As Christine Rowlands opens an invoice from a plumber, she has no idea what’s awaiting her. She had called plumber James Anderson to fix a leak in her mom’s boiler. It’s been a stressful time for the family, given that Rowlands’ 91-year-old mother is dying of leukemia. But when she sees the tradesman’s bill, she erupts into tears.
It’s fair to say that getting old is often no walk in the park. As our bodies slow down, we find it more difficult to cope with physical ailments. And sadly it’s not just our health at risk, because as we get older there are people in society who are willing to take advantage of our vulnerabilities.
Unfortunately, some older people are more susceptible to being scammed as they live alone, are often more trusting and may not have anyone else to look over their finances. They may also simply be lonely and thankful to have some company; even if the person reaching out to them is not as nice as they appear.
An easy solution to protect older people from exploitation would be to encourage them to be suspicious of everyone; however, that simply isn’t practical. Like all of us, senior citizens sometimes have to put their trust in people. And this is especially so if they require help with something that they simply cannot manage alone.
For example, it’s pretty likely that an older person will need the help of a tradesperson to carry out repairs on their properties. Given that we allow them into our homes, it would be nice to think that all workers are honest and trustworthy. But one report has shown that this sadly isn’t the case.
The study in question found that the elderly were particularly at risk of being ripped off by tradespeople. In 2008 British house emergency repairs company Homeserve published the findings of a survey of 2,000 homeowners across the U.K. And, worryingly, the findings revealed that pensioners were being charged inflated prices for simple jobs.
The report found that homeowners over the age of 55 were regularly paying hundreds more on their repair bills compared to their younger counterparts. Some jobs that had cost elderly customers more included having their boilers fixed, lock replacements and roof repairs. As a result, Homeserve’s findings appeared to suggest that older people were more vulnerable to rogue traders.
When it came to straightforward boiler repairs, the report found that older people paid nearly $500 more than under 55s on average. The survey also found that elderly people were charged over $250 more for repairs to their gas or heating systems. So, it seemed that older people were definitely more at risk of being exploited by tradespeople.
The chief executive of Homeserve Membership, Jon Florsheim spoke to the Daily Mail about the findings of the report in 2008. He said, “Older people can be an easy target for rogue tradesmen and unfortunately the statistics seem to show that many are still victims of overcharging.”
Florsheim added, “You could argue that older homeowners may have larger houses and therefore more to repair, but we’re talking about basic jobs like fixing a boiler or attending to a gas leak. In many cases, these are standard emergency call-outs. But the prices charged across age groups vary, particularly when you split older people from the rest.”
But let’s return to Christine Rowlands of Padiham in Lancashire, England. She needed a plumber to help her elderly mom in September 2019, and the woman was in no doubt keen to find someone trustworthy. Her mother was 91 years old and receiving end of life care on account of her acute leukemia; so it’s fair to say that she was particularly vulnerable.
That’s when someone recommended plumber James Anderson, who is from the nearby town of Burnley. He is a family man, with five children and three grandchildren, and Rowland had heard that he often did repairs for older people in the area. In fact, Anderson is the founder of Depher Community Interest Company – a nonprofit that specializes in providing plumbing services for the elderly.
Standing for “Disabled and Elderly Plumbing and Heating Emergency Repair,” the organization offers discounted or free plumbing services to those vulnerable members of society. And since he began the outfit in 2017, Anderson has helped over 2,300 customers.
Talking about his organization with CNN in September 2019, Anderson explained, “We need to do something more to help the people who need it most. A lot of elderly and disabled people don’t like asking for assistance and if they can’t afford something like fixing the boiler, they might not do it and get into trouble. We are there to take that worry away.”
Anderson had been inspired to create Depher after being called out to a disabled customer. Another plumber had tried to fleece the man, but he’d decided to get a second opinion. Anderson then told the rogue trader to fix the job or he would name and shame him in the media. And this, as you could imagine, worked a treat.
But even with the issue resolved, Anderson couldn’t shake the episode from his memory. In September 2019 the plumber told the Manchester Evening News, “It wouldn’t leave my mind what that guy had done.” And soon, the plumber took it upon himself to prevent other vulnerable people from being ripped off.
However, though Anderson’s intentions were good, transitioning into nonprofit work wasn’t easy. He’s even built up personal debts as he tried to provide his low-cost services to the elderly and disabled. And yet, he remained dedicated to the worthy cause with little thought for himself.
In September 2019 Anderson told his local newspaper the Burnley Express, “A lot of people close to me ask why are you getting yourself into debt? Why are you doing this? To me, debt is debt… I would rather owe some money to somebody and another person be alive and happy and safe.”
It seemed that Anderson was particularly concerned about the fuel poverty issue affecting the United Kingdom. Government data from 2014 in England estimated that over ten percent of households were struggling to pay for their heating needs. Moreover, older people and those with disabilities were among the groups most likely to be affected by the problem.
Fuel poverty can also be deadly – particularly for older people. Insufficient heating can boost the risk of chest infections, respiratory issues and flu – all of which can cost lives. And in the four winters prior to 2016, almost 120,000 people died due to cold weather factors in England and Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Seemingly referring to such figures, Anderson told the Burnley Express, “I don’t want any person who is elderly and disabled in this country, in this day and age, to die or suffer because of a cold home or a lack of funding to repair the boiler. It shouldn’t be happening – that number should be down to zero. Simple as that.”
