The conviction against SafeStyle UK was secured by the West Yorkshire Financial Exploitation and Abuse Team (WYFEAT), a multi-agency partnership between West Yorkshire Trading Standards, West Yorkshire Police and Adult Social Care professionals, with support from the Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire.
The fine imposed on the company, which manufactures and installs uPVC windows and doors, is the highest imposed in the county for breaches of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. The company was also ordered to pay prosecution costs of £52,393.
The company, which claims to be the ‘UK’s Number One supplier of replacement uPVC windows and doors’, pleaded guilty to offences of using sales practices which were aggressive, misleading or banned.
Abusive sales canvassing
Among examples of the aggressive practices employed by the company were an incident in which a 50-year-old man from Rochdale encountered an abusive sales canvasser on his doorstep who refused to leave and physically prevented closure of the door; in another incident, an 84-year-old pensioner from Rotherham who contracted with the company was given misleading information about the costs involved. When he complained and indicated he would cancel, he was met with threats of ‘trouble’ if he tried to do so.
The company’s claims to provide free, no-obligation 12-month quotes were found to be misleading in light of incidents such as a 73-year-old pensioner from Coventry being pressured for an immediate decision and told if he did so the salesman would share his employee discount – provided £400 was paid in cash. A 50-year-old from Southampton was also pressured for an immediate decision and told the company had a contract with Southampton Council, which was wholly false.
The Consumer Protection from Unfair trading Regulations 2008 state that certain practices are unfair in all circumstances. These banned practices include making persistent and unwanted sales calls and refusing to leave a consumer’s home when asked to do so; among the complaints against SafeStyle was an incident in which a pensioner from Barrow in Furness received two visits from canvassers despite clearly displaying notices indicating she did not want cold callers. Both claimed that the notice didn’t apply to them and continued with a sales pitch despite being asked to leave.
Setting an example
Dave Lodge, Head of West Yorkshire Trading Standards, commented: “The case and the level of fines imposed illustrates the seriousness with which the courts view companies who flout the laws designed to protect the public in general and the elderly and vulnerable in particular.
“I hope the case will serve as a warning to those sectors of the home improvement industry who put the pursuit of profit before ethical, commercial standards.”
Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, who has helped to provide joint funding for the specialist Trading Standards Financial Exploitation and Abuse Team said: “The behaviour consistently demonstrated by SafeStyle UK employees fell well below what is expected of any company, let alone an established brand.
“I welcome the substantial financial penalty imposed and the strong message this sends out that using aggressive, misleading behaviour and banned practices absolutely will not be tolerated. My thanks to the members of the public for reporting these instances and to Trading Standards for all their hard work in bringing this case to court.”