Computer keyboard with red key that reads BEWARE

Be on your guard against guaranteed contracts

We’ve been hearing from people contacted out of the blue by companies offering them so-called guaranteed contract work in return for an up-front payment.

This is how they often pop up: a company contacts you by phone or email, offering you exclusive and guaranteed work in your area. The company, often describing itself as a property maintenance firm, says it wants to give you a contract to provide landlords’ gas safety record checks and maintenance of gas appliances in a specific postcode area.

It sounds great, doesn’t it? But here’s the catch: you’ll be asked for a fee to secure the ‘exclusive’ contract, often around £2,000. Or you may be invited to apply through a tender for the work.

Several gas engineers have contacted Gas Safe Register to say that they have never received any work despite paying the fee. Then they can’t get hold of the company to which they have paid their hard-earned money and can’t recoup it. These companies pop up regularly and change name frequently. Their addresses are often serviced offices and any phone numbers provided are not in service or go through to virtual assistants only.

Offering contracts
Jon from Southampton says: “We received this email last month and, in a follow-up phone call, I was offered a contract for approximately 45 landlords’ gas safety certificates and legionella risk assessments per month for three leading lettings agents, at £95 + VAT per visit. This would be an annual contract value of approximately £51,300 + VAT.

“The ‘contracts manager’ on the phone was very knowledgeable about the industry, and claims to have been in the lettings maintenance business for many years. He said they take £3,500 + VAT commission, payable as £2,400 + VAT (£2,880) up front and £1,100 + VAT after six months.

“Our initial due diligence showed they only had a recent Companies House incorporation, their website domain names had only been registered earlier this year, and their address was just a generic office/business park. I told them we could only consider the work if we could pay the commission in arrears on a monthly basis. Then they immediately stopped all communication.

“A reverse image search on their website shows the staff photos on the Meet The Team page are all copied from unrelated LinkedIn profiles, so I am as certain as I can be that this is a scam.

“I have reported the websites to the National Cyber Security Centre, but I am sure other Gas Safe registered businesses are being targeted.

“Other businesses and sole traders may well have transferred £2,880 for nothing.”

We’ve heard similar stories from other gas engineers for some time now and we know some have lost money. The companies involved change name frequently, and often appear to have an office in Scotland while being registered in London.

We’ve seen the original email sent to Jon, which makes no mention of having to pay for or pay commission on the contract offered. The email header reads: “Gas safety checks & maintenance – SO postcode” and it goes on to state: “We are currently looking for a fully qualified gas engineer/company to conduct gas safety certs for landlords.

“As a national company, we work with a number of property management firms & letting agents who require us to react to heating/boiler issues and also conduct gas safety certs and follow on remedials.

“The contract comes with a 14-day payment cycle and set remuneration for certain services. The chosen gas engineer/company will also be responsible for booking their own diary.”

What should I do if I receive an email like this?
Our advice is to ignore it and remember what your mother told you: “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.” If you do decide to follow it up, be on your guard and do your research thoroughly before agreeing to anything. If you suspect fraud, you can contact Action Fraud, the National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre. Action Fraud says: “Action Fraud makes it easy and quick to report non-emergency fraud and cyber crime. You can also tell us about a suspicious call, letter, text or email even if you haven’t lost any money.”

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