The director of several plumbing companies which received numerous consumer complaints has signed a promise not to breach consumer protection laws in the future, following an investigation by Reading Trading Standards.
Joseph Ashford, of Ringwood, Hampshire, was the director of businesses which attracted 850 complaints to trading standards officers throughout the south of England between 2010 and 2013.
Some of the victims were elderly and complaints ranged from overcharging to carrying out unnecessary work.
Two of Ashford’s companies, 1st Active Drainage Ltd and Fast Response Maintenance Ltd, earned more than £11m in the same period.
After one company was featured on the BBC’s Rogue Traders programme, another was formed to replace it.
Ashford was acquitted of charges of conspiracy to defraud at Southampton Crown Court in a four-month trial in 2018 but some of his eight co-defendants were found guilty of fraud and one had previously pleaded guilty. However, Ashford was found guilty of money laundering and was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment suspended for two years, 200 hours of unpaid work, and had to make a substantial compensation payment.
A company called 24HR Services Ltd, which followed on from those businesses, was run by Ashford’s brother in law, although Ashford himself was not a director of it. It was based in Bournemouth but had a Registered Office in Reading and advertised its services throughout the south of England.
In February 2019, director Jamie Martin and 24HR Services Ltd signed Formal Undertakings as to future compliance. The company has since been dissolved.
Ashford was asked by Reading Trading Standards to sign a similar undertaking which he agreed to do in December 2019. By signing a Formal Undertaking, under Part 8 of the Enterprise Act 2002, not to breach parts of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, Ashford has promised to comply with consumer laws.
The undertaking does not mean he has admitted anything regarding past conduct or conceded to have had a role in the running of 24HR Services Ltd. However, it is binding on Ashford personally and in respect of any new business he may be involved in. Any breach of the undertaking could lead to an injunction, called an Enforcement Order, being obtained by trading standards and any breach of that order could lead to imprisonment.
Cllr Ellie Emberson, Lead Councillor for Corporate and Consumer Services, said: “The signing of a Formal Undertaking is a significant commitment to comply with consumer laws and any breach could result in a prison sentence.
“This successful outcome is the result of a great deal of hard work by Reading’s Trading Standards team with the aim of providing protection for consumers in the borough and further afield.”