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    • JBean
    • By JBean 11th Jun 17, 5:47 PM
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    JBean
    Quote/Invoice confusion
    • #1
    • 11th Jun 17, 5:47 PM
    Quote/Invoice confusion 11th Jun 17 at 5:47 PM
    We had a very bad experience with a contractor for work on a driveway. We tried to take it to small claims, but unfortunately didn't have enough evidence while he lied repeatedly, including producing two false quotes that he claimed to have given us but did not. In total, we ended up with five different documents from him and, for future learning, I'm trying to understand the difference in headings. The first 'quote' was headlined 'Quotation details'; the second was headlined 'Quotation/Invoice'; the final document we saw was headlined 'Contract Details'. The two false documents he produced for court were both headlined 'Quotation/Invoice'. On all five documents, there was a small print satement 'all above prices exclusive of VAT, all extras paid on completion'. So, my questions are: (1) Are the different headings on these documents standard? (2) How can we protect ourselves in future if told a quote is the final price but it continues to rise and the small print overrides the verbal guarantee? (3) Is it okay that none of his documents had a unique ref no? This allowed him to produce false 'quotes' but apart from this, how does a trader benefit from not having a unique reference number on their quotations and invoices? (4) Finally, are we entitled to a receipt for the money paid? Sorry for the long query but it was a very bad experience and I haven't been able to find answers elsewhere. Thanks for any guidance offered.
Page 1
    • teneighty
    • By teneighty 11th Jun 17, 7:40 PM
    • 1,014 Posts
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    teneighty
    • #2
    • 11th Jun 17, 7:40 PM
    • #2
    • 11th Jun 17, 7:40 PM
    If there is no contract or anything like that you need a letter of intent. The way I would do it is send a letter or email, anything in writing that you can keep a copy, with following wording.

    Please proceed with works to resurface driveway (*) in accordance with your quotation dated 11th June 2017 in the sum of £1200.00 excl. VAT.

    Maybe add following if timescale has been agreed...Works to commence on (insert date) and be completed by (insert date) as agreed.

    (*) include any mention of specification or materials so if it is tarmac make a reference to the specification or details wherever that maybe. So for instance ..as detailed in specification dated 14th May 2017 or if contractor gave the specification ..... tarmac specification as detailed in your email of 14th May 2017.

    You should also add any important instructions, so for instance....existing oak gate posts to be retained and protected throughout the works.

    What you are trying to do is give a written instruction which ties in with the quotation by giving the date and amount and also ties in any specific details that you want to highlight to avoid any ambiguity or later misunderstanding. It is surprising how things start to get forgotten or people have different interpretations or recollections of what was discussed and agreed if there isn't a clear written record.
    Last edited by teneighty; 04-07-2017 at 1:00 PM.
    • JBean
    • By JBean 11th Jun 17, 8:41 PM
    • 12 Posts
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    JBean
    • #3
    • 11th Jun 17, 8:41 PM
    • #3
    • 11th Jun 17, 8:41 PM
    Thank you for replying. Not being used to dealing with traders, it seems like getting a quotation is not as simple as it sounds. Thanks again.
    • Annie1960
    • By Annie1960 19th Jun 17, 2:33 PM
    • 2,676 Posts
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    Annie1960
    • #4
    • 19th Jun 17, 2:33 PM
    • #4
    • 19th Jun 17, 2:33 PM
    This is shocking.

    There are indeed rules about VAT invoices, and you are correct to suppose they need to have a unique identification number. See HMRC website here:

    https://www.gov.uk/invoicing-and-taking-payment-from-customers/invoices-what-they-must-include

    Otherwise, as you say, anyone could invent an invoice after the event and put what they like on it.

    When you say you tried to take it to the small claims court, what do you mean by this? Did you actually take it and get a hearing? Or were you put off by his paperwork?

    If you have not taken it to court, then you should consider doing so, and submit the HMRC rules on numbering invoices as part of your evidence.

    If you did actually take it to court and he won, then I don't know what the judge was thinking. Can you appeal it?

    Do you have your own paperwork, emails or text messages showing his quotes or anything?

    Another line to pursue is to check whether he is actually VAT registered. Do you have his registration number? It's easy to check here:

    http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/vies/

    If he is not VAT registered, you could report him to HMRC:

    https://www.gov.uk/report-vat-fraud
    • JBean
    • By JBean 27th Jun 17, 9:07 PM
    • 12 Posts
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    JBean
    • #5
    • 27th Jun 17, 9:07 PM
    • #5
    • 27th Jun 17, 9:07 PM
    Annie
    Thank you for your response and apologies for coming back so late; I had given up hope of anyone else responding and hadn't checked back in a while.

