It was a classic example of how a doorstep cold call turned into prolonged frustrating battle with a firm that had unlawfully turned a blind eye to a legally binding 14-day refund entitlement leaving it to drag on for almost three months.
In mid-February 75-year-old Fareham widow Sandra was door-knocked by Protec Installations (Southern) Ltd and persuaded by the Southampton-based company to have her bungalow loft insulation upgraded at a cost of £3,738.
‘I should have known better, but it seemed like a good idea after the rep explained that to save on energy costs it was essential for the loft to be kept warm. He kept accentuating the government was behind energy efficient homes and paying a percentage towards the cost.’
‘A company surveyor came, took a photograph, and confirmed this that and the other needed doing, so I went along with it. The contract identified it needed an anti-fungal washdown, fibre removal, and replacement felt.’
Sandra paid a £1,121.40 deposit by bank transfer and the work was scheduled to be done the following day.
‘They were supposed to come on the Thursday, but they didn’t and there were all sorts of excuses. Firstly, the job they were doing was taking longer, then on the way back they had an accident, it seemed it was all just excuses, and I could tell things weren’t right.
‘Overnight I decided that I couldn’t go ahead with it, so I rang them to say I was sorry, but I’d changed my mind. I’d got an oldish roof dating back to 1958 or 9 and if I ever had to have anything done on the roof, I’d just lose all the felt insulation.
‘When I told them I was cancelling the order they didn’t like it at all and asked if it was a money thing. I made it clear I’d had second thoughts, and just wanted my deposit refunded.’
She was reminded by the company to confirm her legal right to cancel the order by putting it in writing. She dashed off a letter and sent it by recorded delivery. A few days later she checked with the post office it had been received and considered the matter closed.
When Sandra phoned Protec a week or so later to enquire about the progress of her refund, she received her first knock back. She ended up being palmed off with an excuse about her bank account details and then told it would take days for the refund to reach her account.
When she rang a few weeks later to enquire about the ongoing delay she was given short shrift. Determined not to be ignored, she followed up with a series of regular progress calls, but still no refund materialised.
Things deteriorated further when it became clear that the firm were reluctant to reimburse her. She was worried that the money would never be returned, and her modest savings left depleted.
An angry and stressed-out Sandra couldn’t understand why the firm wouldn’t just stump up after they’d gone to the trouble of meticulously setting out her no-quibble cooling off rights in black and white.
Sick and tired of the time-consuming experience, she contacted her local councillor who agreed to try to intervene with Protec when her further phone calls went unanswered.
But to her fury and dismay, she was devastated to discover their landline phone numbers were being blocked so that when they tried to make contact they were hung up on or connected to an answer phone.
Single-minded Sandra finally got through from her mobile, determined to give them a piece of her mind about the way she was being treated. She stressed it was her right to get her money back and she’d continue to pursue her case.
Feeling as though she’d hit a brick wall and after more than two months of getting no where, Sandra turned to Streetwise for help and assistance.
We had no doubt that Protec was a responsible company but its behaviour towards Sandra displayed a contempt for treating her fairly and was unlawful. Any business can get things wrong, but what counts is how they put things right.
We pointed out that the cooling-off period was a statutory right provided by the 2013 Consumer Contracts Cancelations and Additional Charges Regulations.
Although they’d complied by providing notice of the 14-day cooling off period for cold-call and online orders, we failed to fathom why they had declined to refund her promptly within 14 days from receiving written confirmation of the cancellation as set down in law.
Requests from us to comment were finally acknowledged hours from our publication deadline.
On behalf of the directors, the company’s head office finance department emailed Streetwise with an unequivocal no-excuses apology.
‘We acknowledge your e-mail relating to your reader and confirm the full refund amount has already been processed. We apologise for the inconvenience and will also process a gift voucher for £100 within 14 days.
‘We accept this delay was unacceptable and there are no excuses, although we should point out that every department has been decimated by Covid-19 to the extent that many have been closed at various stages which caused very serious operational difficulties.’
A much-relieved Sandra thanked Streetwise for bringing closure to a stressful situation.
‘I’m sure without your help I wouldn’t have got the refund, ‘she said. ‘I was so cross with myself for getting into this situation.’
‘I’d just like to warn people when cold-callers knock on your door be wary or say no thank you, you’re not interested. Never ever pay though the bank, pay by credit card so you have the credit refund protection if a firm doesn’t pay up or goes bust.’