Homeowners have been issued a stark warning against rogue builders in the city as complaints are soaring.

Brighton and Hove City Council’s trading standards officers said the number of complaints about home improvements has escalated to “a worrying level” with more than 200 received during the past year, some involving sums up to £250,000.

Nationally, trading standards services estimate that unscrupulous traders have cost homeowners around £3.5 billion every year.

To attempt to investigate rogue builders and contractors can be “very difficult”, trading standards officers say, “especially when there are no documents or paperwork provided and consumers have paid by cash”.

Engaging with trades that are not fully qualified, insured and competent, could leave consumers with "not only devasting financial losses but also leave their homes in unacceptable and potentially dangerous conditions", the council said.

Figures relating to reviewed cases show that a simple knock at the door advising the homeowner there is a loose tile on their roof, which they say can be fixed for a few pounds, can spiral to a new roof – the existing roof being perfectly sound - at costs of £80,000 to £150,000.

There is no national registration scheme in the UK, meaning anyone can be a general builder.

The council said it is important to be vigilant and follow its guidance in the following steps:

1. Never employ anyone who cold calls at your home and be wary if they can start immediately. If you at any point feel unsure, call the police.

2. Make sure you get details of reliable accredited builders from approved trader schemes, for example the Trading Standards Buy With Confidence scheme. Ensure the scheme you use carries out audits and vets the businesses that are signed up to their platforms. 

3. Always get written proof of what you and your builder have agreed to in the form of a contract, including:

  • Time scale for the work to be completed.
  • Payments in stages - never pay all the money upfront. It's also best to avoid paying in cash or by banker’s draft as you get no financial protection.
  • A cancellation notice.
  • Check there is appropriate insurance.

4. Check with the Building Control and planning departments regarding building regulations and planning permission, as some consumers assume their builder or architect is dealing with this.

Councillor Leslie Pumm, chairman of the equalities, community safety and human rights committee, said: “There are a lot of very good, reputable builders in the city. But we are concerned about reports of rogue operators targeting residents, including the elderly and vulnerable.

“If you feel like you were a victim of a rogue builder, do not hesitate to contact Citizens Advice and spread the word among your friends and neighbours to ensure it won’t be easy for them to find more business.”

For further advice or assistance, please contact the Citizens Advice's consumer service online or call on 03454 04 05 06 or 0808 223 1133. This information will then be referred to Trading Standards.