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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?

Comments
Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

Unfortunately Wavechange in my case the neighbours and others were worried but British reserve got the better of them and they didn’t feel bold enough to tackle mum and they didn’t know who else they could tell.

Member

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?

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

My father was pretty much fully aware and had been a very smart man. However he did send multi-thou