Safestyle UK fined for aggressive sales tactics (17 July 2018)

HPAS Limited of Bradford who trade as Safestyle UK have been fined £120,000.00 at Sheffield Crown Court having pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to multiple offences of breaching consumer protection legislation repeated across the country, some offending involving elderly or vulnerable people.

The conviction was secured by the West Yorkshire Financial Exploitation and Abuse Team (WYFEAT), which is a multi-agency partnership between West Yorkshire Trading Standards, West Yorkshire Police, Adult Social Care professionals and supported by the Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire, with the aim of combatting rogue traders who prey on the vulnerable. 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 were also ordered to pay prosecution costs of £52,393.00.

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:

Aggressive practices

  • A 50 year old man from Rochdale encountered an abusive sales canvasser on his doorstep who would not take no for an answer, refused to leave and then physically prevented closure of the door and seemed ready for a fight.
  • An 84 year old pensioner from Rotherham who contracted with the company was given misleading information about the cost of the work. When he complained by telephone to Head Office and indicated he would cancel he was met with threats of 'trouble' if he tried to do so.
  • An 88 year old lady from Milnrow received a visit from a doorstep canvasser who despite being told she didn't want to buy anything refused to leave until she had supplied a phone number. She then received an unwanted visit from a sales representative who luckily she had the fortitude of mind to turn away

Misleading Practices

The company claim to provide free, no obligation 12 month quotes, however:

  • A 73 year old pensioner from Coventry was pressured for an immediate decision and told if he did so the salesman would share his employee discount - provided £400 was paid to him 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.
  • An 85 year old from Selby agreed to a sales representative calling after a canvasser had helped him in his garden. He was initially quoted £9,300 for 2 new windows. This dropped to £3,500 and he was subjected to pressure for an immediate decision despite receiving a company flyer which promised a 'free no obligation quote valid for 12 months'. The salesman refused to put the quote in writing. The victim was also offered non-existent 'Government allowances' towards the cost of replacement windows, but did not take up the deal.

Other customers were also given false information designed to elicit a quick decision:

  • A couple from Bristol were told the company uses its own fitters when in fact their installation costing over £7,000 was sub-contracted. The self-employed fitters caused damage to the property, windows fitted would not open and catches were broken.
  • A 76 year old from Maldon, Essex was promised a reduced price based on an agreement to before and after photos of the installation. This did not happen. Again the installation was carried out to a poor standard after every window was mis-measured.

Banned practices

The Consumer Protection from Unfair trading Regulations 2008 state that certain practices are unfair in all circumstances, these are called 'banned practices' and include making persistent and unwanted sales calls and refusing to leave a consumer's home when asked to do so:

  • A lady from Baildon agreed to receive a quote. The salesman initially quoted £18,000, then £10,000 for replacement windows and after phoning a manager quoted £7,000. The salesman was unhappy no order was placed. The consumer describes being given the "hard sell". In an attempt to secure an order the salesman at one time asked for a payment of £795 to guarantee the quote for 18 months so the windows could be installed in stages. The consumer was then subjected to multiple marketing calls in the 24 hours after she declined the quote.
  • A pensioner from Barrow in Furness received 2 visits from SafeStyle canvassers despite clearly displaying notices indicating she did not want cold callers. Both claimed that the notice didn't apply to them, both continued with a sales pitch despite being asked to leave.

Dave Lodge, Head of 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. If anyone, including sales personnel or ex sales personnel has any information about any illegal sales tactics please contact Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline 03454 04 05 06."

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 behavior 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."

Councillor Jo Hepworth, Chair of the West Yorkshire Joint Services Committee, said "This case is another excellent result for WYFEAT and highlights the unfair trading practices used by Safe Style. Today's sentence sends a message that action will be taken against any company or individual found to use unscrupulous sales tactics against consumers".

© Copyright West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner 2018