/ Home & Energy

Trusting mother paid out nearly £200,000 for building work

How do we protect our loved ones from doorstep scams or paying too much for work? In this guest post, Ian explains how his mum spent nearly £200,000 on building work – much of which Ian felt wasn’t necessary.

My mother is 83. When my father was alive he always dealt with their financial matters.

After his death, Mum wanted her garden made more accessible so she contacted a builder who had previously done work for her and who she trusted.

A long line of jobs began. It seemed that whenever the builder was short of work Mum provided some. There were never written quotes and with one exception, no invoices. Mum felt that they were friends and trusted him. He began using her garage as a store room frequently visiting to collect and drop off stuff.

Why I became concerned

I became worried that some of the work wasn’t necessary, but Mum had a right to spend her money as she saw fit. She had set up a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) naming me, but I was conscious that ‘unwise or eccentric’ decisions are not enough to invoke an LPA.

Separately, I was administering the will of another relative and, while dealing with the proceeds, reviewed my mum’s financial needs. During this she confirmed that she had no more plans for any work.

As part of the distribution of funds from the relative’s will, a significant sum of money went into Mum’s savings account. A few months later one of my siblings rang to say that Mum was short of money. It appeared that she had continued to have work done on her house.

She trusted people to charge a fair price

I immediately went to visit and reviewed her bank statements. I was shocked to see she had taken out nearly £200,000 over the previous three years, the amounts steadily rising.

When discussing with her the cost of work it became clear that she had no idea how much she’d spent, what each job cost and what a market rate was. She just trusted people to charge a fair price.

While I was there, a window salesman visited. He had been passed her name by a roofing company that had cleaned and painted the roof after telling her that the moss etc would weaken the tiles.

When I sent the window salesman away saying the UPVC windows didn’t need replacing, Mum offered him petrol money for his troubles! I recognised how suggestible she was, willing to hand over money without even being asked.

My advice is make sure you set up an LPA. Without one it would have been much harder for me to step in and protect my mother. If you are having work done always get several quotes, however well you think you know the tradesman.

If you are a relative, it’s hard, but maintain regular contact, ask questions earlier rather than later and don’t allow yourself to be fobbed off because you are too embarrassed to get involved.

Have you faced a situation like this – how did you deal with it?

This is a guest post by Ian Morgan. All opinions expressed here are Ian’s own and not necessarily those of Which?


A very pertinent warning. There is plenty of evidence of older people becoming more suggestible and trusting as they age. I have considered the problem previously as my father also became slightly free with his money in his final years.

As to a solution the appointment of a “Friend” for the isolated and and elderly with the power to agree expenditure outside a norm I think is the way forward.

I agree with Dieseltaylor. Family and close friends can help by keeping an eye on elderly people if they see a lot of work being done on the house.

People in their 80’s grew up in a time when scammers were virtually unknown.

Many older people believe what they are told by anyone in “authority” whether they are doctors, nurses, bank staff, secretaries, builders, in fact almost anyone with a “title”. They also want to handle their own affairs and I cringe at some of things my parents have accepted. Luckily, so far no real damage has been done and I give them questions they need to ask that would not occur to them.

Dieseltaylor mentioned there being plenty of evidence of older people becoming more suggestible and trusting as they age. It will be interesting to see how the more savvy generations develop with age. Will I question everything as I do now or will I just accept what I am told as my parents do?

The research suggests when you were born as in the Depression or in the post-war boom is not a factor. The sociology side is fine but I think we also need to consider the Alzheimer effects, and also a decline in the ability to think forward.

Neighbours are also an important resource and should be “onside” as they will notice more. The implementation of a “Friends” system could be quite light touch answer to a growing problem. The Friend would need to be a salaried position as they could never be a beneficiary under any will of anybody they had acted for. A caseload of a few hundred would not be difficult to manage.

I have not seen any extreme examples but older people often do become less careful with money. My mother gradually stopped using her car and started taking taxis after my father died, though she continued to be careful with money in other ways. I’m glad she did because it encouraged her to get out of the house and be more active.

From the examples I have seen, becoming less careful with money is gradual.

