Plumbing the depths

Posted on March 29, 2016 · Posted in The Independent

Questions of Cash’s three year struggle with a rogue plumber in Bedford began when reader AS of London was charged £1,058.40 for a half hour visit to turn off a stopcock.  Water was rushing through a ceiling, so the reader called London Emergency Plumbing.  It claimed the charge was correct and that a plumber had spent an hour and a half at the premises.  NatWest initially refused to help AS, who paid by Visa debit card, but after we intervened the bank agreed to refund £662 through a chargeback to the trader’s account.

Our report of that incident led to a series of similar complaints about a business that traded also as Express Plumbers of Bedford.  Meanwhile, Bedford Trading Standards took legal action in November 2013 – eight months after our initial report – against the owner of the business, Muhammed Shamrez (or Shamrel, on the company registration documents).  The council obtained a court judgment in which Shamrez and his businesses were prevented from conducting unfair trading practices, including misleading customers about charges.

For some time it seemed that Shamrez had obeyed the court order.  However, his sharp business practices re-emerged in July 2014.  Our reader TB of London was charged £132 for requesting a call-out, which she cancelled ten minutes later.

In March last year we again heard about London Emergency Plumbing, after reader CT of London was charged £1,139 for a 70 minute visit to fix a leak.  Halifax agreed to make a chargeback of £489.19 through Visa.  Then in September last year, MS of St Albans had the double misfortune of a bad leak and to contact London Emergency Plumbing.  MS was charged £678, but Barclaycard agreed to levy a chargeback of £468

This gradual ‘flow’ of complaints turned into more of a ‘burst’ this year. LH of London paid £860.40 to London Emergency Plumbing and complained that no work had been done.  Payment had been made by American Express, which refused to levy a chargeback.  As LH declined to authorise American Express to share relevant information with us, we were unable to press the case.

A different LH of London was also stung by Shamrez, when a central heating radiator tap broke.  “When he brought the bill up on his iPad it was the shocking total of £977,” she said. “The labour cost was over £600 and he charged for being there for two hours despite only being there for one hour and 33 minutes. I estimate he could have carried out the job in 30 minutes.”

Next came JH of London, who was angry at a £1,017.90 charge from London Emergency Plumbing for fitting a tap on his bath.  A few days later we heard from GG of Luton, who was billed £863 by Nationwide Plumbing and Heating of Bedford “for the simple task of putting a valve in a bathroom sink pipe and installing a new flexi pipe”.  We contacted First Direct, which is seeking a chargeback.

Bedford Trading Standards also received a rush of complaints and last month took Muhammed Shamrez back to court, where he admitted breaching the order previously imposed and was therefore found in contempt of court.  He was given a suspended jail sentence of six months, which remains in place for an indefinite period.  If he reoffends, not only will the sentence be served, but the length is likely to be extended.  Shamrez was ordered to pay Trading Standards’ costs of £40,643.

Trading Standards officers told the court they had received dozens of complaints, including those of our readers, which we had forwarded with their permission.  “Mr Shamrez continually breached consumer protection legislation including deliberately misleading consumers about the price of his services and how he would be paid, deliberately overcharging for his services, deliberately overstating the time taken to do jobs, deliberately taking payments from consumers without authorisation and lying about his position in the company in order to avoid complaints,” explained Bedford Borough Council.

The court was told that the Express Plumbing and London Emergency Plumbing businesses ceased trading in February this year and that the websites have closed.  We could find no trace of the business still trading under either name.

The court order does not apply to Nationwide Heating and Plumbing, which has different directors.  There is no clear link between Nationwide and Express although the two companies use the same registered company address in Bedford and the same phone number for their company registrations.  The address appears to be an accommodation address, shared by several dozen companies.

We phoned Nationwide Heating and Plumbing repeatedly, but the calls were unanswered.  Calls to the number used for the registration of Nationwide and Express went to voicemail and were not returned.  We suggest readers continue to exercise caution in their choice of plumbers.