Home improvement fraudster sentenced to three years in prison

Southwark Council successfully prosecuted a fake builder for fraud offences, after he left a string of unfinished extensions and shoddy home improvement projects across Southwark, and beyond.

Richard James Nicholls (38), of Hotspur Street in Shrewsbury, was sentenced to three years in prison and six years disqualification as a director, at the Inner London Crown Court, 23 December. The judge said this was “egregious offending” and took into account comments made in victim statements about the terrible impact Nicholls' crimes had on his victims' emotional wellbeing, as well as their financial stability.

The estimated loss to eleven victims was more than £1.1 million. This includes the cost of putting his bodged work right.

Southwark’s trading standards team noticed Nicholls and the four companies he managed, when his customers reported that he took large sums of money up front for work that was never completed, and in some cases never started.

Nicholls also took money in advance of works, services and materials that he never bought or paid for. In addition, sub-contractors would often harass customers for payment, because Nicholls had not paid for their work either.

Nicholls told one client who had already paid him £90,000, that he would only be able to finish their job, when he received funds from a new client, for another project.

This same client had to spend a further £150,000 to correct and complete Nicholls’ work; because the foundations laid were only half the depth they needed to be.

Building work for another family’s kitchen overran again and again, forcing them to live in their living room, with just a microwave to cook meals. The work was never finished by Nicholls.

When customers complained about poor progress, he would usually cite family difficulties and personal issues. In one case saying he was going blind.

During an interview with Southwark trading standards, Nicholls said his background was estate agency and sales and he admitted having no formal building work qualifications.

Analysis of his bank records carried out by council financial investigators, showed that Nicholls used £52,000 received from customers for online gambling purposes.

Nicholls pleaded guilty to four fraud related charges. These covered a range of false claims and fraudulent activities by himself or companies he ran, including:

  • claiming works could be done to a competent and professional standard
  • taking payment for goods and services that were never provided
  • claiming to have capacity to take on specific projects
  • failing to complete projects paid for
  • claiming the cost of VAT on invoices when not registered for VAT
  • failing to inform clients of their legal right to cancel contracts made at home

Councillor Dora Dixon-Fyle, Southwark Cabinet Member for Community Safety, said: “I am pleased that the courts recognise the seriousness of the crimes Nicholls committed. The prison sentence also reflects the terrible impact his failures had on his clients.

“This case highlights how important it is for trading standards to tackle fraudulent behaviour, which too often impacts on vulnerable people.

“I congratulate our trading standards officers for their determination in bringing this man to justice and thank all involved in the investigation.”

The scale of the investigation was such that Southwark received support and funding from National Trading Standards (NTS), who also helped take witness statements from Nicholls’ many victims.

Trish Burls, Chair of the National Trading Standards Tri Regional Investigation Team, said: “Nicholls preyed on his victims under a veil of lies, false claims and deceit. He deliberately misled people into agreeing to home improvement works that he was not qualified to carry out, leaving victims distressed and out of pocket by tens of thousands of pounds.

“This sentence sends a clear message that, in the long-run, fraudulent trading does not pay - instead, it ends behind bars.

"Nicholls, who was a Director of a Cheshire based estate agency company, promised to pay back all his victims, but has so far failed to do so.”

Consumers can report rogue traders to the Citizens Advice consumer service on: 0808 223 1133.

Notes to Editors

National Trading Standards delivers national and regional consumer protection enforcement. Its Board is made up of senior and experienced heads of local government trading standards from around England and Wales with an independent Chair. Its purpose is to protect consumers and safeguard legitimate businesses by tackling serious national and regional consumer protection issues.