Following a trial at Chester Crown Court that lasted 4 weeks, three people have been sentenced to a total of almost 10 years on Friday 16th March for their roles in a home improvement fraud following an investigation by National Trading Standards.
Thomas Major, Alan Holloway and Beverley Smith operated an alleged ‘not for profit’ business which offered consumers home improvements funded by ‘grants’ from the so-called ‘Energy Saving Fund’ (ESF). Once a contract had been made with the consumer, they commissioned contractors to undertake those renovations. However, neither the grants nor the fund existed.
The full convictions and sentences handed down were:
- Thomas Major (aged 58 from Liverpool) was convicted of one count of Fraudulent Trading and sentenced to 5 years imprisonment
- Alan Holloway (aged 60 from Winsford, Cheshire) was convicted of one count of Fraudulent Trading and sentenced to 3 years imprisonment
- Beverley Smith (aged 52 from Warrington, Cheshire) was convicted of one count of Fraudulent Trading and sentenced to 21 months imprisonment
The business operated by the defendants advertised that ‘grants’ were available from the ‘Energy Saving Fund’ to support homeowners to undertake renovations. Advertisements were placed in newspapers and leaflets distributed to homes across the North West which stated that all home owners were eligible, that this ‘grant’ was private sector funded and that there was limited availability. These adverts generated huge interest from consumers throughout the North West, with over 50,000 enquires during a 20 month period which led to 2,500 contracts for home improvements. When prospective customers contacted the business they were asked questions purportedly to establish their eligibility for the grant. They were then told they were eligible for the ‘grant’ of one third off the usual price quoted for the work.
A ‘grant assessor’ was then booked to visit their home. In fact, the grant assessor appeared to be nothing more than a salesman who would repeat the contents of the flyer or advert and convince consumers to undertake the work and provide a quote, discounting the work by that third for the ‘grant.’
Consumers were told that the ‘grant’ was available from financial contributions made by national companies such as Pilkington, Marley, Worcester Bosch and VEKA.
No such ‘financial contributions were made by any of these companies.
Once the consumer had decided to go ahead with home improvements, the defendants’ business would then commission so called ‘approved installers’ to undertake the work at a price lower than they had quoted to the customer. The defendants reassured those ‘installers’ that after works were completed they would be reimbursed the grant element from the Energy Saving Fund. However with neither the grant nor Energy Saving Fund existing, the defendants took the profit from the work themselves, and left the contractors out of pocket. One contractor estimated he was left being owed £150,000 and during the trial the court heard evidence that one of the gas installers was made bankrupt as a consequence of his involvement with the ESF.
In order to make it more difficult for people to uncover their fraud the defendants changed the name of their business several times (trading names included Energy Saving Fund, Homestead, Prostall, Procell and Alliance UK) and Thomas Major operated under several pseudonyms (including Thomas Adams, Thomas Peterson, John Major and Joseph Major). Throughout the trial both Alan Holloway and Thomas Major maintained that they had only received expenses whilst the court heard that Thomas Major had established ESF before he pleaded guilty in 2011 to very similar offences.
The defendants were arrested after a considerable number of complaints from consumers and contractors to Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice consumer helpline. The convictions and sentences were secured after a detailed investigation by the National Trading Standards North West Regional Investigations Team, hosted by Cheshire West and Chester Council; who led the investigation and prosecution of the case. Additionally, key investigative support at the early stages of the investigation was also provided by local Trading Standards teams from Halton Council, Liverpool Council, Sefton Council, St Helens Council, Stoke-on-Trent Council and Warrington Borough Council.
Lord Toby Harris, Chair of National Trading Standards, said:
“These individuals misled consumers and defrauded legitimate traders purely for their own financial benefit. I am pleased that the work of National Trading Standards means that they are now receiving the justice they deserve.
“I would encourage anyone who believes they may be being defrauded or who is worried about the legitimacy of a business to contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline number on 03454 04 05 06.”
John Pierce from the National Trading Standards North West Regional Investigations Team said:
“The defendants created the illusion that the Energy Saving Fund and its grants existed. However, they knew this was all a complete fabrication designed to allow them to mislead consumers and defraud contractors. The financial impact on the traders they defrauded was in several cases very significant – with one case seeing a contractor left £150,000 out of pocket. This case also highlights the need for consumers to be vigilant when responding to adverts online, in newspapers or flyers that come through their doors.
In the sentencing Judge Woodward described Thomas Major as a ‘con-man’ and considered that Alan Holloway and Beverley Smith had allowed themselves to become involved; ‘trapped by the lure of money.’
The Judge also remarked that schemes such as these have ‘real victims, damage public confidence and undermine commercial life.’
Notes to Editors
For more information about this case or for general enquiries about National Trading Standards please call 020 7025 7570 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes to editors
About National Trading Standards
- National Trading Standards provides leadership influence, support and resources to help combat consumer and business detriment locally, regionally and nationally
- The National Trading Standards Board is a group of senior and experienced local government heads of trading standards, representing all trading standards services across England and Wales. The Board has been set up by the Government as part of changes to the consumer protection landscape and an enhanced role for trading standards.
- National Trading Standards teams are based within local authority trading standards services
- For more information please visit www.nationaltradingstandards.uk