Consumer Rights: 'The builder has vanished with my £8,000'

Landlord could sue for fraud or take workman to the small claims court, but there is no guarantee of getting the cash back

I've been having repair work done over the summer on two flats I rent out to students. The builder I contracted did do some of the agreed work and did it quite well but then he started asking for more money for materials he'd already been given money to buy and saying that he was short of cash.

Because we were about half way through the work and it seemed to be a simple cashflow problem that was delaying things I handed over about £8,000 in total. The builder then did a complete disappearing act. I had to get on with the work and finish it with the help of other people I knew to get it done in time.

Despite going round to his house I seem to be drawing blanks. On legal advice I have written asking for the money back within 14 days or his proposal for paying the money back but I don't want to lose more by taking him to court if this doesn't work.

Can I report him to the police for fraud? What other steps would you suggest?

MS by email

Sometimes builders run into problems like this when they spend the money you've given them on other things. If something has gone wrong on another job it's possible he had to put that right at his own expense and used your money to pay for the replacement materials. However, it might be that he's got a gambling problem or simply run off with your cash.

As fraud is a criminal charge the police would have to feel there is enough evidence that he meant to defraud you to make it worthwhile prosecuting and the Crown Prosecution service would have to be convinced it should proceed. He might be found guilty and punished but that doesn't get you your money back. If you feel seeing him punished would be enough you might decide to take this route.

However, the small claims procedure in the county court deals with claims up to £5,000 but, if both sides, agree the court can use the procedure to settle bigger claims. By using the small claims process you can represent yourself and avoid the cost of using a solicitor and you don't run the danger of having to pay the other side's costs if you lose the case.

Check with your local trading standards department. Officers there may know about this builder and whether or not he's done this kind of thing before. They may even be able to help you negotiate a settlement or mediate a solution.

The crux of the matter is that he may not have any money with which to pay you. Even if you do get a court decision in your favour he may not own the property he's living in. His van and tools of his trade may belong to someone else. You could spend a fair bit getting a civil court to rule he owes you the money and still not get it back.

Make sure you keep copies of any correspondence you have with this man including emails. Make sure you spell out clearly exactly what happened if you do make a claim through the courts as it will be very difficult to bring additional points up later and take any advice the trading standards department or your solicitor gives you. Good luck.

When my husband died recently a friend suggested that I should be entitled to some help from the welfare benefit system.

I am 54 and am working so I don't think that can be the case, but it's been a very expensive time so my savings have gone down dramatically and I just want to check whether she could possibly be right.

FK, by email

As you are under pension age you may be able to claim a bereavement payment. It will depend on whether your husband paid national insurance contributions, the circumstances of his death and whether he was entitled to a state retirement pension before he died.

When you fill in the claim form you'll be asked to give your late husband's National Insurance number and details of his recent jobs. The payment is £2,000 and it's tax free.

You may also be able to claim bereavement allowance or widowed parent's allowance. The bereavement allowance is a weekly amount that's paid for a year after the death and you could get up to £105 a week.

You should also apply for a reduction in your council tax.

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
food + drink
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Trainee / Experienced Recruitment Consultants

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40000: SThree: As a Recruitment Consultant, y...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

    Quantitative Risk Manager

    Up to £80000: Saxton Leigh: My client, a large commodities broker, is looking ...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits