It was William Shakespeare who first coined the phrase ‘what’s in a name,’ but retired couple June and Mike Latter nearly wound up £2,938 out of pocket when they mistakenly placed an order for replacement windows with the wrong firm.
They were as pleased a punch with the replacement back door they’d previously bought from Saje UPVC, a reputable Swanmore glazing and home improvement firm of 30 years unblemished standing.
So last year when the couple decided to update all their bungalow windows, it came as second nature for Mike to Google them for their contact details and phone for a quotation.
But unbeknown to him he’d mistakenly contacted Sage Windows and Doors, a former Shedfield firm with a similar sounding name, run by proprietor John Lepp.
Eighty one-year-old retired businessman Mike admits he didn’t notice the one letter difference in the spelling and was caught on the hop.
He said: ‘Last November I contacted Sage windows not noticing the difference in the spelling. Mr Lepp came out in January and we stood in my conservatory together admiring the door installation before he measured up.
‘Not once did he contradict my assumption that I was dealing with a Saje Windows representative.
‘He submitted a quote which we accepted on the strength we were dealing with a reputable firm that purported to be members of Checkatrade and FENSA. That’s why we trusted him with the work.
‘We paid him £3,000 by bank transfer’
‘Unknowingly, we paid him the nearly £3,000 deposit by bank transfer after he refused to accept a credit card claiming we’d get the job done sooner in February.
‘To cut a long story short, we were then fobbed off for eight months with every conceivable excuse. When we rang him in March to find out what was happening, he brazenly blamed us claiming we’d put off the installation date.
‘Then in April, he said he’d not been able to get around to it because he’d been on holiday. On another occasion he claimed his fitter had food poisoning, then a heart attack.
‘Up until June I was patient with him, but when doubts began to arise I went to his firm’s Shedfield address and found he’d done a bunk.
‘A workman told me I was the fifth person chasing him, so I went back to Saje offices in Swanmore only to find out our order had been placed with the wrong company and I’d been led up the garden path.’
Firm had been kicked out of Checkatrade
An angry Mike asked Streetwise to step in when he couldn’t see his way clear to recover the deposit and found out the firm had been kicked out of FENSA and Checkatrade following a deluge of complaints.
We’d first investigated Sage Windows and Doors last March after a company whistle-blower told us the firm’s fitters and admin staff walked out when their wages hadn’t been paid.
Subsequently Southsea couple Hilary and Bob Beagley contacted Streetwise after Mr Lepp refused to repay a £950 deposit. He’d left them hung out to dry for four months following a trail of dubious broken installation promises.
Publication of the Beagley’s experience sparked an avalanche of almost identical complaints from more than a dozen former Sage customers.
Mr Lepp’s master stroke was to insist on advance 50 per cent deposits paid by bank transfer. Credit card payments were refused, thus depriving them of the refund protection under the 1974 Consumer credit Act.
Customers have taken firm to court
The roll call of irate customers alleged they’d been charmed into parting with thousands of pounds in deposits. Many had ended up taking the firm to court for breach of contract and misrepresentation but still hadn’t been paid.
As the wave of dissatisfaction about the firm’s business practices gathered pace, complainants resorted to alerting Action Fraud, the police national fraud reporting centre, and Southampton, Hampshire and Surrey trading standards.
A website had also been published warning people they were at risk of being ripped off and to boycott the firm.
When we invited Mr Lepp to explain why he took Mike’s order and left him playing a cat and mouse game with refunding the deposit, he was initially unrepentant.
He claimed Mike had been misinformed and denied he’d anything to do with Swanmore firm Saje UPVC. He went on to claim Mike had put off two previous opportunities to install the windows due to hospital appointments, and holidays.
Varying stories over window fitting
We were aware the explanation was at considerable variance with Mike’s version so we asked him for clarification.
Mike promptly revealed his wife June had kept a contemporaneous diary of events. The overlap between the two versions was so minimal that no one would take Mr Lepp’s version seriously as it clearly amounted to a fairy story.
We asked him to confirm when he was planning to return the outraged couple’s deposit but he declined to give us a straight answer.
Instead he retorted: ‘Would it not be easier for everyone if we just fitted the windows?
‘We have given Mike Latter two dates to choose from and will reiterate we are ready, willing and able and wish to complete the contract.’
Mike was adamant he’d been conned from the beginning and he wasn’t prepared to be bullied into taking a tough luck windows or nothing solution.
Couple just wanted a refund not more empty promises
We put it to Mr Lepp it was far too late to make amends with the Durley-based Latters. They just wanted what they were entitled to in law, a prompt refund of their money.
Although Mr Lepp continued to assert he’d offered Mike numerous opportunities to fit the windows, to his considerable credit, he finally told us he’d agreed to refund the deposit.
Mike was blown away when we told him the good news.
He said: ‘I’ve never had money taken off me by false pretences before and it made my wife and I ill. I just wanted my money back.
‘Given the firm’s reputation, I never thought we’d see it again. You’ve been wonderful and words fail me. We just can’t thank you enough.’
STREETWISE ANSWERS YOUR QUESTIONS
Q. I’m a newly-qualified 18-year-old driver currently paying £1,600 a year for my car insurance. I’m on minimum wage so keeping my car on the road to get to work is a struggle. Have you any tips to reduce my insurance costs please? C. B (email)
A. There are a number of ways to slash your insurance costs provided you are a careful and safe driver.
The easiest way for young drivers to be rewarded in the bank balance for responsible driving is to insure your car wisely.
Since the introduction of black box recorders which track how drivers behave behind the wheel, many insurers have offered discounts for careful drivers.
Co-op Insurance for example claims to be able to help save young drivers up to £1,000 a year, by graduating after a couple of years careful driving to an unmonitored policy offering hefty discounts.
Small cars are far cheaper to insure than swank monsters, and come with much lower fuel and maintenance costs.
If you’ve older more experienced siblings, or your parents are willing to be named drivers on your policy, it will usually make a difference to the annual cost.
Another option to consider upping the excess on your policy. This is the amount you’ll have to contribute should you make a claim. Although it’s a risk, prang free drivers can expect the cost of their insurance to be lower.
Finally, the easiest way to get the best price insurance is to use a reliable comparison site like money supermarket or QuidCo. Think about precisely what cover you need, and cut out the non-essential extras like windscreen or breakdown cover.
Q. I’ve received a parking fine from a private company at Southampton airport for parking in an unauthorised area while just dropping someone off. I have appealed the ticket but was wondering if there is a legal definition of what parking is so if my appeal is rejected I can take it further. W. T. (email)
A. A people drop amounts to parking I'm afraid. Parking has been considered by the higher courts and it doesn't mean actually abandoning the car or turning off the engine. It just means causing it to come to rest at any one location.
If it’s a private land penalty you can always ask them to prove the sum of their loss for using the land or the adequacy/prominence of the parking signs.