    Yes, we did take it to Small Claims Court and not only did we lose our claim but he had made a counterclaim and was awarded it. It was very hard to stomach as he had lied conitinually to us at the time and his lies went to a whole new level in court, including producing the false invoices and waving one of them at me, saying 'you know I gave this to you', all the while saying that the bible was in front of him. It was quite a performance. We were just stunned by all the lies but unfortunately, it was his word against ours, we simply had no proof. The judge was very hostile to us from the start, I think because I had included so much documentation, which clearly irritated her. Also, he had a solicitor so it was me against an experienced solicitor; we didn't stand a chance. The judge simply took the view that he had been at the property and did a certain amount of work, rather than whether or not it was necessary. She had clearly not listened to a telephone call with him that I had recorded, which we believe strongly indicated at least two of the lies he was telling in court, including the claim to have given us additional invoices. So not only did he commit perjury, he was rewarded for it. He is VAT registered and his solicitor presented him as a professional businessman of 30 years' experience. Unfortunately, it wasn't until afterwards that I learned invoices should have a unique reference number and the judge didn't pick up on this either. There is no appeal over a small claims case, except if it is on a point of law.

    To add insult to injury, we then had to remove a negative online review I had posted, because he threatened legal action for defamation. So, I'm trying to draft another review that we can prove as truth. I see that HMRC says invoices 'must' have a unique ref no, but I'm not sure if this means it's illegal not to include a number. I need to ensure that I can use that word in a review, so I'm now seeking legal advice, to keep ourselves right. The cost will be worth it to warn others about him.

    I did try to find out if we can report him for not numbering invoices, but the HMRC doesn't say anything about this and I haven't been able to find out anything definitively online. Would you know if and how it can be reported to HMRC?

    The other thing is that he refused to provide a receipt for the initial deposit we paid him at the time and we also haven't received a receipt for the additional money we had to pay because of the court decision. I would be very interested to know if these comply with HMRC requirements also. Would you know if we are entitled to a receipt? Again, I haven't been able to find out anything online.

    It has been a very unpleasant and expensive lesson for us. He behaved so self-righteously in the court while lying continually under the judge's nose and was very quick to threaten us with legal action if we didn't remove our review. But hopefully, we will get some sense of justice in the end by being able to post an online review that exposes at least some of his practices.

    Thanks very much again for the response and any further advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.
    • Annie1960
    • By Annie1960 2nd Jul 17, 7:50 PM
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    Annie1960
    • #6
    • 2nd Jul 17, 7:50 PM
    • #6
    • 2nd Jul 17, 7:50 PM
    In your position, I would complain to HMRC as a first priority. Do you have copy of the invoice he used in court to show that it did not have a unique ref. no? This will be strong evidence that he is not complying with the VAT rules.

    You could could also explain that he refused to provide a receipt. I'm not sure how getting a receipt that this stage would help you, but it may alert HMRC to the way he does business, and may prompt them to review his VAT affairs. This will cause him much more grief that any online review, unless his records are fully compliant (and it sounds as though they may not be). The link for reporting him is the same as the final link in post no. 4 above.

    Try and keep your complaint short and to the point. Don't go into the court case, as they will not be interested in this. Just state that he refused to provide any receipts, and that he did not have any unique reference for the invoice he sent you, and that he appeared to engage in sharp practice by increasing the price in his original quote. The most important point to emphasise is the fact he did not have a unique reference for the invoice, and thus may be keeping more than one set of books.

    Do you have records showing how much you paid him and by which method? If so, send HMRC this (for example, if you paid by bank transfer, you could tell them the bank details he provided, and get a print-out from your own account showing the payments. you made).

    Regarding the negative review and defamation issue, you can get legal advice from a company called Law Express (on the telephone). They charge around £30 or so per call. Google them. Alternatively, if your home or car insurance has legal advice included, give them a ring. You could also ask them whether an invoice failing to have a unique reference is a point of law that could be used for an appeal.

    Just out of interest, do tell us which site you put the online review on.

    Unfortunately there is little or no regulation in the construction industry, and these people are able to thrive.

    Normally a 'quote' is a fixed price, and an 'estimate' has more scope for variation. I'm not really sure how he managed to increase the price of his quote, unless he did extra work.
    Last edited by Annie1960; 02-07-2017 at 8:05 PM.
    • JBean
    • By JBean 3rd Jul 17, 6:22 PM
    • 12 Posts
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    JBean
    • #7
    • 3rd Jul 17, 6:22 PM
    • #7
    • 3rd Jul 17, 6:22 PM
    Hi Annie and thanks for replying.

    We got legal advice not to write an online review (which was on Yelp, Google and a local web service) because the court decision went against us. Even though he perjured himself throughout the case, we just couldn't prove it so we have to let the review go. Unfortunately we didn't know about the invoices for the court case, which may have made a big difference. But even if we can prove it now, we've been advised it could still be seen as malicious. It baffles me how, if it's true, but we've decided to take the legal advice on it.

