When Gosport couple Elaine and Ken Tucker decided their porch had seen better days, they placed an order with Zenith Staybrite to replace it.
But the entire episode soon turned into a nightmare after the firm’s installation team repeatedly let them down and they struggled to get an administration charge refunded when the order was cancelled.
Medically retired engineer Ken said that last November, when he examined the bungalow’s storm porch prior to the onset of winter, it proved to be a little bit worse for wear.
But no sooner had he gone back indoors to consider replacing his ageing DIY wooden structure, to his astonishment a salesman from Zenith Staybrite knocked them up to ask if they were considering any home improvement work.
Ken admitted to being unfazed by the startling coincidence. The firm had previously fitted secondary glazed window units to their home when they’d first moved in during the 1970s, and they’d been completely happy with the work.
When the salesman said there was no harm in getting the firm to quote for the porch replacement, they thought no more of it and were more than happy to agree.
Ken said: ‘The salesman took some details and confirmed his manager would pop back and arrange to give us a quote.
‘This chap turned up and took the measurements and initially quoted us £11,000-odd, but then he came up with a story that his manager had a pot of money and told my wife he could bring the price down to around £4,000 plus an administration fee of £149.
‘My wife thought it wasn’t too bad and she liked the style of the window. As it was a company we’d dealt with before and he said the work would be completed by November 14, we signed up.’
But despite being impressed with the product and the apparent bargain price offer, warning bells began to sound when Ken received a phone call to say the installation team had been involved in a job over-run. They wouldn’t be able to start until a day later than planned.
The day dawned, but no-one turned up first thing as promised.
Elaine got on the phone to Zenith’s Portsmouth office and was astounded to discover the installation wasn’t on the work schedule and had mysteriously slipped below the radar.
Yet another phone call resulted in a promise that a manager would ring back to give them an alternative completion date, but to the couple’s mounting irritation no-one called back to confirm.
They waited a few more days, then contacted the Citizens’ Advice Bureau which advised them to write to the firm and set a date for completion of the job.
They wrote a stiff letter of complaint to customer services in mid-November, saying they felt let down and messed around by the company blanking them every time they tried to find out what was happening.
Ken’s blood pressure began to rise when the letter was ignored and still no-one turned up.
When neither porch or fitters arrived by early January, the couple decided it was high time to write to the Cheshire firm’s boss and sole director Tony Reilly to give him a piece of their mind.
They made it clear that as Zenith had defaulted on the installation for more than two months, the contract was at an end and a refund of the £149 admin fee was due.
However, after that request also failed to bring a response, they turned up at the regular weekly Streetwise surgery to find out where they stood and to ask for our assistance.
We ran routine company background checks which threw up a significant number of similar complaints about Zenith’s lack of customer support.
Even more revealing, we discovered the firm had been prosecuted by Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards last July and admitted 10 offences on unfair sales tactics at Guildford Crown Court.
Five offences related to engaging in an unfair commercial practice by quoting an initial inflated price before applying a number of discounts to give the impression of a bargain.
Streetwise got in touch with Mr Reilly and asked him to explain why the Tuckers’ request for a refund had been ignored.
A customer services spokesperson said: ‘Please accept our apologies that you have had to chase a reply and that you have had to contact us in regards to an issue of this nature.
‘I can confirm that Mr and Mrs Tucker’s order has been cancelled and I have arranged for the return of all fees associated with this order.
‘We apologise for any inconvenience that Mr and Mrs Tucker may have suffered and trust you can accept that what they experienced was never Zenith’s intention.’
Ken said: All the warning signs were there not to get involved, and perhaps we should have known better.
‘We just didn’t know which way to turn, but were determined not to give up. We both really appreciate everything you’ve done for us.’