A COUPLE claim they shelled out £12k for a new garden but landscapers left them with a pile of RUBBLE.
Julie and Alan Butters said they paid firm Staffie Property and Garden in cash up front for materials, labour and waste removal.
Landscapers knocked down the couple's garage and the adjoining brick wall to make room for the work at the house in Crewe, Cheshire.
But Julie, 59, and Alan's hopes for a new garden were quickly dashed, as the firm vanished without a trace shortly after the cash was handed over.
The number Julie and Alan, 58, used to contact the company no longer works and its Facebook page has been taken down.
Devastated Julie said: "We've wanted to renovate the garden for years but we've never really had the funds to do it.
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"Then unfortunately, about 18 months ago, my dad passed away with Covid.
"I had a little bit of inheritance from him and he used to come to sit around here even though our garden wasn't much.
"So I thought I'd put his money to good use and renovate the garden.
"Just after last summer we decided to find somebody who would do the sort of thing we wanted.
"I went onto a website where you just put in what you want doing, and then people get in touch with you to give you a quote.
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"Several people did, and I had some companies come to visit, but this guy from Staffie… he was a really lovely guy – he explained things to me whereas other people didn't."
Julie picked a date for the work to begin and paid a deposit.
The landscaper told her that Covid caused a "shortage of supplies" so the couple had to put a substantial amount of money down up front.
Julie says she transferred almost £8,000.
But workers didn't show up on their agreed October 25 start date, telling Julie they were behind on projects.
They agreed a new start date of November 8, but when they failed to show up again Julie became worried.
She said: "They eventually came, knocked my garage down and took the wall down.
"At that point I transferred another £3,300 to them."
Not long after that, the company – along with the owner she had been talking to – stopped responding all together.
Both numbers for the business seem to be disconnected and the Facebook page appears to have been taken down.
Julie said: "In the end I just said 'either come and do my garden or give me the money back'.
"My garden is a state, it looked worse than it did before, but I never heard from them again.
"I've got numbers for them but both the landline and mobile don't work anymore. The company isn't on Facebook anymore either.
"You don't trust anybody after something like that happens. He was the nicest guy, but I feel like he was really just taking our money and laughing at us."
The couple contacted Citizens' Advice who passed on their complaint to Trading Standards at Stoke-on-Trent City Council – where the firm was registered.
Now, a community project – spearheaded by friend-of-the-family Gemma Ball – hopes to get their garden done for them.
A fundraiser has already hit £1,000 to help cover the cost – leaving Julie "overwhelmed".
Anyone who wishes to make a donation towards the project to renovate Julie and Alan's garden can click here.
More Brits are becoming targets of rogue builders in the wake of rising costs for building materials and cash-strapped consumers looking to save their pennies, with bodged work costing £1,600 on average per job.
But there are a few simple ways to avoid falling foul of rip-off merchants, according to radio broadcaster Clive Holland.
His urged Brits not to forget to do their due diligence and research your tradespeople before agreeing to renovations and repairs.
He also explained that “any tradesperson worth their salt” will have worked on similar jobs to the one you are asking them to complete.
So homeowners should ask to see a like-for-like job and then go to visit it to ensure everything is legitimate.
But most importantly, he says, is to never give builders cash up front.
Every bonafide tradesperson has 30 days to pay their merchant for materials so they should not be in a rush for cash.
If you are unhappy with building work, you should first talk to your trader.
But if that doesn't resolve things, you can start a formal complaints procedure with their managing company.
If they don't have one, find out whether the tradie is a member of a trade association as there could be a dispute resolution scheme that you can use there.
Builders and tradies must point you in the direction of an accredited Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme – and say whether or not their willing to use it.
Beyond that – if you fear your tradie is acting unlawfully – you can report concerns to your local Trading Standards.
To do this, you may ned to talk to Citizens Advice and report concerns through there.
If this still doesn't work, you can take legal action.
The Ministry of Justice Practice Direction on Pre-action Conduct lays out exactly what you'll need to do before going to court.
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If the money involved is less than £10k in England and Wales, £5,000 in Scotland and £3,000 in Northern Ireland you can use the small claims court to get your money back.
This should only be used as a last resort but can be a quick and simple way to settle disputes.
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