    So, to answer the rest of your questions:

    Re HMRC: Yes, this would not be our priority and would definitely be more effective than an online review in making him shape up his practices, but only if we can get definitive proof that his invoices do not comply. Despite hours on online searching and asking various professionals and bodies, I still cannot get clear information on this, which is very frustrating. The various documents he gave us are not consistent or clear in their headings. The original document was headlined 'Quotation Details' but the small print said it did not include extras, so I don't know how that sits with a quote being fixed. He managed to increase this quote by completely bamboozling us with regard to how far down he had to dig. He also, very cleverly, kept the quote so brief that he was able to then add costs that he had told us would be included but which he had not specifically listed on the quote, thus duplicating the costs. For example, he said he hadn't seen the gutters (the only two gutters in the driveway) and that he hadn't added some materials. I know this makes us look totally stupid and I did in fact tell him to leave when he said he had to increase the price, but my daddy, who is in his 80s and at high risk of falls, was very upset because, of course, the quote didn't increase until this man had begun the work and the driveway was a mess and hazardous to my daddy and I thought we should cut our losses and pay the extra rather than having to wait for goodness knows how long). So that was the first quote. The new quote he gave us for the 'extra' work was headlined 'Quotation/Invoice' (I don't know if this is allowed as I know now that there is a difference between a quote and invoice but, again, the small print on this document says extras may be added, so maybe this allows him to do this?). The two false documents he then later produced for court are also headlined 'Quotation/Invoice' and a final document sent to us requesting payment was headlined 'Contract Details' (this was the one the judge made her decision on). All of these documents had his VAT reg no, but no unique reference number. None had his address either (which I see is another requirement by HMRC for invoicing).

    So, yes, while we would be keen to report him to HMRC, I need to first establish clearly that his invoices do not comply. From what I've read online, it even looks to me like businesses may not even actually have to issue invoices to ordinary people, just other VAT-registered business (as a new user, I'm not allowed to include a link but its on the HMRC website forward slash 'invoicing-and-taking-payment-from-customers/overview). To confuse things more, a solicitor told me that the invoices should have an unique number but an accountant told me it wasn't important and trading standards didn't know. And the judge certainly didn't pick up on it, so you can see why I'm confused?

    Even if I can get definitive advice that the invoices are illegal, there seems to be no way to report to HMRC on this type of thing. I've checked out the link you sent in your last post, but it's for reporting fraud and I'm not sure if I can made the jump from dodgy invoices to fraud. Given the court decision, I'm worried we would be accused of being malicious. But if I can find another way to report it, I would. I've also read online that HMRC aren't even interested in this type of thing because it's too small-fry. So, all in all, it's a minefield for ordinary people, which works very well for dishonest businesses. On top of this, his solicitor accused us in court of trying to conspire with his client to commit fraud which was another blatant and very dangerous lie, but unfortunately, again, we could not prove it and the judge ruled in his favour, so I'm even worried that HMRC would take action against us because he has covered himself and we have no proof.

    Finally, regarding our payments to him: We paid him £1,300 in cash at the time as a deposit, which he had admitted to me in a phone conversation that I taped, so that was on record. He said in the call that he had lodged it into his business account on a particular date. For court, he got a statement from his accountant that it had been lodged, but there was no date on the statement. In court I made the point that the statement from his account did not provide proof of his claim that the money had been lodged on the date he claimed and of course he would lodge the same amount of cash at a later date to cover himself. Because I couldn't prove his biggest lies, I was trying to show where his claims were dubious, but, again, the judge didn't seem interested. The second payment we made to him was by cheque, following the court decision. He consistently refused to provide a receipt for the first cash payment despite our requests for one and as the judge didn't think anything of this, we didn't see the point in asking for one for the second payment. You're right, they're of no help at this stage, but because his invoices might be illegal, I keep asking myself, why would he not give us a receipt, so I'm interested to know if his receipts comply with HMRC requirements as I would report these also if not. But, again, I can't get any information on whether he even has to give us a receipt. There seems to be thing called a VAT receipt, but it seems to be that it's also just for other businesses but I can't find anything on whether or not ordinary people are entitled to a receipt or a VAT receipt.

    Yes, as you say, dishonest tradesmen thrive in this industry. We have found out the hard way just how easy it is for them to con honest people and not only get away with it but get the blessing of courts to keep doing what they're doing.

    I'm still trying though to get clear information on the invoices as that's the only thing we can possibly do anything about. I plan to ask another accountant for an opinion, so here's hoping there's some justice to be had.