So then, when someone recommended Anderson’s services to Christine Rowlands, it seemed that she was on to a good thing. And in her interview with the Manchester Evening News, she revealed how she had tracked the plumber down. She said, “My sister said my mum’s carers had mentioned this guy who helped elderly people, so we Googled him and found him.”
Rowlands continued, “I’d called him out on the Sunday because water was pouring from a pipe and there was a problem with the boiler at my mom’s house. I couldn’t find the stop tap.” And even though it was a Sunday, Anderson had kindly agreed to come out and take a look as he was in the area.
Rowlands revealed to the Manchester Evening News how Anderson had suggested he could pass by “as he said he was just ten minutes away after he was dropping a relative off.” She continued, “I was panicking because I had no cash and the cash machine wasn’t working, but he said not to worry.”
When Anderson arrived at Rowlands’ mom’s house, he carried out a temporary repair to her boiler. He then ordered a replacement part and returned to the property over the following days to fit it. Then after the work was completed, he drafted up an invoice and emailed it over to Rowlands.
But Rowlands couldn’t believe her eyes when she opened Anderson’s email. She could make little sense of the invoice for the repair on her mom’s boiler and was moved to tears by it. That’s because Anderson had provided his services completely free of charge.
The invoice that Anderson had sent to Rowlands read, “Callout to boiler, high pressure and two leaks… lady is 91 years of age, acute leukemia, end of life care. Amount: 0.00. No charge for this lady under any circumstances. We will be available 24 hours to help her and keep her as comfortable as possible. Depher CIC.”
Revealing her reaction to Anderson’s invoice, Rowlands told the Manchester Evening News, “I just burst into tears when I read the email from James. It was just so kind. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I rang him because I couldn’t believe my eyes and I couldn’t understand what was happening.”
Furthermore, Rowlands said that Anderson flat-out refused when she offered to repay him. She continued, “When I told him I wanted to make a donation, he just said to buy my mum some flowers. I was so warmed by his kindness – it’s the little things. We are going through a stressful time and have been absolutely overwhelmed by kindness.”
However, while Rowlands was shocked by Anderson’s kind gesture, the plumber himself thought little of it. Explaining what had happened from his perspective, he told the Manchester Evening News, “I went round on Sunday September 8 and it was clear that the expansion vessel in the boiler had gone.”
Explaining what happened next, Anderson continued, “I ordered the part so that I could make the repair. But for the next few days, I popped into her house every morning and sometimes in the afternoon and evening to check on the boiler so that her house would be kept warm.”
Revealing Rowland’s reaction to his invoice, Anderson added, “At first, [she] didn’t understand what I meant when I’d said it was free. She was absolutely over the moon and amazed. I told her not to worry about her mom and that we’d look after her for any work that needed doing.”
But while many would consider Anderson’s actions as having gone above and beyond the call of duty, the plumber didn’t agree. He told the Manchester Evening News, “It’s not difficult to be nice, is it? At the end of the day, we’re all part of the same family living on a rock in space. If we don’t look after each other, it’s a very sad place that we live.”
However, while Anderson was too modest to sing his own praises, Rowlands had no qualms about doing it for him. Consequently, she posted the invoice he’d sent her on her Facebook page in September 2019 and wrote that he had been “an angel dressed as a plumber.” Naturally, it seemed that many people were inclined to agree.
Rowlands’ Facebook post went on to receive over 30,000 reactions, propelling Anderson into the spotlight. The screenshot of the plumber’s invoice also found its way onto other social media platforms including Twitter, where one user said that it had given them “a little hope for humanity after all.”
But Anderson himself had no idea that the story about his generosity was going viral. In fact, he was attending his grandson’s christening and was completely oblivious to the attention he was receiving online. But then his phone started going crazy. The plumber would later tell the Manchester Evening News, “It was just phenomenal, it skyrocketed.”
Soon, Anderson’s good deed had garnered national and international attention. And he was even dubbed “the world’s most generous plumber” on the popular British daytime TV show This Morning. Furthermore, Anderson was able to tell hosts Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby all about his work with Depher.
In another interview with the Manchester Evening News, Anderson explained that his organization carries out repairs for free whenever it has the funding to do so. As such, Rowlands’ sick mom wasn’t the only person to have benefited from the plumber’s kindness. And thanks to his newfound viral fame, it seemed that Anderson was finally getting the support that he deserved.
Following the attention that Anderson received, he reportedly raised nearly $106,000 to keep Depher going. Moreover, he was also approached by people offering free tools and their labor up and down the country. Anderson was also treated to a free trip to London courtesy of This Morning as a reward for his generous deeds.
In September 2019 Anderson spoke to the Lancashire Telegraph about the encouragement he’d received. The plumber said, “It has been amazing, I am just astonished at the amount of support I am getting. It has made a big difference and I did not expect it at all. I expected a few likes and shares but not this amount; it’s unbelievable and I am so thankful.”