You are right dieseltaylor, I was not considering the effects of Alzheimer’s in my previous post but just my own experience of dealing with older folks.

While there might be research evidence to show that as people get older people they become more suggestible and exploitable, there is plenty of evidence within the annals of Which? Conversation that younger people too fall for scams and, whereas they might not get taken for a ride by a builder on the make, at an early age they start to believe anything they see on the internet.

For many elderly people, and I think widows might be more susceptible if their husbands have always looked after financial matters, their appreciation of the cost of work has probably got stuck at some point when they last had an occupation, hence they have no qualms about deciding to have some home improvements done, not realising that their savings will disappear quite quickly if they carry on.

A relative has resisted all attempts by her family to stop her spending a lot of money on her house even though it is far too big for her and unmanageable. What she has done is not necessarily the best for the improvement of her living conditions. She is well into her nineties but compos mentis enough to write letters and deal with traders, who probably see her as an easy touch. She convinces herself that she is adding value to the house which in due course will benefit her offspring; unfortunately new carpets and furniture won’t do that and what she really needs is a bathroom makeover to make things easier for her. Her daughter and son-in-law live three hundred miles away so they find it difficult to keep an eye on her and the neighbours have changed over time and are now all “different”. I expect similar situations occur in many families. One of the problems is that the sons and daughters of the oldest generation are now in their late sixties and early seventies themselves.

My mother in law would send money to any charity appeal that came through her letter box and took comfort from the connexions she believed existed between her and the human tragedies and forlorn animal cases that she supported to the detriment of her own well-being. She had also become very distrustful of any family member or neighbour who got too close to her as she thought they either had an ulterior motive or wanted to supervise and constrain her. The noble concept of appointing a “Friend” might run into similar difficulties in some cases.

I find it hard not to be judgmental and to avoid applying a different generation’s values to this kind of behaviour.

My father was pretty much fully aware and had been a very smart man. However he did send multi-thousands abroad over time to a scam. It is particularly difficult for families and indeed friends to realise, or if they did, feel they have any right to interfere.

Appointing a Friend will not necessarily be an option but a requirement. As I said it would be a light regime. Obviously I have thought it through and arguably it will infringe civil liberties but then we have protection for those under 18 entering into contracts and that is without any consideration of their fitness to deal with their money.

I do not have figures for the extent of the problem by individuals or by amount so just possibly it is not a big problem. It may be a small problem but it is stil worth thinking through.

Could you enlighten us a little more on the concept of appointing a Friend to act as a kind of monitor and the practicalities of serving in that capacity, as I imagine it might not all be smooth sailing. I find the general idea interesting but wonder where the Friend fits in with other members of the family, what degree of involvement they have with their ‘subject’, and what sort of terms of engagement might exist to protect both parties. I am intrigued by the notion that “appointing a Friend will not necessarily be an option but a requirement”: who says so?

This can be done formally via the Health and Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney arrangements but I believe that family and friends can help by keeping an eye on obvious excessive expenditure.

I think family and friends performing a stewardship role is much more satisfactory than having a formally appointed Friend with dubious obligations. I was under the impression that LPA’s and such like could not be imposed on people without their consent, and the problem this topic touches on is the difficulty of getting that consent. Ian Morgan says “My advice is make sure you set up an LPA”, which is certainly a sound recommendation, but what can people do if the aged relative cannot or will not grant that power, other than to try to intervene if they see expenditure going out of control?

Sorry – I should not have mentioned Health and Welfare LPA in this context. That’s not what’s needed when money is involved. My mind was on Health and Welfare LPAs because I have just had a discussion about them with a friend.

John Ward

I think the answer to your query as to why family may not be the answer is contained in entries below. I had my father telling me he was being bullied by my sister but only towards the end. I can well imagine it being true.

I used to be an old-fashioned banker in the days when knowing your customer did mean keeping an eye on our older or mentally frail customers – but then I am thinking of the smaller branches and the days when customers actually came in.

There is now a sort of precedent:
“Plans to give every child in Scotland a “named guardian” until their 18th birthday have been approved by MSPs after a last-ditch attempt to water down the proposal were rejected.
The Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill includes plans to appoint a named official, such as a health worker or head teacher, to oversee every child’s welfare and liaise with their families.”