    Thank you very much for you time, Annie, I really appreciate it.
    • Doozergirl
    • By Doozergirl 4th Jul 17, 7:26 AM
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    Doozergirl
    • #8
    • 4th Jul 17, 7:26 AM
    • #8
    • 4th Jul 17, 7:26 AM
    There's a lot of detail here. It really is detail, though. In all honesty, those unique reference numbers could almost be the date written on it if they only write one invoice that day, which is common for small traders. I know that I can always locate the correct invoice by date. When I'm dealing with large companies, where I get more than one invoice in a day and they're producing thousands themselves then we're only going to be able to communicate with a unique number. The purpose is to be able to differentiate between invoices. The law does not deal with trivialities. I can see why it might be perecived as vexatious. "de minimis non curat lex" means that the law does not deal with trifling matters.

    If you want to report him to HMRC, just do it. They'll inspect him if they're listening to you. You can tell them what you've paid but they'll look at his record keeping and returns in general. It's for them to find discrepancies, not them.

    It is completely normal that 'extras' aren't included in a fixed price. Building work involves as much art as science. The quote should be detailed enough to avoid doubt as to what constitutes an extra. As teneighty says, it would best to detail what it is you're expecting yourself in writing, in order to receive that quote. You can operate your own paper trail.

    My overwhelming feeling here is that you possibly failed because you seem to looking at the fine detail and not of the wider specifics of why this job went wrong or in what way you needed to claim money from this person in the first place. And provide evidence. What did you actually sue him for and what was his counterclaim for?
    Everything that is supposed to be in heaven is already here on earth.
    • Furts
    • By Furts 4th Jul 17, 11:06 AM
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    Furts
    • #9
    • 4th Jul 17, 11:06 AM
    • #9
    • 4th Jul 17, 11:06 AM
    I will add a take to Doozergirl's reply. Purely based on intuition I would not be surprised if the driveway contractor was a travelling contractor. The two go together in life. The golden rule is to avoid engaging with such scenarios. Equally any court action against such folks is futile, which begs the question why was court action undertaken?

    Another take is the contractor was an established local trader. But such folks laying driveways are generally not clued up with court procedures, witness letters from an accountant and so on. They also do not need this hassle, nor damage to their reputation.

    So on the balance of probabilities this is likely to be a streetwise (dodgy) contractor, who knows his way around the legal system.

    One cannot say the contractor was a criminal because the court did not bring charges. But my intuition is this is not a cowboy builder case, but a case of dealing with a criminal. If so, one has to be super sharp to counter such folks, and even sharper to win against them. Which comes back to my earlier comment. Why were legal costs incurred? Why did this go to court? Why was the case against the contractor so badly administered? There was only ever going to be a small chance of victory against such a person, but in reality any chances of redress were nil.
    • JBean
    • By JBean 4th Jul 17, 11:56 AM
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    JBean
    Doozergirl, thanks for responding. The HMRC guidelines say there must be a date and a unique reference number on invoices to other businesses. I'm just not sure if that applies to invoices for ordinary people. It was a solicitor who initially told me that there should be unique ref no on our invoices, although an accountant disagreed. From what I've read so far, a unique reference number is important so that HMRC can check there are no gaps in invoices. Even cancelled invoices must be included so that there are not gaps. I don't think this would be regarded as a triviality as without a unique ref number, a trader can potentially just write invoices, take cash and not declare them. This is exactly what our tradesman was going had planned to do. He was then able to present a different, totally dishonest, case by producing false invoices for court with additional information. Again, because there were no unique ref numbers, he was easily able to do this and we couldn't prove they were false and that he had never given them to us. He didn't produce them until six months later but he backdated them. If they had unique ref numbers he wouldn't have been able to do this as the dates and ref numbers would have been out of sequence. So, I can see why it is important.

    You say that it is completely normal that 'extras' aren't included in a fixed price. Again, I keep getting different views on this, but most of what I've read online indicates that an estimate can be increased but a quote not, unless the extra cost is agreed with the customer.

    Yes, while it is best for the customer to detail what is expected in writing, it is very difficult for ordinary people who are inexperienced in this type of work to know every detail of material and labour involved. A lot goes on verbal agreement and trust, which we've learned the hard way, is the friend of the dishonest tradesman. In future I would be getting a simple statement in writing that all material and labour is included in the quote.

    Finally, yes, on reflection, I could have presented our case better. There's a lot of detail because there were in fact a lot of things that he did and because he had behaved so dishonestly. I was trying to detail the various aspects to demonstrate this as we had no concrete proof. There's always a better way to do things, on hindsight. We should have got a solicitor (although the cost of hiring one would have very much offset the relatively small amount we were suing for, approx £750). Although a solicitor is not required for a small claims court, if one side chooses to use one, the other side is at a distinct disadvantage. We were actually advised by trading standards not to get one, that judges in small claims cases can be annoyed by people using solicitors. In our experience, this was bad advice. However, our biggest obstacle overall was a man who was quite prepared to tell enless lies and perjure himself under oath, knowing we had no proof. It was also very damaging to us that the judge hadn't listened to a phone call I had recorded, which was quite long but did indicate what we felt were important contradictions in his various versions of events.

