measured our foundation by 70mm short.

We did give him a chance (what a mistake!) and he promised he would be more careful.

He was not.


He was rough all the way and recently I learnt that he was not qualified builder at all although he claimed he had more than 10 years experience.

His work was substandard and his attitude was not professional.

He was rude, aggressive and intimidating to my family.

He swore in front of my family including my children on a number of occasions, when we pointed out any mistake or simply asked him questions.

I found no integrity in him at all, there were constant lies and broken promises.

The project was planned to take 10 - 12 weeks.

Only 3 layers of bricks have been laid so far.


Up to date,

we have paid him £16k for the work, which is worth only £6000 - £7000 evaluated by two independent evaluators.


Last week when we refused his aggressive demand for more money, he stopped all work, refusing even to relay the bricks that were laid with wrong mortar colour and upside-down airbricks, and took all materials away.

There wasn’t any chance to negotiate and discuss.

He even dug out a newly laid drainage and took the pipes away!


He is now issuing us the final invoice, demanding another £4,500 to be paid in a week.

We have declined the payment.


In summary some facts:


- we already paid £16k to complete the first stage of our extension;


- Two builders have evaluated the work done as worth £6,000 - £7,000, meaning we overpaid at least approximately £8k-10k;


- My builder has asked us for another £4,500 for ‘work that has been carried out’ as final invoice, which we have declined to pay.


We search advice from local council, CAB, trading standard.

They all seem to be helpless apart from logging a claim for us.


We plan to take legal action to recover our overpayments.

But before taking any action, could someone please advise me what I should do or not to do.


Any advice is really appreciated!


Thank you very much in advance!

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Hi WoodDD and Welcome to CAG


I have moved your thread to our dedicated forum for Building Issues...please continue to post here to your thread.





We could do with some help from you.



Have we helped you ...?         Please Donate button to the Consumer Action Group - The National Consumer Service

If you want advice on your Topic please PM me a link to your thread

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I did phone them. They logged a claim and advised me to write a recorded letter to request the refund of any payments. I feel it might be wasting time with this builder but am willing to get it a try. Feeling very bad with myself by picking a wrong builder and messed up the whole thing.

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Clearly you are in a very difficult position. I'm afraid that people like Citizens Advice or Trading Standards are not a lot of use for this kind of thing. The best you can do is log a complaint with them so that they have it on their files but they won't take any direct action on your behalf. In fact there is no agency in existence which will do that. You are left very much to your own devices and frankly those agencies won't even really give you very much useful advice. You have to come here for the best advice but in your circumstances it is difficult to know what to do.


Your only hope would be to take a County Court action – and although clearly you will win, enforcing your judgement could be very difficult and it isn't worth beginning a court action unless you know whether the builder has any assets such as his own home or business premises.


Do you know anything about him?


Of course tricky speaking this could be a police matter. I'm very troubled by the fact that this guy has apparently gone onto your property and remove materials which clearly belong to you. One of your lines of action, I think, are to make a complaint to the police of theft – and possibly a burglary. You will have to tell me more about it. However, the police are likely to take very little action as well. They will try to say that it is a civil action and that it is nothing to do with them – and even if you persuade them to give your crime reference number, they will be unlikely to take any action about it. I'm afraid that is partly the attitude of the police nowadays and also the fact that they are under resourced.


I'm looking at the figures. You say that you paid 10% of £35,000 and then a further £9000. Later on you say that you paid him altogether – £16,000. The maths doesn't stack up so maybe you could be a little clearer.


I don't really understand how he managed to come onto your property and start digging up materials which presumably he had installed there and remove them. Did you allow him to do this? Please will you explain all the circumstances.

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Thank you, BankFodder!


> Do you know anything about him?

Yes, he lives at another town close to me and the county council should have his details as he has worked for the council's property. It's the recommendation from a tenant director lured me in this mess I'm afraid. The reference has claimed he is a integrity man and doing work in high standard and in time. I found none of it TBH -- He is rude and aggressive, constant lies and broken promises. I wrote to the director to share my experience. He did not reply.