I would see the role as simply that of someone to monitor a reasonable amount of expenditure and have the power to veto any non-standard payments.

I realise this is rather simplistic when one considers the way spending is no longer Bank based. The answer is that there will be a presumption that anyone who is retired will be included on a searchable list IF they are subject to Friends oversight. Any company who is interested in making contracts will , to protect themselves , make a search otherwise the contract will be void and no costs recoverable.

Any tradesman who contracts work and gains payment from someone on the list could be subject to recovery or goal. Restriction on card payments could also be installed but does require a little more effort.

I think it fairly well-established that crooks target the vulnerable and it may be quite a disincentive if obtaining cash is difficult.

Now the rights of the beFriended to challenge a decision, or the family to challenge would be in place and changes to another Friend be made if necessary. Or it might go to an Appeal for which, to prevent trivial claims , a small fee would be paid.

I does sound fairly dramatic but there can be no doubt whatsoever that in our new electronics driven world the chances for the elderly to lose money both on-line and by post, by telephone calls and by doorstepping is increasing.

Previously I have written that I think Which? could run a service where on-line sites are pre-vetted to make life simpler and safer. It need not be Which? [apart from it is rolling in cash] or it might be Help the Aged or a new body. Essentially you would provide computers that be default will go through the safe site.

Thank you dieseltaylor for your response to my queries about your Friends proposal. I can’t say I feel particularly comfortable with it. I don’t think the comparison with the protection of minors is entirely appropriate and, as Ian points out in his first comment immediately above, it can introduce a whole new range of complexities and risks. Where are these well-meaning individuals going to come from, and how will they exercise their judgments? Will there be a standard code of practice and some guiding principles? They will need to be vetted to at least the same standards as people who work with children. How will disagreements between the Friend and any family members be resolved – or will a Friend only be appointed [by whom?] if there are no other family members? I can see looming expenses and costs in this. Although you say that the Friend could not be a beneficiary of their subject’s Will, I don’t see how this could be prevented short of statutory invalidation. – which would be a first as even doctors are entitled to benefit from their patients’ estates [think Harold Shipman]. To be fair to the medical profession, I think Shipman is the only UK doctor ever to be found guilty of murdering their patients; there was no doubt it was in order to get his hands on their wealth.

JW- The points you realise are all valid but not insurmountable with some careful thought. Perhaps using the nomenclature Friend is the stumbling block. However Guardian is even worse! Shakespeare pointed out the rise and fall of intelligence and capacity in humans so liking adults to children is not without precedent : )

As to standards and guiding principles of course there will be. Currently the English system recognises the idea of the “reasonable man” so we can see that as the basic level to which any Friend – henceforth called Treasurer could be judged in Court.

I see no problem in recruiting reasonably intelligent people who for £10 per case per month can be gainfully employed. CAB recruits a fair few and as the Banking industry contracts we may well have some financially literate people who would otherwise have careers. A preliminary visit, meet the person involved, assess the state of the property etc and annual visit minimum thereafter.

Inform doctors , police, neighbours, relatives etc of contact details. This is simply to be kept in the loop not to take on any onerous tasks. The Treasuers would get training on basic surveying and likely costs for works so they could be comfortable with quotes and relevance of any works.

This is not a replacement of any existing arrangements but as an aid. My father had been withdrawing large sums, but under £1000, from his Branch and sending the money by Western Union abroad. AFAIR previously the money was sent to a UK address but the recipient had been caught and my father told by the police it was a scam. Despite this he continued after around six months. Think of the advantages of the police telling a Treasurer who is appointed and then in turn tells the Bank of a cash restriction.

I would point out my sister when she became aware of Fathers doolalliness did not tell us brothers about this for many months ….

In the case that Ian outlines having four children actually acts as an inhibitor as some may consider Mother perfectly sane.. What was wanted/needed was an outsider with a limited but legal remit to be involved in controlling expenditure. An outsider avoids sibling disputes, neighbours concerned but with no legal standing.

Challenging the restrictions on payments out should be relatively simple and indeed could be brought by the person themselves, children or neighbours. For instance not cutting back a hedge or removing a dangerous tree, or junk in the garden might be all be cases. A panel of Treasurers can meet regularly to consider cases, and if there is a breakdown of trust change personnel.