    To answer your last question, we sued him for partial refund of the deposit paid because we found out he had duplicated costs, unreasonably inflated costs, and subcontracted unnecessary work (which we were to pay him directly for and he inflated the actual cost). He counterclaimed for labour, materials and subcontracted work he claimed to have carried out. The materials were essential materials which he did not specify on the first invoice but which he had said were included. He lied about the hours of work he had done (again we had no proof that he was off site much of the time).



    So, having learned an expensive lesson about unscrupulous tradesmen and valuable knowledge to guard against it for the future, we're just focusing on trying to get clarification in whether his invoices are legally compliant. Easier said than done.



    Thanks again.
    • comeandgo
    • By comeandgo 4th Jul 17, 12:01 PM
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    comeandgo
    There is no legal issue regarding his invoices. Nobody can be charged with not having invoices suitably numbered.
    • JBean
    • By JBean 4th Jul 17, 12:09 PM
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    JBean
    Furts, it wasn't a travelling contractor. It was a local trader. Not sure what you mean by they don't need 'such hassle'. Surely if a trader is dishonest, they should be called out on it? Unfortunately for us, we chose someone who was well-established and with a lot of experience in what he does. We did actually speak to another trader who came into to give us a quote for finishing the job, who said he was notorious for it. In my view, a trader like that should be exposed, if possible. It does a great disservice to other honest tradesmen.
    I couldn't say if the person is a criminal, to be honest. I believe he is engaged in illegal activities, but without proof, it's an accusation that can't be made. That's the reason I'm trying to find out about how he invoices. If it's illegal, he could be reported for it.
    We sued hm to try to get a partial refund for what we had paid him because he walked off the job and had done unnecessary work that was allowing him to inflate the costs. There were no legal costs, just a modest the court fee. The small claims court is for suing for refunds etc without incurring legal costs. A solicitor is not required, however he decided to use one, while we were advised by trading standards not to use one, which on hindsight was poor advice as I was no match for an experienced and aggressive solicitor.
    • JBean
    • By JBean 4th Jul 17, 12:15 PM
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    JBean
    Comeandgo, thanks for your comment. No, I wouldn't imagine they would be charged, otherwise HMRC would be doing nothing else. I'm more interested in ensuring that this trader is forced to comply with requirements so that other people don't fall foul of what he did to us.
    • Furts
    • By Furts 5th Jul 17, 7:28 AM
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    Furts
    Furts, it wasn't a travelling contractor. It was a local trader. Not sure what you mean by they don't need 'such hassle'. .
    Originally posted by JBean
    Genuine contractors do not want the hassle of court action. They want to be running a business instead of this. The fact that it was heading to court, and was going to be contested, is a sign of what type of person you were up against. Hence you were always up against a clever/criminal type mind, and the chances of victory was not overwhelming

    You want to expose the person, which is fine by me. I do wonder if it would be better to put this all behind and move on in life.

    Dubious individuals/businesses exist everywhere, so my approach to life is to avoid them. I leave it to others to fight battles on exposing folks. Who is to say what is the best approach? I reflect and think had the driveway work been commissioned with a different mindset this whole sorry saga would not have occurred. This approach would mean contact with the dubious contractor would have been avoided.
    • JBean
    • By JBean 5th Jul 17, 8:19 AM
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    JBean
    Thanks, Furts. Yes, I think we were up against someone who was very experienced in what he did and probably had never been challenged on it in the way that we tried to challenge him. His lies were so blatant it was really difficult to just ignore without trying to do something. We don't actually regret going to court, despite the outcome, because we had also reported him to a professional body that he is a member of and that complaint will stay on file, so even for that it was worth it.
    We have, for the most part, just put it behind us as we simply don't have enough proof. It's only the aspect of his invoices that I'm trying to see if we can report. I did actually find out yesterday that they should have a unique refernce number. We have definite proof that his don't, which means he can produce false invoices (which he did to us) or potentially make cash payments 'disappear'. I am of the opinion that these things are worth reporting if possible. Even if not enough proof on one occasion, should he be challenged again, at least there is some sort of record and perhaps, one day, he will be caught out.
    I'm not sure what you mean when you talk about avoiding dubious businesses and having taken a different mindset and approach. If I'm following you right, you might think we knew in advance that he had dodgy practices? We didn't. He has a website that looks perfectly professional and he appeared professional and trustworthy. We really couldn't have known in advance what he had planned to do.
    • teneighty
    • By teneighty 5th Jul 17, 10:37 AM
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    teneighty
    I am struggling to understand why producing false quotes and invoices derailed your claim. Surely these would have been included in the evidence/witness statement giving you the chance to question them and provide contradictory evidence.

