Woman living on £1.50 cartons of Morrisons soup after builders down tools on dream home extension

A frustrated woman has spent months living in a house where she cannot cook and is forced to wash dishes in the bath after paying builders more than £16,000 to renovate her dream home only for them to disappear three weeks into the project leaving her without a kitchen.

Ionie Smallwood, a senior climate and agriculture sustainability consultant, said she was “done over” after hiring a company to build an extension on her three-bedroom 1930s home in September last year. The 33-year-old, who lives alone, said the builders suddenly stopped turning up on September 23, 2023, leaving her house unsealed and without a kitchen, and she now cannot afford to complete the construction having already burned through her life savings.

For the past nine months, Ionie has been unable to “cook food properly” and relied on £1.50 cartons of soup from Morrisons which she warmed up in a microwave in her living room. She also moved out of her bedroom for fear the ceiling would collapse during the night and because her bathroom sink is too small, has no choice but to wash her dishes in the bath.

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Ionie was hoping to re-mortgage the property so she could afford to finish the construction work but was told by the bank that it is “not considered to be in a sound structural condition”.

She told the PA news agency: “I just got completely blindsided because my brain was like ‘I’m so excited, my house is finally going to be my home after four-and-a-half years’. I look back now and think why didn’t I hear all these alarm bells that were screaming in my ears?”

Ionie purchased the three-bed semi-detached house in Winsford in 2019 and has spent the past four-and-a-half years turning it into her dream home. Last year, she finally had enough money to pay for the last piece of the puzzle, renovating her bathroom and building a rear extension to make the living room and kitchen bigger.

“I’ve been renovating the property since I moved in four-and-a-half years ago,” she said. “The property was built in the 1930s, so I’ve just been trying to make it more modern, homely and cosy.”

She posted an advert for the renovation on Facebook and picked one of the recommended companies who quoted £19,550. “They showed me some of the work they had allegedly done previously and it looked very smart,” she said.

Ionie agreed to pay cash, including £3,850 for the bathroom renovation and a £12,850 deposit for the extension up front, after being told the project would take four to six weeks.

“They did my bathroom renovation first and then the plan was for them to do the extension,” she said. “They told me there was a cancellation so they could start earlier than anticipated, in September (2023), and asked me to pay cash up front because they needed to pay for materials.”

The property was not liveable while under construction, so Ionie booked a two-week trip to Scotland after work started on September 6. She said the builders claimed the walls and roof would be fitted by the time she returned, but it never happened.

When she confronted them about why there was no progress, she said they blamed one of the bricklayers turning up drunk to work. She also said the builders reassured her they would apply for Building Control approval retrospectively using photos, but then became “defensive” when she asked them to send her pictures.

Building Control is a legal requirement that must be obtained before carrying out any work involving the erection, extension or alteration of a building, to ensure it complies with the UK’s building regulations and other relevant policies.

“They said to me, ‘if you are not happy with the build, we can pause the work and you can get building control involved’, almost like it was a threat,” she said. “I look back now and I do think I was very, very naive.

“I think the reason was, I was just so excited to get my house finished, so I just blindly followed what they said.”

When Ionie agreed to contact Building Control on September 23, she said the workmen suddenly packed up their tools and disappeared, before blocking her phone numbers and cutting all communication.

“After that they never came back,” she said. “It was at that point I just knew, I’ve been done over here.”

Ionie has been living without a kitchen to this day and said she cannot afford to “live on take out”.

“It’s a lot of microwave soups, like from Morrison’s, they’ve got those little cartons that are £1.25 or £1.50,” she said. “So I don’t have the ability to cook food properly and I have to wash my pots in the bath.

“I’ve lost a lot of weight as a result. Recently my sister suggested getting a George Foreman grill so I can cook some meat and fish, but it’s been very frustrating.”

She also does not have a washing machine as the plumbing was in the kitchen, and has to visit the local laundrette which costs £11 a pop. After the builders vanished, Ionie decided it was safer to move out of her bedroom because she was concerned the ceiling would collapse.

“The bricks looked like they had dropped down a bit, so I was quite concerned that the house would collapse on me while I’m asleep at some point,” she said. “Because that’s the room I sleep in and there’s nothing holding it up.

“They had not put what they call acrow props in, which are designed to hold the first storey up… they just left it.”

Puddles have also started appearing as the house was left unsealed and the concrete floor is not level explained Ionie, who now cannot afford to finish the work. “That was my savings over several years,” she said.

Desperate, Ionie tried contacting her bank, NatWest, to see if she could re-mortgage her home and pay another builder to make it right.

She said: “When I looked to re-mortgage, I was told by the bank that I can’t,” with a letter from the bank confirming the property “does not appear adequately secure or watertight and there is no fitted kitchen”.

Ionie added: “So it’s very frustrating. But I have no choice, I have nowhere else to live.”

She turned to her home insurance company but was told it did not cover faulty workmanship. Next she approached private loan companies but found they would not lend her enough money and after trying several times, feared getting rejected could affect her credit score.

Ionie said she has reported the company to Trading Standards, contacted her solicitor about taking legal action and written a letter to her MP Edward Timpson.

“I’ve reported them to all avenues possible and it’s infuriating because the justice system has just failed outright, because there is clearly a loophole in the law that is be exploited,” she said.

If Ionie manages to seal the property and install a basic kitchen, she could secure a re-mortgage. She recently received a quote for £42,000 to repair the structural damage and have the property restored.

“The problem I have is that I need money to fix it so I can re-mortgage it, so I’m between a rock and a hard place,” she said.

“So essentially, I have no other option than to reach out to the public and say ‘please can somebody help me with this?'”

Ionie has launched a fundraiser on GoFundMe which has so far received £2,000.

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