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Portsmouth residents can be reassured that unlawful behaviour and criminal practices will not be tolerated as the owner of a construction company was sentenced to 9 months in prison and disqualified from being a company director for 5 years after pleading guilty to multiple offences.

The judgement came last month at Portsmouth Crown Court, after Mr Sam Hart, aged 35 of Langley Road Portsmouth, pleaded guilty to six offences contrary to the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008; contravening the requirements of professional diligence; failing to provide cancellation notices to consumers; and for the unauthorised use of the Gas Safe and NICEIC logos.

Trading as Mac and Hart Developments Ltd, Mr Hart entered into a contract with Deborah Parish of Lindley Avenue in the summer of 2018; works were to include a loft extension rear dormer and a new single storey rear extension. However, the works undertaken in particular to the rear extension failed to comply with building regulations; namely the pitch of the roof should have been built to 17 degrees, however the roof was built at between 9 and 10 degrees which resulted in the roof leaking via the pivot windows. The standard of workmanship to the roof was also incredibly poor. Ms Parish as a result suffered a significant financial detriment in terms of remedying the outstanding and poor work at a cost of approximately £11,000; and also ended up selling the property at a loss as the pitch of the roof was never rectified.

Mr Hart then went on to form another company; Harkins Construction Ltd, and in the January of 2020 entered into a contract for the full refurbishment of a property in Fareham for the sum of £120,000. The works were never completed and in fact Mr Hart diverted funds paid by Mr and Mrs Cleaves of Walton Court to assist with the liquidation of his previous company and to hire luxury cars; Mercedes and BMW vehicles. Additionally, Mr Hart also made claims to being Gas Safe and NICEIC registered when in fact neither he nor the company were. This is a prohibited practice which in all circumstances is considered unfair. Mr and Mrs Cleaves have spent an additional £50,000 on top of the £120,000 already paid in order to get their property completed.

HH Judge Melville QC stated during the sentencing “The facts of this case are awful… It was a most appalling series of events…. You let them down; this is appalling and clearly crosses the custody threshold”.

Cllr Dave Ashmore, Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Environment, said: “Portsmouth City Council’s Trading Standards will continue to investigate and pursue those responsible for unfair commercial practice, bringing them before the courts where necessary. This case sends out the clear message to ‘rogue traders’ that this type of unlawful behaviour will not be tolerated in Portsmouth.”

How to protect yourself from rogue traders:

Do your research: If you’re getting work done at home, whether a small repair or a big renovation project, it’s really important to do your research before you take on a tradesperson or contractor to do the job. Check the company is registered and has the right insurance policies in place, get to know them before agreeing to any work, and always ask for references from previous customers.

Be wary of cold callers: If you are approached out of the blue by a tradesperson telling you something needs to be done to your home, be sure to do your own research and seek independent advice before agreeing to any work. You can also request an official no cold calling door sticker from trading standards to prevent traders knocking on your door. Contact trading.standards@portsmouthcc.gov.uk  or call 023 9283 4092 to get a sticker.

Shop around: Shopping around and getting several quotes for the job is also a really good way to understand what different companies are able to offer you. You can shop around for trusted traders that have been trading standards approved using the Buy with Confidence website www.buywithconfidence.gov.uk

Avoid cash payment: We strongly advise against using cash payments. Paying by cheque, credit card, bank transfer etc. creates a record of payment should something go wrong. Some payment methods such as credit/debit cards can also give you extra protection if something goes wrong, for example if the trader doesn’t complete the work already paid for. This can be a fast and cost-effective route to getting your money back, compared to lodging a claim in the county court.

Get help and advice if you need it: For all consumer related enquiries please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service 0808 223 1133. https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/get-more-help/if-you-need-more-help-about-a-consumer-issue/

If you do run into problems with unscrupulous traders, Portsmouth City Council’s trading standards team can help and to make sure businesses are complying with the law. Email trading.standards@portsmouthcc.gov.uk or call the City Helpdesk Trading Standard line on 023 9268 8183.