    "To answer your last question, we sued him for partial refund of the deposit paid because we found out he had duplicated costs, unreasonably inflated costs, and subcontracted unnecessary work (which we were to pay him directly for and he inflated the actual cost). He counterclaimed for labour, materials and subcontracted work he claimed to have carried out. The materials were essential materials which he did not specify on the first invoice but which he had said were included. He lied about the hours of work he had done (again we had no proof that he was off site much of the time)."

    I cannot help feeling this could have been a case of the claimant/plaintiff simply failing to produce sufficient evidence to support their claim. Also doesn't the defendant have to notify the court that they will have a solicitor in attendance so you were forewarned that you were up against a legal professional?

    This small claims process is very new to me so I am trying to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. My case was against a serial fraudster who lied through his teeth throughout the hearing but my evidence was cast iron. I was also very impressed with the Judge who managed to keep the case focused on the facts and the written evidence submitted by both parties which makes it very difficult to lie. Not a process I would ever want to repeat though, hugely time consuming and very stressful. Plus I am highly unlikely to ever receive the monies owed in the judgement.
    • Furts
    • By Furts 5th Jul 17, 1:50 PM
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    Furts
    Similar to teneighty, i have been up against characters in the small Claims Court. These individuals lied and misled the general court procedures. The Judge asked many probing questions, and there was a small heap of background papers. The Judge knew who he was up against, and I knew what I was up against. It was stressful, time consuming and not something i am eager to repeat. However, I won the case because I had a well documented/logical approach and could give accurate answers to the myriad of questions fielded in my direction.

    With all this in mind, I too wonder why OP lost their case. The logical answer is the Judge believed the contractor was telling the truth, and OP had misjudged details of what work was done to the drive. This may well be a wrong conclusion, but it is the conclusion reached by the legal system.
    • JBean
    • By JBean 5th Jul 17, 7:29 PM
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    JBean
    Furts and Teneighty, I'll answer your questions in one reply. Some of it is included elsewhere in the thread and but I'll try to pull it together here, so this is very long, but it kind of wraps things up on my queries.

    Firstly, this wasn't a case of us misjudging the details of the job but rather of inexperience of accepting vague quotes, which allowed him to duplicate costs and bamboozle us about aspects of the work. He gave us a quote in early August 2016, which did not include a VAT amount as he had said he would not charge VAT. This quote was agreed and work commenced. After a couple hours work, enough to cause a mess and hazard for my elderly father, he almost doubled the price and gave us a written 'quote/invoice' (that's how it was titled), which also did not include a VAT. For eg, one of the 'additional' costs on this invoice was to replace the gullies, which he had told us was included in the first quote but which he hadn't itemised, so he then added this again to the second, claiming he hadn't seen them when he costed the job (how does someone in that field of work not see the only two gullies in a standard semi driveway?). He also hadn't told us upfront that he would be adding costs for use of his own digger, so this was added also. In any case, we thought it would be more hassle to start to contract another company and agreed. He guaranteed this as the final cost and we paid a cash deposit. He didn't give us a receipt. When he increased the price again (another £3k+), we queried it, and he walked off the job indignant, saying he was an honest person and a Christian and that we didn't trust him (we knew this was an act and saw it again from his performance in court).

    Next morning, he phoned asking to come back to finish the job. I phoned him back so that I could record the call as I wanted to make sure we got some acknowledgement for the cash deposit, which I got. Because we knew for sure he had told some lies, we said no, that our trust in him was gone. He said we owed him more money and we said we needed to first look into his costs but we would pay him for valid costs. We subsequently asked him several times to send an invoice for what he thought we owed him and a receipt for the deposit paid, but he didn't send either.

    It was difficult for us to estimate what costs were valid and it would be impossible to list all the various elements of the work here, but, apart from the lies that we knew for sure he had told us, we were suspicious of other costs. For instance, he said he needed to subcontract a company to jet clean an underground sewer pipe that he said was blocked with stones and rubble and since this was needed it would be a good idea to get a camera check for any damage. He told us both aspects had been done, but the company confirmed that the pipe wasn't jet cleaned as it wasn't blocked and the camera check was done because it was optional (not necessary but optional). Other costs were harder for us to gage. For example, he was charging us approx £200 for hire of each skip when the cost to him was £130. I don't know if this is considered a reasonable mark-up for him making a 2-minute phone call, but it seemed steep to us. The skip company also said there were always problems when he ordered skips and his normal practice was to ask them to log the skips as being delivered to a different address from where they were actually needed. He asked the company to record the skips delivered to my dad's house as being delivered to his own yard instead. I don't know how this benefits him, but because of our enquiries, the company said that on this occasion they refused him. This probably isn't very important overall, but I think it is an indication that he wasn't behaving in a very honest or 'Christian' manner.

