Last August Southsea couple Gail and Matt Oakley splashed out an upfront £2,500 deposit for a double-glazing revamp and expected the job to be completed within a few weeks.
But glazing firm proprietor John Lepp, trading as Sage Windows and Doors, left them in the lurch for months, and refused to return their £2,500 deposit when they cancelled the order.
The firm first appeared on our radar last month when another Portsmouth couple, Bob and Hilary Beagley told Streetwise they’d lost £900 to the same Shedfield based company in similar circumstances.
Since then, a significant number of outraged readers have contacted the column accusing Mr. Lepp of rogue trading after having to chase him for thousands of pounds in unreturned deposits.
An angry Gail Oakley, 42, said she was pregnant with her third child when they’d just moved into their house which needed a lot of improvement work.
They always commission home improvements on personal recommendation, but in this case they’d no-one to turn to. They ran a check with Checkatrade.com on their trusted trader website and Trustpilot before deciding to give the firm the job.
Because of the traffic noise in her road she opted for acoustic glass windows which Sage proprietor John Lepp promised to install before the expected birth in October - if they paid the deposit promptly.
But the promise came to nothing and they were kept in the dark for months with a series of excuses for no shows adding to their stress and frustration.
Teacher Gail said: ‘When we complained about his breach of trust the tone of the emails, texts and our conversations became increasingly aggressive.
‘We wanted to warn others but all our attempts to leave reviews on websites resulted in legal threats and intimidation.
‘We’re currently taking him to court for the return of our deposit.’
Another angry and frustrated couple facing a hefty hit in the bank balance, Peter and Lynsey Foster, told Streetwise they were chasing Mr Lepp for the return of £3,250.
Following a recommendation from their son in law, they’d planned to place their order with Saje UPVC ltd., a reputable company of 30 years standing in Swanmore.
But an online search error soon landed the Waterlooville pair in trouble when last August they mistakenly invited Mr Lepp to quote for a comprehensive window and door home improvement makeover.
Electrician Peter, 59, confirmed they were taking him to court for a refund of the deposit, after he went to ground and fobbed them off with a catalogue of unconvincing excuses for not starting the work.
Warning bells also began to ring for a Southwick retired police officer victim Jim Mann, when his wife Jynette received an unexpected text from Sage Windows admin staff to say they’d walked out on the firm claiming they hadn’t been paid.
The couple ordered 6 windows and a door from them last July and had no hesitation in putting down a £2,500 deposit after placing reliance in the Checkatrade trusted trader logo on the firm’s website and invoices.
But they were hung out to dry and four special delivery letters to Mr Lepp’s business address containing an ultimatum to complete the work, or face court action were promptly returned by the post office.
Jim, 68, consulted Citizens’ Advice, who are the first port of call for trading standards, before setting about his own enquiries.
He discovered the Sage Shedfield business address was an empty lock-up on an equestrian site, with just Mr Lepp’s phone number attached to the door.
Further enquiries revealed Mr Lepp wasn’t entitled to use the trade logos shown on his website or invoices. Membership had either lapsed or had been withdrawn due to the volume of complaints.
Jim ended up reporting the matter to the police, via the national Action Fraud gateway, and suing the firm for breach of contract.
We first put our readers’ complaints to Sage Windows and Doors boss John Lepp, and asked him to comment.
He insisted he wasn’t in financial difficulty and was up for resolving complaints. He blamed a former disgruntled employee for defaming him and dragging what he described as some of his most ‘gullible’ customers into the situation.
Implausibly, he denied they’d a legal right to a refund for breach of contract, insisting they’d no reason to change their minds after they’d placed their order.
When we asked what was wrong with simply returning their money because his management problems weren’t the concern of customers, he declined to answer.
However there was a hint of an olive branch when he acknowledged a growing number of legal actions against him were in the pipeline.
He said: ‘There’s no denial but there are court cases which are in process. If the claimants wish to settle out of court then there is a process for this. We are just a hard-working small business who strives to offer quality, service and a good price.’
Insolvency Service watchdogs told us they were unable to take action because Mr Lepp was trading privately, not as a limited company. It didn’t however mean he could just walk away and ignore his debts.
Hampshire Trading Standards declined to comment when asked to confirm whether they were aware of the number of complaints about the company.
Linda Hardy, chief operating officer at Checkatrade.com, told us that following an investigation, membership of John Lepp’s firm had been cancelled in November 2017 due to a breach of their terms and conditions.
She said: ‘As part of this cancellation, he was required by trading standards to remove all association with Checkatrade from his marketing materials including any vehicles and company paperwork.
‘We are very sorry to hear that a number of consumers have had negative experiences of this tradesperson – as it completely goes against the purpose of Checkatrade, which is to protect consumers from rogue traders. No one checks and vets like Checkatrade.’
A furious but typical Sage victim Michael Coleman from Sutton, Surrey, didn’t mince his words when he went public to blast what he believed were the shortcomings of trading regulators and the legal system.
He’d gone to court last November for the refund of his £788.92 deposit, and insisted he’d been verbally abused and threatened with violence by Mr Lepp after he’d posted adverse reviews of his business on social media.
He tore into all the official consumer watchdogs expressing the fury and frustration of countless victims who’ve been fleeced by dodgy traders.
‘None has any interest apart from small claims,’ he said. ‘The government bodies that should care have absolutely no interest or have teeth to do anything.
‘Basically parasites are able to trade claiming accreditation by standards bodies, take deposits, and do nothing but lie and fob people off and have pretty much the green light to continue their malpractice.’
Streetwise continues to warn readers to be sceptical of online trader recommendations or reviews. Fakes are frequently posted by unscrupulous con artists.
Where possible refuse to engage firms insisting on advance deposits, but never agree to pay more than ten per cent of the total contract price.
For added protection, always pay for satisfactory completed work in stages, and pay by credit card. The card issuer will be equally liable to refund people for a breach of contract or misrepresentations by the trader.