I am conscious from dealing with dishonest tradesmen and dishonest employees that the question of bribes etc would need to be considered however lengthy mandatory prison terms for people in position of trust should be ample warning to avoid temptation.


Thanks DT for putting more flesh on the bones of the scheme. I see that it could work on a voluntary basis in certain cases but it seems to me that a lot of subjective judgments would have to be made by the ‘treasurer’ as to what expenditure was permissible and what should be referred to relatives for consideration. I have reservations about anything that takes away people’s independence and puts them in some sort of financial straitjacket subject to the overriding approval of some other person. Only people in possession of full mental capacity should be allowed to enter into such a regime and if that were the case they probably wouldn’t do it. I don’t wish to be negative about this because I think there is the germ of a good idea in it and it will be interesting to see what other people think about it.

I abstained from the Conversation(s) about Lasting Power of Attorney so I am going to read up on that and people’s experiences so I can consider the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches. At the moment my attitude is that people do have the right to splash their own cash whatever their children might think about it. The question whether there needs to be a foolproof mechanism to stop wealthy and headstrong people from pauperising themselves and becoming a burden either on the state or their relatives. It is not clear from Ian’s example of his mother whether the £200,000 she had spent on building work was ruinous or merely unnecessary.

Where did you obtain the information that there is no definition of the term “next of kin”?
This is quite frightening.
It would suggest that a criminal could in theory take control of the affairs of an individual (possibly old) who has died.
Sadly, some older people (like many who are younger) often seem to enjoy the company and earnest attention of scammers, and soon become psychologically caught up like the proverbial rabbit hypnotised by the car headlamps.
Challenging their lack of foresight or capability is so often likely to lead to a stubborn and mulish response, coupled with the words “It’s my money and I’ll do what I want with it”.
The Law does not deal with people who may be stubborn and possibly stupid.
However, some people have deteriorated so much that they have little comprehension of what is happening, and like a young child will simply do what they are told by others.
Many of them need plenty of care & attention.
We rarely have 3 generations living in large properties where adults can keep an eye on each other.
Our elderly remain isolated (to a degree), be it in their own homes or even care/nursing homes. Until we find a formula for involving the elderly along with other people in community affairs, we are unlikely to see the activities of scammers diminishing.
Official Guardians will still be needed for those who have deteriorated the most.

I don’t think there is a high risk of criminals taking control of the estates of people who have died. Under the Probate process the Court ensures that an appropriate person, whether by specific nomination in a will, by kinship, or by suitable connexion or involvement with the deceased over time, is appointed to act as the executor [or administrator where there is no will]. Only estates of any significant value would be of interest to criminals to make their involvement worthwhile and such estates are likely to well managed. Banks and other institutions will not release funds until numerous processes have been pursued and documentation provided. Before that can start there is usually a lot of tedious and unremunerative work to be done in getting the estate ready for a probate application and, in the case of a wealthy estate, meeting any Inheritance Tax liabilities.

The bigger risk is during the lifetime of the individual during the closing period when their critical faculties might be diminished and they fall under the influence of people who want to exploit them. This Conversation highlights the difficulties that arise in those situations and the mixture of views on the implications. Who is to judge that the person is being “stubborn and mulish” if they wish to spend some of their assets? It is understandable that other family members might wish to restrain them if they can foresee some of their potential inheritance being frittered away on needless projects, but they have an ulterior motive and maybe should contain their disapproval. Alternatively, the family might look upon it in an entirely disinterested way and see that their relative is ruining themselves and being taken for a ride by unscrupulous traders so they feel obliged to step in. The tipping pint between the two states is hard to judge. There is no doubt that the existence of a power of attorney is an advantage and more advice and education on the benefits of such an arrangement, as well as on the making of a will, would be worth while. Further education courses cover diverse subjects but I have yet to see one on these aspects of life that families increasingly face; I think it would be popular.

I think Dyfnwal makes some very valuable points above in terms of how we look after and protect the vulnerable when they are on their own and open to exploitation.