    We got two new quotes from different companies to complete the work and asked them for an estimation of how much it would have cost if they had done it from the very start. They both came in at around the same figure. (One of these traders knew our guy and said he was 'notorious' for doing what he did with us.) We then made an estimation of what we felt he should refund us and notified him that it was our intent to lodge a small claims case. He then sent a new invoice via his solicitor in Jan 2017 for what he claimed we still owed him.

    So in addition to the initial quote, that was two invoices we received, one at the time of the job in Aug 2016 and the other via his solicitor in Jan 2017. Ten days ahead of the court date (in May), he produced two additional invoices, via his solicitor, which he falsely claimed to have given us back in Aug. One was identical to the invoice he gave us in Aug, except with VAT added, and the other was a invoice he claimed to have given us on the day he walked off the job in Aug, also with VAT added. This was the first we had seen these documents. I (naively, as it turns out), felt that we had evidence that indicate that these invoices were false. I had submitted to the court the taped phone conversation I had in which I had continually referred only to the two documents he had given us in Aug (the quote and quote/invoice), which did not include VAT. During the call I repeatedly referred to 'both the invoices you gave us' and said they didn't include VAT. I hoped that the judge, having listened to the call, would question why he never once corrected me to say, as he was now claiming nine months later, that he had given us two other invoices that had listed VAT amounts.

    Of course, I did attempt to reiterate all of this on the day, but quite frankly, his solicitor set the approach for the entire proceedings. I had (again naively) presumed that the judge would have read all of the documentation, which she clearly had not. I realised this when I mentioned the call I had taped and she hadn't been aware of it. This meant she missed a lot of the subtleties that would have potentially made her question his credibility. He swore on the bible he had given the two false invoices to us back in Aug and it was my word against his. (This is where I can see why serial numbers on invoices are very important. It is highly unlikely that he could have produced false documents so much later if they had serial numbers.) He also swore that he hadn't increased the price to more than £6k and, again, I pointed out to the judge that I had mentioned this figure to him in the recorded message and he hadn't denied it. She simply ignored this also.

    We did, of course, know that he would have a solicitor and had taken advice from Trading Standards on this and were advised not to get one as it can annoy judges on small claims cases. We had the mistaken impression that the judge would have a more proactive role in questioning both parties but she really just sat back and left it to each side to cross-examine the other. His solicitor, being experienced, obviously had the upper hand. He went first and by the time it was my turn, the judge was irate with the length of time the case was taking and stopped me half way through and just made the judgement.

    Obviously having cast iron evidence is best, but it's not always possible and in these cases it goes on probability of who is telling the truth. In our case we did not have cast iron evidence but we felt we had some good indicators of his lies and many enough contradictions in his changing version of events. I included every single piece of information that I felt relevant, but it required the judge to carefully read the documentation and listen to the phone recording to pick up the subtleties of the case. For example, I submitted the job card from the company he contracted to jet clean the sewer pipe, which distinctly stated it was not required and the judge simply said that she thought it was fair enough for him to get the company out. He claimed that we never asked him to do any digging at all, no digging out a base, not replacement of gullies, just to lift the old flags and tarmac over the top of it as quick as possible, but the judge didn't think it strange that as soon as he had lifted the old flags we would suddenly agree to the price almost doubling to dig out a base and replace gullies. I couldn't get the skip company to give me a statement on his request to log the skips as having been used at another address but I did submit all the email correspondence which showed that they didn't deny it. Again, either the judge didn't read it or it she didn't consider it important.

    So, yes, obviously I didn't do a good job at presenting our case, but this case was based on probability of who was telling the truth and really required the judge to read all of our documentation, which she clearly hadn't. She ultimately accepted his word on many aspects without any proof, while saying she couldn't award our costs because we didn't have enough proof. His solicitor's cross-examination of me really set the tone - he focused very much on, was his client there, did he do A, B and C, rather than was A, B and C required or whether his quote and invoice were detailed enough. This is what the judge made her decision on.

    The judge was very hostile to us from the start and I think it was because she felt I had submitted too much information. The first thing she did was to angrily wave one of the documents I had submitted, saying "why have I got your phone bill?", to which I replied, "to prove I made certain calls". She did call the trader out on a couple of things. For example, he had insisted under oath that he started earlier on the first day than he had, forgetting that I had written proof of that he didn't (the phone bill, which proved I hadn't phoned him to tell him to start the work until later than he claimed). She called him out on that and asked him why he didn't keep a log of his work hours but then she allowed him the costs of the hours he claimed to have worked on the others days, which were false. She also told him he should have had an invoice for hire of a digger from a subcontractor, but awarded him some of the cost, without any proof that he actually hired it at all, which I suspect he did not as he had his own digger. Apart from that, she just let us cross-examine each other and I was nowhere near a match for an experienced solicitor. If we had known in advance that this was how small claims worked, we would, of course, have got a solicitor, but there is nothing in the guidance to indicate that it works like that.