Regarding the total payment, I did pay him a so-called 'extra work': (1) A windpost need to put in for the sake of structure concerns. Although we have discussed the possibility of the wind post before signing the contract but not in concrete form (I was naively persuade he could do away with it without sacrificing the structure stability). He claimed it was a big extra work and used it as excuses for all sorts of delays, not turning up for work. He charged us more than £2,000 to install the wind post (include £900 for the post which was evaluated to be only £90). He also charged us more than £1000 to put 50mm hardcore for the foundation although 150mm was clearly specified in my regulation specification. He claimed he only quoted 100mm. Nevertheless we paid him under great pressure -- He threatened to walk off the job as we already paid in advance. He also begged us on the phone in the evening, saying he did not have money to put food on the table for his children. My wife is kind and soft and commands me to pay him straightaway although he has not put any hardcore and installed the wind post completely. I felt we are greatly cheated due to our kindness and being soft to his aggressive behaviour.


He took all the materials away in front of our own eyes. He would not allow us to explain anything apart from payment right now. When we stated that the second payment could only be released after the bricks being laid up to roof level. He commanded his mate to remove all the tools and materials. My poor children are scared and hidden in their bedroom. He also tried to smash my wife camera when she tried to get some evidence. Police was called but they could not stop them to take all the materials away as they consider it was a civil matter. A assault did file by my wife as he tried to smash her camera and swore to her.


When my builder demand his final payment, he claimed it was police who instructed him to remove all materials (what a joke)!


Should I call police again to file another file for theft? I have videos as evidence.


We are going to see a solicitor soon and would send a letter requesting refund of any over-payments. As a gesture of good will we did not demand compensation for the damage made by him and the refund required to rectify his mistakes: brickworks with wrong mortar and broken bricks etc.


I'd like to document my journey on this matter. I think the lessons can only be learnt if our mistakes and experience can benefit the others here or other forums.


Thanks very much for your time!

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I wouldn't bother to see a solicitor until you know if he has any assets and what they are and where they are. This means his own home/property.


If you simply instruct a solicitor you will pay a lot of money for a solicitor simply to start sending off letters which will either be ignored or which will simply be replied to with some desultory reply which may be will prompt another letter from your solicitor – each of which will simply chalk up more bills for you.


You don't need a solicitor.


What you need is details of his assets. If you know where he lives then you can check the land registry and see whether he owns the property if he does own the property then you are good to go and you should begin a court action – and we will help you. No need to get a solicitor at this stage and probably not at any stage.


Did you get the collar number of the police officer who attended and refuse to do anything?


I certainly think that you should be complaining to the police about the theft and about the assault. If you've got this on video then maybe you could let us see it please.


It seems to me to be a clear case of theft stop I'm not surprised that the police said it was a civil matter. This is what they always do. I'm afraid that you should have been far more insistent with them.


If you make a complaint to the police then if I were you I would do it in writing and address a well written formal letter to the chief inspector administration of the police station closest to you. You should make sure that you are complaining about the theft, the assault, and the refusal of the police to do anything and their instruction to you to allow him to remove the items – which were actually your property.


Secondly, I would send a letter to your member of Parliament making the complaint as well and also including a copy of the letter that you have written to the police.


I have to say that you shouldn't get your hopes up that the police will do much. It takes a lot of energy and frankly a lot of clout to get the police to move themselves. If you had a relative in the police force or if you were a member of Parliament or somebody influential in your community then you could probably manage it will stop otherwise I'm afraid that you get out of the bottom of the pile.


The most important thing here is whether he as assets. If you are unable to discover if he has any assets then frankly there won't be much you can do even though you seem to have lost quite a sum of money. Do not start spending money on solicitors or expending energy on anything else until you know if he owns something of value which you can lay your hands on in the event of a successful claim.




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Thanks a lot Bankfodder, I'll email you the video if you can pin me your email address. I'm not sure it's wise to put those video online to be viewed in public when the case is still in dispute. What do you reckon?


Kind regards,


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Frankly I would just put it up on YouTube and send us a link to it.


Also you can tell us the name of the builder

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Just did land registry search online. He did not own both properties appeared on his letter. Does this mean it'll be no point for us to sue him? Although we cannot get our money back I'd like to see him out of business so that he cannot harm more innocent people.


Feeling very stupid, angry, helpless and disappointed to the whole thing and British legal system. Any advice please!

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You certainly can sue him. That's not a problem. And on the basis of what you say it would be a fairly easy win. However, suing somebody is not the end of the matter. You sue somebody, if you win then you get a judgement. You then have to move to the next phase of the action and that is that you have to enforce the judgement. If you have somebody who absolutely doesn't want to pay then it can be very difficult. You can try and attack their bank account if you know the details. You can get a court order which "garnishes" the bank account and forces the bank to pay you money. However, if there is no money in the account or if the defendant closes the account and moves it elsewhere, then you will be able to enforce the judgement. If the defendant is employed then you may be able to get an order against the employer forcing the employer to deduct money from the defendants wages to pay directly to you. However, with a builder who is self-employed, that is not possible. If the builder has valuable assets – in particular a property such as a home or business premises then you can enforce the judgement against that. There is always the best option.


However, if the builder has arranged his affairs so that legally he doesn't appear to own the property then you have a very difficult situation. Some people may put their property in the names of their spouses and that tends to put the property beyond the reach of a successful claimant.


You could certainly see the builder and if you win then there will be an entry on his credit file for six years which may bother him – but on the other hand if he is a reasonably successful builder and already has credit cards et cetera in place and has a good cash stream, then he probably won't be fazed by this.


You can blame the British legal system if you want, but I'm afraid that all legal systems are going to give you the same problem. I'm very sorry to say that the real cause of this is the fact that you seem not to have taken all possible care in selecting your builder, being careful about the arrangements for paying him money, and then also allowing him onto your property to remove items which clearly belong to you.


I think that in these circumstances, any legal system would be stretched.


By all means sue him. I expect you will win. However, you will incur fees and there will be exactly the same problem recovering those as you will have recovering the judgement debt.


You still haven't told us who the builder is. Presumably you're trying to protect his reputation. If you decide that you no longer want to protect him then you should tell us who he is here and also I suggest that you go around the Internet to various review sites and tell other people about him as well. This is the kind of thing that might make him think a little bit more carefully about his handling of you – although I wouldn't hold my breath.

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I don't want to protect his reputation at all. I want him to be shamed. Howeve my family are afraid he may come back at some point to disturb us. I'll definitely sue him if he refuses to refund us. Is it option to put him on public domain if he is so aggressive? He was a trouble maker right since he was a boy as I was recently informed. We'll do a CRB check for the next builder?

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A CRB check won't help you in terms of finding a builder who is reliable and won't run off with your money. You probably wouldn't even be entitled to get a CRB check on a builder.

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Here's a warning. Don't threaten legal action unless you are sure that you are going to follow up on your threat. Don't bluff. It sounds to me as if this builder already has the measure of you. If you threaten legal action he will expect you not to carry out your threat. After that you lose all credibility and you are finished.


How did you make the payments?

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I paid him by bank transfer.


I also suggest to use independent mediator or pay me back in 7 days, otherwise I'll file a court claim. If I do not threat with court claim, what option do I have? It's not option to just let him get away without a scratch. He would be laughing aloud and harm more people I'm afraid.


Any advice please? I am feeling bad of myself as I have instructed a wrong builder and ruined every plan we have.

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My builder has got back to me replying to my request of refund.


He made up a breakdown cost list, trying to justify his request of the final invoice. From the breakdown cost I can see some labour cost and materials cost are highly inflated. He also threatens to take me to court if I failed to pay in X days -- a couple of days before my deadline.


I am not afraid to go to court with him but please could anyone here advise me what I should do next? Should I reply to request him to show me the original invoice of the breakdown cost or leave the court to request that?


Any advice would be highly appreciated!


Thank you.



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All lies from my builder. He claimed he did not walk off the job. It was us who drove them off the site and it was police who advised them not to take further action (not coming back to work. He did send us an email the next day demanding the final payment and claimed he was no longer work for us!) and to wait for our response. Did he think everyone else is a fool?


I know I should not get angry with such people -- it's not worth it!

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There are several Legal judgments that have agreed the materials etc remain the property of the builder until his bill is satisfied, even to the extent of allowing the builder to demolish his completed work.

An extension of SoGA etc -nothing belongs to the purchaser until paid for.

Bespoke windows etc have to be paid for after commencement, even if still being made.

Either let him take OP to Court, or OP takes him to Court, for debt satisfaction.

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Thank you mariner51,


In term of legal process, which one is better: Should I wait for him to take me to court so that I can file counterclaim, or I take him to court first.


I have all the evidence he was lying all the way and bully us all along. His cost breakdown does not add up at all. Do you believe £2500 insulation cost for a 5*6 concrete floor?


Advice please!

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