A lot depends on a persons bank balance in relation to a seniors state of mind and I am a little surprised that Ians Mums bank failed to pick up on these frequent transactions and take the necessary steps, given her age. Banks know a considerable amount about you (including your DOB) through your spending habits and it is normal practice for them to alert customers of anything untoward e.g unusual or large transactions appearing on your statement.

My father remained very mentally astute until his death from prostate cancer aged 87 and so fortunately was able to manage his finances until the end. My mother developed Alzheimer’s at 80 and so thankfully passed away first. It would have been a different story if it had been the other way round. It is at these times when you get to know the wheat from the chaff in the family by their caring input (or lack of it). It must be more difficult for a one child family who would have to take on full responsibility single handily for both parents. Ian’s Mum was obviously taken advantage of by this rogue builder and I sincerely hope he was brought to justice before he moves on to exploit yet another unsuspecting elderly person.

Some elderly people with no mortgage, a pension and a reasonable amount of savings, having reached the grand age of 80 will decide to withdraw large amounts and go on a spending spree, particularly where they have no immediate family to benefit from their passing, and why not!

As you rightly say Ian banks should pick up on uncharacteristic and repeated large withdrawals. Banks have a Code of Practice KYC (know your customer) sanctioned by the FSA details you can find @bis.org – Basel Committee on Banking Practices – Customer Due Diligence For Banks. Page 13 Ongoing Monitoring of Accounts and Transactions.

To quote a real life example my sister received a ‘phone call from her bank as they had noticed a suspicious transaction on her account and had she received the new cheque book recently posted to her which of course she hadn’t. Apparently £2,000 had been taken from her account unbeknown to her. The Bank accepted responsibility and duly refunded the money.

Some of us think our banks and other institutions with which we have to deal know too much about us already and are always looking for ways in which they can use this information for purposes which are morally improper even if not outlawed. I think the quality and experience of the staff in the average high street bank branch does not give me enough confidence to rely on their diligence and judgment in matters of personal support. The risk of putting a foot wrong will naturally inhibit intervention which in turn could expose them to a claim of negligence or deficient diligence.

I know from personal experience that it is not uncommon for elderly people to have large and ‘uncharacteristic’ expenditures [like for a stairlift, or a conservatory, or a walk-in bath] and would be deeply offended if a nosy cashier flagged it up on the assumption that they had lost one of their marbles.

This is an extremely tricky subject and I doubt if there can be a right answer across the board.

Some years ago I started (successfully) prosecuting groups of men who were preying on the elderly, particularly those with dementia, where they carried out ‘building’ and ‘gardening’ work to such poor standards and at such gross overcharging it amounted to theft/ obtaining money by deception. There is an implied representation that the price is a fair and resonable one in accordance with the work and that the work will be done to a good and proper standard. They received prison sentences.

£200,000 seems a very high sum of money. I WOULD be expect banks to have policies and protocols in place to spot unusual divergence on spending, but the key here is who would they alert? Again there needs to be systems in place. Challenge Nationwide on this and ask them to disclose their policies and procedures.

I would alert police as well as they can collect local intelligence on systematic scams. These are NOT easy cases to prosecute! But we had evidence of multiple and evidently vulnerable and confused victims. It was the combination of exceptionally poor standard work, gross overcharging and behaviour from the victim that made it clear to any reasonable person that they were confused and vulnerable.

Could I suggest that you post on StreetLife to alert people to who that builder/those tradesmen are, being careful to be factual about work, standards and prices. This can alert others to people who are charging high prices or otherwise carrying out unnecessary work. Be careful that it is accurate otherwise you are likely to run into defamation issues.

This is excellent advice Fionna. Banks do have their own protocols (KYC) in place but unfortunately these are used mostly to track down money laundering it would seem. All banks should introduce a nominated next of kin system for customers over and above a certain age to enable them to express their concerns when anything untoward on customers accounts arouses suspicions without going into specific detail and breaking their strict confidentiality code of practice This could be done without resorting to LPA’s.

I am surprised at some of the comments about banks monitoring money movements.

1. Recently a friend paid a cheque into her account (over the counter) which was made payable to her in her maiden name – she has been married for over 20 yrs – no questions asked!

