Retired Fareham couple Georgie and Ray Diaper signed up with Zenith Staybrite to replace their ageing conservatory roof.
But the structure was left unsafe and open to the elements when fitters discovered the new panels had been made to the wrong size and wouldn’t fit.
The trouble all started last October after the Diapers received an unsolicited phone call from the firm to ask if they had any home improvements in mind.
Retired shipwright Ray, 76, was impressed with the quality of their work when they’d previously used the company to replace their guttering.
As it happened they had a problem with their split-level conservatory polycarbonate roof panels which had become brittle and discoloured.
They decided it might be a good time to replace them, and were persuaded to sign a £5,750 contract with Zenith to remove the rapidly deteriorating roof of their glazed sun and utility room and fit brand new panels.
They put down the firm’s deposit of £149, a surveyor measured up and gave them a copy of the plans, and they agreed to postpone the actual work to the following spring.
Subsequently a date in mid-March was organised but, in what was to be a portent of worse to come, the replacement panels turned out to be the wrong size.
Georgie said: ‘The installer came, looked at the plans, and said he couldn’t do the job because the surveyor hadn’t got the measurements right.
‘He said he wouldn’t take the roof off until he’d spoken to his boss. Ray had to chase them up and following 19 phone calls, a manager finally came out from Zenith to look at what needed to be done and told us all that was required was an extra glazing bar.
‘Another set of panels arrived and the same fitter came back a few weeks later and took the roof of the conservatory off. He then went to install one of the replacement panels and found it wouldn’t fit.
‘He put a temporary roof on the utility area, but it left us all exposed with open areas each end.’
The exasperated couple then had to wait until another surveyor turned up to check all the measurements.
An angry Georgie wrote to Zenith’s head office and gave them a piece of her mind.
But when they received no acknowledgement or reply, the couple’s anger turned to outrage. The rear of their home had been left exposed to the weather and their garden littered with the discarded roof and unusable replacement panels.
They repeatedly followed up their protests to the firm’s senior management with a series of recorded delivery letters, but when there was no response it became clear they’d just been abandoned and were being given the silent cold shoulder routine.
A determined Georgie alerted the ombudsman service, the Glass and Glazing Federation, and trading standards, but none of them had sufficient means to intervene directly into the dispute.
In the meantime the weather took a turn for the worse, leaving a trail of destruction.
‘Once the rain came we had to borrow a Vax to help bail out the sun room which was just a swimming pool,’ said Georgie.
‘They didn’t put a gutter on the temporary roofing, so water just poured in everywhere. We had cloths all round the utility room to mop up the water and protect the electrical items.
‘All the floor tiles, carpeting and underlay were ruined and Ray had to hastily prop up the unsupported structure after it started swaying in the wind.’
The couple were so confused and annoyed that they just didn’t know what to do next, so they went to Citizens’ Advice to find out where they stood.
They were advised to send a recorded delivery letter to Zenith giving them one more chance to put the job right. If they failed to turn up the contract was cancelled.
The Diapers were dumbfounded when their final ultimatum to Zenith went the same way as their previous complaints and the firm didn’t respond.
A disillusioned Ray decided the immediate priority was to get another local company in to complete the job, which they did successfully and without a hitch.
But as they’d been completely unable to get a response out of anyone at Zenith they called in Streetwise to see if we could get some answers.
We put it to Zenith’s top bosses that the Diapers’ story had exposed bungling beyond belief. One survey mistake might be regarded as a misfortune, but three looked suspiciously like incompetence. By walking away from the job instead of facing up to the consequences they’d caused their elderly customers endless worry and distress.
Although no-one at the firm was prepared to comment, we’d finally broken through the seemingly impenetrable wall of silence.
We obtained recognition that the Diapers had been put through a five-month home improvement experience from hell. The company’s legal team gave us an assurance they were now in touch with the Diapers and negotiating with them to get the matter sorted.
A grateful Georgie said: ‘It was such good news to finally get a response from Zenith, thanks to you. I can’t thank you enough for all your help.’