Thousands of pounds out of pocket for an unfinished home - so why won’t authorities take action?
PUBLISHED: 06:00 17 May 2019 | UPDATED: 09:45 05 October 2020
Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk
A growing list of customers claiming to have been left out of pocket by shoddy building work has sparked criticism of authorities’ failure to act.
Buyers who paid Superior SIPs Ltd thousands of pounds for new homes which they say were left unfinished claim organisations including Trading Standards and Action Fraud have been "unhelpful".
Isobel Dide Siemmond - whose complaints against Superior SIPs and its director Rhodri Foote featured in this newspaper last month - said she was frustrated by the lack of response after lodging repeated complaints about the company.
Miss Siemmond, 31, gave her life-savings to the company to install an affordable, eco-friendly home using Structural Insulation Panels (SIPs) in east Suffolk. But she was left thousands of pounds out of pocket for an unfinished building. Professionals highlighted problems with the build and said Superior SIPs failed to deliver what was paid for.
Despite approaching more than 20 organisations, including police, politicians, consumer rights shows, Trading Standards and Action Fraud, Miss Siemmond said "none had actually helped yet".
"I either received no response, despite chasing multiple times, no proper response or they couldn't help at all," she added. "Citizens Advice rightly passed it to Trading Standards, but Trading Standards passed it back to Citizens Advice, contradicting the advice we'd been given. Police couldn't help because Mr Foote isn't based locally."
Superior SIPs responded saying most clients were happy with its products and the site work, which was subcontracted. It disputes the amount of money owed.
Miss Siemmond said she had considered taking court action but was advised it would be a "waste of money" even if she won.
Having pursued many options and found no help, she said she had lost faith in the system.
"It's important everyone be made aware of the protection in place, or lack of, in this country," she said, "It seems most people are unaware and shocked to discover their signed contract amounts to nothing and there's no real consumer protection when needed - we all just think there is."
She called for a crackdown on loopholes in the law, which she says allows dishonest traders to go unpunished. "There needs to be better screening processes at Companies House and bodies like Trading Standards and Action Fraud need to act more efficiently," she said.
Authorities said they take complaints seriously and would act where required.
Meanwhile, complaints about Superior SIPs have kept growing.
Following our story, an anonymous complainant emailed in saying the coverage "barely scratched the surface". The email included details of nine people who were allegedly aggrieved customers of Superior SIPs. Some did not want to comment and others asked to remain anonymous.
Uta Roggendorf, who wrote a blog about her experiences, said she paid £33,000 of a £55,000 project after her partner signed a contract in November 2017.
But she said Mr Foote became "increasingly difficult to get hold of from late March onwards".
Miss Roggendorf said faced repeated "nerve wracking" waits for work to be done. A legal complaint was sent to the company in October 2018 she cancelled the contract at the end of the month. Both parties agreed to a repayment value of £26,720. The house was only finished after another company stepped in.
Miss Roggendorf reported the company to Action Fraud in October but has not heard back.
Other customers claimed to have spent tens of thousands of pounds for projects, which they also say suffered delays. One couple said they agreed to pay more than £30,000 for a new SIP home, but was left waiting for months after the agreed completion date. Another said they had been left waiting, making for "an extremely stressful time".
Craig Carmichael, whose company STP Systems used to supply Superior SIPs before he became aware of the claims against the business, said 23 of its customers had asked him for help following problems with Superior SIPs.
None of the customers we spoke to said authorities had done anything but acknowledge the claim.
Miss Siemmond said these problems "should've been stopped years and years ago".
"We definitely need better consumer protection laws," she added.
-Get in touch via email with your experiences of seeking help from authorities such as Trading Standards or Action Fraud.
What authorities say
Authorities say they take complaints seriously and people should report scams - but some of the advice appears conflicting.
Suffolk Trading Standards said rogue traders should be reported to Citizens Advice, which then refers complaints back to them.
A spokesman said the complaint about Superior SIPs had also been sent to Trading Standards in Carmarthenshire, where Superior SIPs was based. However Carmarthenshire Trading Standards said: "We can only act on behalf of complainants living in Carmarthenshire."
Action Fraud said Miss Roggendorf's complaint was being assessed by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. A spokesman said Action Fraud does not have investigations powers but if the NFIB identifies a viable line of inquiry, it will be sent to police for investigation.
People with complaints about alleged scams can Citizens Advice on 03454040506.
Company pledges 'full review'
Superior SIPs Ltd has defended itself against the customer complaints - and said it would be conducing a full review into issues raised.
In a statement, the company said the vast majority of clients were happy with both its SIP panel products and the work carried out by the independent subcontractors.
"Superior SIP Ltd is a supplier of SIP panels direct to consumer, which provide a fast and affordable approach to building," the statement said.
"We rely heavily on wholesale trade suppliers for our core products and independent subcontractors for any building projects undertaken.
"We as a company fully expect that all products, service and processes are to be of the highest standard at all times and will be conducting a full review into any issues related to these operations."
Criticism from landlords and MP
Customers with complaints about other companies have also criticised authorities' responses to their allegations.
As reported this week, landlords and tenants have complained after discovering more than £30,000 of deposits had gone missing following the liquidation of Ipswich company Jonathan Waters Estate Agents Limited.
Landlord Tony Molyneux complained to police and Action Fraud - but said he had little support.
"We as landlords are not getting any help and it's all because it's a liquidated company," he said,
Ipswich MP Sandy Martin has also criticised the lack of response from Action Fraud, saying the authority appeared to be "not much use as an ally".
He said he would consider writing a question to Home Secretary Sajid Javid seeking greater powers.
Mr Martin also said he would be raising the Superintendent Kerry Cutler when they next meet.
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