Home improvements or home disasters? – The legal consequences

14th February 2020 Criminal Defence

The National Trading Standards recently reported of three individuals and a company who were found guilty of 34 offences for ‘scams’ relating to unnecessary home improvement work. The individuals are due to be sentenced in April 2020 and are likely to receive substantial sentences of imprisonment following convictions under the Fraud Act 2006 and Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. For a home owner, renovation work usually involves months of planning and saving and therefore the impact of a ‘rogue trader’ carrying out the work is devastating.

We will explore some of the potential actions and practices of tradespeople carrying out home improvements work that could lead to investigation by Trading Standards and potential criminal proceedings.

Unfair Commercial Practices’

If a company or tradesperson engages in particular practices which are, under the 2008 Regulations, considered in all circumstances to be unfair they may find themselves subject of an investigation by Trading Standards, which can lead to criminal proceedings.

Such practices may seem surprisingly commonplace and range from enticing a customer with a particular ‘price deal’ and claiming that the deal is only available for a limited period of time (when it is not), to suggesting that work or a product is required, for example home renovations on a customer’s roof or windows, to protect the safety of the customer.

‘Misleading Actions and Omissions’

Under the 2008 Regulations there are a number of listed ‘actions’ or ‘omissions’ which, if a trader, salesperson or company deploys in the course of carrying out home improvements, would be considered an unfair commercial practice that could be deemed as a criminal offence.

If a tradesperson provides or omits false information which is likely to deceive the average consumer and lead them to make a decision that they would not have otherwise taken, this is considered a ‘misleading action or omission’ under section 5 and 6 of the Regulations. False information covers a wide range of information, including the characteristics of the product – from the geographic origin (for example, falsely stating that the product is produced in the UK), to the risks and benefits of the product and the after-sale customer service. In the case of the home improvements example above, it is likely that ‘misleading statements’ were given as to the specification of the product and the customer’s need for the product. For example, purporting that a customer’s house urgently requires new windows to reduce heating bills. A tradesperson or company will also fall foul of the Regulations if they provide false information about themselves. For example, the company or tradesperson’s qualifications, affiliations or connections.

In the case of scam home improvement companies, it is likely that their actions will fall under a number of provisions of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. In addition, a company or individual may face charges of fraud by false representation under the Fraud Act 2006 if they are considered to have made false statements to customers, which they knew were dishonest (or suspected were dishonest), with the intent of making a financial gain.

Aggressive sales

A tradesperson or company will also risk investigation for criminal offences if they are considered to have acted aggressively in their sales techniques when enticing new customers. A tradesperson may be deemed as having adopted an aggressive commercial practice where their conduct is likely to impair the customer’s freedom of choice. This can include threatening or abusive language, but can also include using undue influence or more subtle pressure placed upon the potential customer. The circumstances will be taken into consideration, including the time and location of the sales and any vulnerabilities of the customer.

Consequences

If a tradesperson or company is subject to a Trading Standards investigation for falling foul of any of the above Regulations, the consequences can be severe. The individuals found guilty of conning people into unnecessary home improvement work are likely to face lengthy sentences of imprisonment, fines and be subject to confiscation proceedings.

If you are arrested or charged in connection with offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 or Fraud Act 2006, robust legal representation from the earliest stage is essential. For further information about the comprehensive service our lawyers can offer if you are concerned about an arrest or proceedings in respect of consumer law, the authors of this blog, Catherine O’Rourke can be contacted on 0845 872 6666 and enquiries@jmw.co.uk

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Catherine O'Rourke is a Solicitor located in Manchester in our Business Crime & Regulation department

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