    If I had known in advance that the trader's invoices should have had unique serial numbers, or if the judge had known this or at least listened to the taped call, I think it would have cast enough doubt on his credibility to make the judge question him more and catch him out on a few key things. Unfortunately I didn't know in advance and the judge didn't pick up on it. The consumer advice body that advised us afterwards said they also didn't know and were stunned at the decision.

    So, yes, while it would appear that we made a weak case, this is only partially true. The consumer body was not as clued in as had thought and advised us poorly and the judge you get on the day is also a very important factor. The whole point of a small claims court is that ordinary people are not supposed to need solicitors (the cost of which very often exceeds or at least greatly impacts on the amount being recovered). Our hearing was like something out of an American drama (for example, when his solicitor asked me questions and I tried to answer, he would repeatedly say, 'Yes or no, just answer the question', and the judge kept out of it). I had not been prepared for this and was completely out of my depth and the consumer body says they now need to review the advice they give to people that they don't need solicitors in small claims cases.
    So, hopefully that sheds a bit more light on things. It was just a case of a very dishonest person knowing to go in with a solicitor, who spoke for him. The case is done and dusted, an expensive but valuable lesson for us in dealing with traders in the future. All I was seeking from the forum was clarification on the aspect of his invoices as this is the one thing potentially than we can still report him for, and I think I've got my clarification on that now. Thanks to everyone who contributed their opinions and experiences, greatly appreciate all your time.
    • Doozergirl
    • By Doozergirl 5th Jul 17, 10:28 PM
    • 23,965 Posts
    • 66,528 Thanks
    Doozergirl
    Fwiw, you did include too much info. The point is to keep things to the point

    His solicitor will have done that. I suspect you really could have done with some help in putting your case together and taking out what is irrelevant.

    The skips are irrelevant. What time he arrived is irrelevant. The time you made a phonecall is irrelevant when there is no content. Even the serial numbers are irrelevant. I could doctor any one of my invoices now if I wanted to and print it off. It will stay with the correct number in my system but no one is going to be forensically examining an accounts system to check that everything tallies. In fact, I could skip the accounts system altogether and just use Word.

    What is relevant here is what work he did and what value it held if you felt that you had paid too much for the work on site. You've told us so much and yet we're still a little bit in the dark as to what the crux is as we're filtering through all the other stuff.

    I do feel for you. I absolutely believe you were taken for a ride and I believe everything you say, it's just that you weren't able to organise what you did have in a way that made it easy to understand. I guess you know now to seek help if you ever end uo near a court again.
    Everything that is supposed to be in heaven is already here on earth.
    • JBean
    • By JBean 6th Jul 17, 7:29 AM
    • 12 Posts
    • 2 Thanks
    JBean
    Doozergirl, I obviously didn't present it to the court the way I've done here, it was more to the point but still it was quite a lot of info. The crux of our case, according to the consumer advice body (which is a government dept), was that he breached his contract by continually increasing prices when it was a simple enough job that a professional should have had experience enough to roughly cost (considering his costs increased from just over £2k to more than £7k). Also, that much of the work he did and subcontracted was unnecessary, that he unnecessarily subcontracted work and dragged the work he was doing, Also his quotes/invoices were vague and he was behaving dishonestly. He denied in court that he had increased the price to £k. Because we knew of his propensity to lie, I included as much info as possible with regard to his dishonesty (including the skips as he is definitely doing something wrong here) - that's why I felt the detail important because we had no concrete proof of anything, just a lot of indicators. The phone calls actually were very relevant (there were only 3), as without them the judge probably would also have believed him that he worked all day at our property on a specific date whereas he only worked 2 hours (the phone list proved that I hadn't called him that day until later than he claimed). So while generally, yes, just to the point details is best, in this case it wasn't that simple because we had no concrete proof. The judge obviously didn't want to trail through our information, she just wanted concrete proof. She wasn't interested in trying to find out if he had deliberately dragged out the work and done unnecessary work. She did hit on a couple of contradictions in his case but didn't push on them and without having listened to our telephone call, she missed a lot. Not sure if another judge would have looked at our information in more detail beforehand, who's to know?

    I personally (although I'm clearly inexperienced) don't think the serial numbers are irrelevant. The judge paid close attention to the invoices we had included from the contractor who actually finished the job, so I think if she had known that invoices should have a serial number or if I had known, that might have stumped them in court. It's worrying if, as you state, traders can easily doctor invoices.

    Yes, we were taken for a ride by a very dishonest trader who seems very experienced in covering his tracks and very willing and able to lie under oath. We also were badly advised by the consumer body and were naive ourselves to how small claims courts work. It wasn't my intention to rake through the case here, I was really just focused on getting info about the invoices, but as people were asking questions about the case, I was trying to answer. The case is well behind us and we've learned some good lessons for the future. Thanks
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