South Norfolk families lose tens of thousands of pounds as builder walks outs
- Credit: Ian Burt
Two families are thousands of pounds out of pocket after their builder failed to finish their projects, leaving one family living in a caravan in a muddy field for eight months with their three children.
The Ewin family from Great Ellingham near Attleborough hired builder Alan Blanchflower to extend and renovate their farmhouse on Watton Road in late 2015.
But they have been left with an uninhabitable, half-finished home with no windows or doors after giving him around £100,000, while living in a cold, damp caravan.
'It's been very difficult and stressful. It is such a small place to have so may people in. The children need space to run around,' Mary Ewin, a nurse, said.
A second family also say they are thousands of pounds down after Mr Blanchflower failed to finish their project, despite them paying him the full amount.
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Tradesmen who worked on the two projects also said they were owed thousands of pounds having not been paid by Mr Blanchflower.
Mr Blanchflower said his projects had gone wrong because he faced financial and health difficulties last year, but said he had not set out to harm anybody.
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The Ewins' paperwork shows they were quoted around £100,000 for the project and paid Mr Blanchflower this sum. But Mr Blanchflower disputed this figure. He said he had quoted the Ewins £74,000 for the project and received £68,000.
The Ewins signed a contract with Mr Blanchflower in November 2015.
The work initially went ahead as planned and Peter and Mary Ewin moved into a caravan in their garden in May 2016 with their three children now aged 11, nine and 10 months.
The building work was expected to last from April to October, but by the summer they knew it was not going as planned.
In August they were approached by another of Mr Blanchflower's customers, the Prendi family from Morley St Botolph near Wymondham who had also hired the builder to extend their home.
Their project was months behind schedule and they said Mr Blanchflower had told them the delays were down to the Ewin family owing him money.
But the Ewins had already paid. 'He kept giving us invoices and we were paying,' said farmer Peter Ewin. 'We had a payment plan but that changed. He would say, 'I need the money for windows', but they have never arrived.'
Eventually at the end of 2016 they refused to pay him any more money and the work stopped.
Mr Ewin said there was around £30,000 of work left to do which could take several months, leaving them to get through the rest of the winter in their cold, damp static caravan which has been their home since May 2016.
'The kids are very upset about it. Putting up the Christmas decorations was hard,' said Mrs Ewin.
Their baby is now 10 months old and needs a cot but there is no room in the caravan for one.
'He always had a reason and initially the reasons sounded OK but now we look back and we can see we should have been a lot more switched on,' she said.
But she is remaining upbeat. 'It is a horrible situation but eventually we will have a nice house.'
Mr Ewin said: 'We are questioning how he can sleep at night, knowing full well the situation he has put us and our children in, along with tradesmen he owes money to. He must never be allowed to do it again.'
'Squatting in our own home'
Four miles down the road in Morley St Botolph, Mr Blanchflower started another project in early 2016.
The Prendi family wanted to extend their 1930s former council house from three to four bedrooms and get an extra bathroom to make room for their four children.
They were able to stay in the home during the work, but have been left living in a building site after they also fell out with Mr Blanchflower about the lack of progress on the project.
They too said they had paid him the project's full cost of £85,000 and signed a contract with him outlining the work to be done and when money would be paid.
But estimates from builders suggest there is still £25,000 of work left to complete.
They even went to pick a new kitchen from Ridgeons in Rockland for their home for which they said they paid Mr Blanchflower, but it never arrived.
'We have had our fingers very badly burnt,' said Mary Prendi. 'It has been hard living in a half-completed house with bare floors, no doors, exposed electrics and incomplete plumbing.
'We almost feel like we are squatting in our own home. We do not want the same scenario to happen to another family.'
One of her children, Oskar, seven, said: 'I am very sad and I hope our house gets finished soon.'
Mrs Prendi, 40, said they decided to hire Mr Blanchflower after he gave them references.
'Now we know we should have used Norfolk Trusted Trader, but we felt safe with a signed itemised contract and staged payments,' she said.
Last November they sat down with Mr Blanchflower after becoming concerned about the lack of progress and he signed a second contract that listed the incomplete work, stating it should be completed by Christmas Eve.
But Mrs Prendi, a teacher, said after that work stopped.
'There was a huge number of excuses, trouble with tradesmen, trouble with materials,' she said.
'It would horrify me to think that any other family suffers what we have suffered.'
Last year Norfolk Trading Standards received 163 complaints about building and property development. It is the second biggest source of complaints to Trading Standards in Norfolk and nationally.
'Tradesmen not paid'
Tradesmen who worked on the two projects also say they have not been paid by Mr Blanchflower.
One plumber, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was owed £7,500 for three projects he did for Mr Blanchflower, including at the Ewins' and Prendis' houses. 'It does have an impact on the business,' he said. And a carpenter who worked on the Ewins' project said he stopped work after one week at the end of November when he wasn't paid by Mr Blanchflower.
He said he as owed £660 for the work. 'I got nothing but empty promises,' he added.
Lewis Johnson, 17, from Attleborough said he was also owed money after working as an apprentice for Mr Blanchflower for around eight weeks last year.
He said he was paid for the first two weeks but not after that for his carpentry work at the Prendis' project, the Ewins' home and a third project.
'He [Mr Blanchflower] said he had a medical condition and left me alone on a site with another 16-year-old,' he said. 'I didn't know where the money was going.'
Mr Blanchflower's previous company, Alan Blanchflower Building Services Ltd, was finally dissolved in 2014 after going into insolvency.
Mr Blanchflower said the firm went insolvent because it was owed £90,000.
He set up another company in March 2016 called Rocklands Buildings Solutions Ltd with himself as the sole shareholder.
But six months later he resigned as the named director. A 79-year-old woman was named as the director instead, according to documents on Companies House.
'Robbing Peter to pay Paul'
Mr Blanchflower said he was sad the projects had not gone as planned but he had been hit by health and financial difficulties in 2016 which meant the projects were delayed and then stopped.
'I never set out to do any harm to anybody,' he added. 'I am not a bad person. I have been in the building trade since I left school and done no end of projects which have been successful.
'Last year I ran into difficulties unfortunately it was their two projects.
'I know this is not going to end happily but there is nothing I can do. If I could borrow £50,000 tomorrow I would sort it out.' He said he also owed traders and suppliers from the projects as well as the taxman and was faced with bankruptcy.
Mr Blanchflower added he had now stopped trading. 'I got into financial difficulty and I couldn't carry on,' he said. 'I have been trying to carry on. I have been robbing Peter to pay Paul.'
Choosing a trader
•Trading Standards has the following advice to make sure your building project goes smoothly:
•Get three or four quotes as prices may vary between providers
•Discuss your needs and agree costs
•Remember the contract is between yourself and the provider
•Some service providers from the Norfolk Trusted Trader directory may offer preferential rates for people accessing their services via the scheme
•After getting quotes always think it over, you can change your mind
•If you are pleased with the service, pay any costs due and ask for a receipt
•Report any complaints to Trading Standards by contacting the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06, or use the online form at www.citizensadvice.org.uk
•Do you have a story which needs investigating? Email email@example.com or call 01603 772834
•We have been asked to point out that Alan Blanchflower is not connected to Blanchflower Developments which is a separate company. We are happy to make this clear.