2. My elderly father withdrew £800 cash form a bank account which is only ever used to pay Direct Debits. He was ripped off by a gippo who was going to deal with moss on his roof, the following winter he had water pouring through his kitchen ceiling & another bill to rectify the damage.

3. LPA’s are necessary but also a minefield as one has to get “permission” to invoke it & sadly many of our “Oldies & Goldies” do not realise (or want to acknowledge) that they need assistance.
Then there is the problem where 2 or more of the named children cannot agree that Mum or Dad needs assistance. I have this problem – my brother says Dad’s OK but he only sees him for 7/10 days twice a year as a visitor in his home but I see Dad is own home on a much more frequent basis.


Thanks for your comments.

You say that you needed evidence” that your Mum lacked mental capacity” sadly in old age elderly parents have good days & bad days making it very difficult to prove that they lack “mental capacity”. My father now is sadly not only unable to deal with his finances but has no interest in doing so but will he let me or my brother invoke the LPA so that we can manage them for him, I think not as he will go into his “independent mode” & I’m perfectly capable mode?

My father was perfectly capable and very competent all the way into old age . . . until he suffered a stroke. The last thing he would have entertained was a Power of Attorney, so the subject was never broached. He passed away without leaving hospital so the worrying about his mental capacity turned to how my mother would cope not having been involved in – or even aware of – all the financial affairs, and of course her income suddenly plummeted. Bit of a digression, but as our population ages we collectively need to prepare for dealing with these problems and learning about what to look out for, how to handle it, what advice and support is available and how to get it. There really is a case for organised education in these matters. Personally I appreciate the opportunities provided by these Conversations to explore the topic informed by the experiences of others. Some people think we go senile at three-score-years-and-ten [I could not support that outlook], but it is that age group that are struggling to deal with the impairment of their parents’ faculties.

Ian, you have more than adequate grounds to prosecute your Mums builder for fraud. He has knowingly and persistently milked your elderly Mum of her life savings posing as ‘a friend’.

There are a few very similar examples to be found on the Internet where successful prosecutions have been made. To quote a couple: courier.co.uk – Builder In Court Over ‘Unneeded’ House Jobs – March 16th 2012. Also: get reading.co.uk – Rogue Builders Jailed For £43,000 Fraud on Elderly Crowthorne Victim – 27th February 2014 – Jon Nurse.

Ian – Thank you very much for coming back to this Conversation and broadening our knowledge of the issues involved.

Re Banks:

I discovered that my father had a 5 figure sum of money sitting in his current account (earning no interest) & after the roof incident persuaded him that it would be a good idea to transfer a major part of this money into a savings account. His high street bank was not helpful, what I thought would be a very simple matter became not only very time consuming but stressful.

Although all that was required was a simple savings account we were told that we needed to speak to an “investment adviser” which necessitated making an appointment for 3 days time.

A young lady, not long out of white ankle socks” then spent almost an hour going through numerous computer screens which included mortgages. My father was 88 yrs old at the time!

The only good thing that it did achieve was correcting their errors in respect of his DOB & the length of time that he had lived at his current address. Why these were wrong I do not know as he has held an account with this bank for over 60 yrs!

CH- Perhaps you should name the Bank to give it the exposure it so richly deserves. Waiting three days! A ridiculously obvious system by the Bank to carry out a Financial Review to try to earn some commissions. No doubt the front-line staff targeted for leads per week or face a nagging session.

Given your fathers age there is nothing that would be available in a Bank’s product line to warrant such a delay.

The least it needs is a complaint to the HO regarding incompetent record keeping and wasting your time. I think £25 sounds about right.


The bank was Lloyds TSB (as was) & you are absolutely correct in your comment.

The lady on the customer service desk that I original spoke to realised immediately what I was trying to do but although she had worked for the bank for 25 yrs she was “not permitted” to open a basic savings account for my father.

I appreciate your suggestion of writing to HO but I have better things to do with my time such as restocking my father’s freezer.

And when read you today that Lloyd Bank alone has had to provide Thirteen Billion Pounds out of our collective financial resources to compensate people for miss-selling payment protection insurance you can see how retail banking went right off the rails and yet the misguided culture lingers on.