Rogue Traders: Stuart Johnson, Drainsafe
Bexley-based Drainsafe Limited is a company specialising in boilers and drains.
Susanne Black called them out in December 2011 when her boiler went on the blink. The man who came to fix it appeared to diagnose the problem fairly quickly and said it needed two new parts. He came back the following day to fit them, and the problem seemed to be fixed. However, 40 minutes after the repairman had left, the heating went off again. The same man came back, and this time he called the boiler manufacturer and discovered that he hadn't fixed the problem correctly and that he would have to start again from scratch.
When Susanne asked whether this would be covered by the guarantee, Drainsafe said no because Susanne had misdiagnosed the problem, it wasn't their job to fix it or to pay for it. So it would appear that Drainsafe customers have to decide what is wrong with their boilers...
An expert has since told us that this was a simple fault for any trained gas fitter and should have been fixed for around £220 yet Susanne was charged a massive £724 - from a company that promises "satisfaction guaranteed".
We also heard from Jas, who is the landlord of a flat in South London. When he called the company about a blocked bathroom drain, they came out and said they'd fix it the following morning. They also asked for an initial payment of £66 from his credit card and they said they would let him know the final bill. The bill came to £1056 but the job should have cost half that, tops, according the expert we have spoken to. And what is worse is that Jas says they took his full payment without his consent.
It was time for Rogue Traders to splash out on some secret cameras and to call Mike Griffin, an expert plumber. We hired out a house and the drains were power-washed in advance, ready for Mike to work his magic. He filled the drain full of beef dripping, fresh pasta, pilau rice and topped it off with a bit of fresh broccoli. A plumber should have been able to clear the blockage in 20 minutes with just a bit of elbow grease.
Our homeowner John waited for Drainsafe employees Jason and Ryan to arrive but they were four hours late. Prior to their arrival, they had explained on the phone that their charges would be "£65 for the half hour and £55 on the half for the plant", and the use of the plant would "depend on the nature of the gravity of the situation then obviously it's a two man job".
However, the forms that Jason asked John to sign say something different - and he doesn't make this clear. On the phone, he quoted the labour charge as £65 per half hour. What Jason didn't say is that, according to the forms, in very small print, the charge is £65 per man per half hour. With two of them on the job, that's a massive hike - and of course, there's the additional £55 for the jetter. With charges like that, they'd better be good - and quick.
Drainsafe employee Jason told John that the drain looked to be built up with limescale, so they need to "blast it". Mike Griffin explains that there is no need to blast it as there is no limescale: "He should be clearing the gully, sticking a rod down in and clear it in a couple of minutes." But instead of trying the cheap and straightforward way first, Jason and Ryan automatically reach for the expensive jetter.
Ryan says the drain is rammed to the brim; but rather than pulling out the dirt, he and Jason tried to push it round the bend of the trap. It took two men a full hour to do the job, even with the aid of a jetter. It should have taken one man 20 minutes to do it - using only his hands.
Once the job was completed, Jason quoted John £576 for the bill - the breakdown being £260 for the labour of both men, £220 for the plant and £96 VAT. The job should have cost less than £100. Jason explained that the jetter had to be manned by two people for health and safety reasons. He also explained that the blockage was due to a thick build-up of limescale, almost as thick as cement. This was not the case at all. It also seems that we were charged twice for the jetter.
We also spotted Jason and Ryan giving each other a 'high five' after they had been paid by John and were about to leave...
We wanted to establish whether Jason and Ryan were indeed two typical Drainsafe boys - or simply two bad apples. During the course of our investigation we did call the company out on two other occasions, but both times just one plumber turned up and we weren't overcharged. On the other hand, we have been ripped off once - and so have the customers who have been in touch with us so we needed to find out if the instructions were coming from the top.
We got one of our team who we called Claire, to call the manager of Drainsafe, Stuart Johnson, to see whether or not he would back his team. Claire complained that the charges weren't explained to us properly, and it seems that we have been charged twice for the jetter, so Stuart came up with a new explanation: that the team were on site for an hour and thirty-seven minutes. In fact, they took an hour to complete the job. But, according to Stuart, the fact that he is claiming that they were onsite for 97 minutes means that Drainsafe has actually given our team a discount on the total bill...
He says: "I can give you a reworked invoice but then it's going to have the correct figures on and it's going to end up physically costing you more money." So, Stuart wanted to charge us more. Claire responded that it was outrageous pricing, to which Stuart replied: "Well, I do apologise about that. I mean, all I can do is offer you a 10% discount in the future."
As the boss clearly was backing the boys who overcharged us, it was time for us to visit him face to face. When we arrived at Drainsafe HQ, Stuart promptly locked himself in the building and closed the blinds. Matt spoke to him through the door and Stuart said that he would call him later.
Stuart did in fact call us later. Matt spoke to him on the phone and Stuart said that he wasn't "in the habit of ripping people off". He explained that there was no way the bill should have come to £576 and there must have been a mistake by the engineer. However, Matt highlighted that when we spoke to him afterward, Stuart himself said that we should have been charged more; to which Stuart explained that he must have misunderstood or been misled by the engineers.
Although Stuart admitted that we were overcharged, he says that his engineers are not on commission - so there is no benefit to them to cheat customers. He said that he would have a look at all the evidence and get back to us...
The company has since been in touch. They have told us they take our allegations seriously and deny they're rogues. They say they're open and fair with pricing, don't lie about the scale of the problems, and always carry out a "drain clean" unless customers specifically request otherwise.
They say they went about our job in the right way, and have offered a partial refund for the billing mistake. Jason and Ryan's high-five was to celebrate the fact they completed the job so quickly. They say they went out of their way to help Susanne Black, and their second visit was for a fault unrelated to the first.
They have refunded Jas.They say this is not because they were in the wrong, but because he complained so much.