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TRADING Standards are investigating nearly 50 complaints dating back seven years against a defunct building firm, The Argus can reveal.
Officers are so concerned about the scale and similarity of the allegations – which turned from a trickle to a flood last summer – they are considering referring the case to the police for possible criminal investigation.
Close to half a million pounds is in dispute so far but investigators expect that figure to double.
DMB Solutions, of Borough Street, Brighton, went into voluntary liquidation over the New Year.
The firm’s demise has left customers with half-finished extensions, leaking roofs and skips full of rubbish outside their houses – as reported in The Argus in recent days.
Sub-contractors say they have not been paid, and new clients who signed with DMB as recently as December are desperate to claw back money they paid for work which, they claim, has not even begun.
But The Argus can today reveal that complaints against DMB and its directors date back years, and are now the subject of specialist investigation by Brighton and Hove Trading Standards.
John Peerless, the council’s principal trading standards officer, was put on the case in October after officers concluded that this summer’s spate of similar allegations warranted a more forensic approach.
Yesterday Mr Peerless, a 43-year-veteran of the department, told The Argus: “Some of the allegations made by complainants are very serious, and could constitute serious breaches of the legislation.”
He stressed his investigation is ongoing and no conclusions have been reached.
But he said his team were considering instigating civil proceedings against the company’s directors, which could lead to their being barred from company directorships for more than ten years.
And, he added: “I feel that there is a need to consider a referral to the police, because the allegations are of quite serious activity.”
The majority of the complaints he has received make the same broad allegation: that clients parted with a deposit and then a series of payments to an agreed schedule, but DMB did not carry out the work to an appropriate standard or within a reasonable timescale.
Mr Peerless has interviewed seven of the 45 complainants and estimates their complaints total a value of between £400,000 and £500,000, but expects both totals to increase significantly as more grievances come to light.
More than 200 people have now joined a facebook group called DMB Solutions Victims Support, on which former customers share horror stories and angry demands for refunds.
The firm is not responding to phonecalls or emails and none of the company directors – James Powell, 37, of Hove; Christopher Bibb, 50, of Saltdean; and Michelle Allen-Foord, 46 of Portslade – answered their front doors to The Argus yesterday,
Those affected should contact Citizens Advice consumer service on 0345 404 0506.
No toilet for six months
WHEN Kieran Grogan took it upon himself to care for his severely disabled adult brother after their parents passed away, he knew it would be a huge task.
But he never imagined his discomfort would include having to use a bucket as a toilet for more than six months, while home remodelling he commissioned from DMB crawled forward.
“My partner and I lived in a house of horror for the whole 37 weeks that DMB were involved with us,” the 51-year-old told The Argus.
“For the first 28 weeks we had no bathroom or toilet.
“We joined a gym to use the shower and the toilet but had to use a bucket at home.
“They told us it was just going to be 14 weeks, we thought we could tolerate it. We didn’t think we were going to get abused in such a way.”
Kieran, a registered nurse, added: “The most important part of the work was the staircase because Peter has trouble going up in corners, we had agreed for it to run straight up.
“But we obviously got a completely different staircase than we had agreed on.”
He requested extra handles in the bathroom of his Kemp Town home to make sure Peter – who suffers from severe autism and cerebral palsy – could feel secure on his feet.
But they were not installed.
Kieran told us the kitchen extension included in the £61,000 project was built nearly half a metre short of the specification.
That means he and his partner, and Peter, have to watch their step in the living room, because that is the only place the fridge fits.
In a contract seen by The Argus DMB noted the completion date of the contract – which began in February 2016 – would be September 2016.
But five months after that, in email correspondence seen by this newspaper, they were still disputing a long list of unfinished work.
Kieran said: “Doing all of this work was all to get Peter coming to live here.
“It was all for Peter”.
More cases coming to light
LAST February Lucy Stagg and her wife Jackson handed DMB Solutions their life’s savings with an agreement that work on their house would be completed by August when their baby was due.
Little Emilio is now five months old. But the £52,000 project is still unfinished.
Lucy said: “We are just a normal couple, me and my wife. We’ve never done anything like this.
“Come July they asked for a payment and we had a week before the baby was born.
“I was eight and a half months pregnant at the time and we still had no bathroom and no kitchen.
“So we handed over the last of our cash in July and it’s January now and it’s still not complete.
“This is our life savings. We don’t have a lot of money at all.”
DMB Solutions left holes in the walls of the house, which meant that when their new-born baby was just five days old they could not control the heating in their home.
At one point, Lucy said, there was a flood caused by a plumber who hadn’t twisted a pipe on properly.
“I just had Emilio five days before. I was just going to have a bath and it just went everywhere. We thought the roof was going to cave in.”
DMB Solutions went into voluntary insolvency on New Year’s Day but was still signing up new customers – and taking their money – as recently as December 15.
That was when graphic designer Charlotte Preston, 29 gave the firm an £11,000 deposit for an extension.
This week she learned the work would never happen when a DMB subcontractor rang the door of her Hanover home and told her DMB Solutions had folded.
She said: “It makes me feel very sick having paid that much money the week before Christmas.”
DMB did not respond to requests for comment.
Additional reporting by Rebecca Gualandi.
Silence from company Directors
THE Argus has tried without success to contact the directors of DMB Solutions.
We have called and emailed their offices repeatedly but received no reply. Yesterday we went to knock on their front doors.
The cleaning lady at the Hove home of James Powell, 37, said she did not know when he would be home.
There was no reply at the door of Christopher Bibb, 50, in Saltdean. And at 46-year-old Michelle Allen-Foord’s house, the man who answered the door said only she would not be home.
When The Argus emailed Mr Powell in November while researching this story, he replied: “We take all customer feedback extremely seriously and we would of course defend ourselves against any story which would damage our reputation.”
Yesterday, insolvency experts Begbies-Traynor, who are advising on the liquidation, acknowledged DMB Solution (UK) Ltd had ceased trading.
They said a liquidator, once appointed, would report on upfront payments.
If you have a story about your contract with DMB, or how you have been affected by the company’s demise, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: The Argus