'˜They've treated us diabolically '” we just want our money back'

Furious Portsmouth couple John and Vivienne Williams put down a £2,000 deposit on five new replacement windows and a door which were promised to be installed in 4--6 weeks.

Thursday, 1st June 2017, 7:29 am
Updated Sunday, 4th June 2017, 9:29 pm
John and Vivienne Williams     Picture: Habibur Rahman
John and Vivienne Williams Picture: Habibur Rahman

But five months down the line, Cheshire-based double glazing firm Zenith Staybrite Ltd still hadn’t started the job.

Former secretary Viv, 76, and husband John, 78, told Streetwise they’d signed on the dotted line with the firm on January 12. They’d been given numerous promises when the work would start, but had been repeatedly let down.

John said they’d plumped for Zenith to do their home improvement work because they’d used the firm to install the original double glazing around 30 years ago and were impressed with the quality of the product.

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A salesman came out and took measurements, but they weren’t at all impressed with the £18,000 price tag and extended sales pitch. When they flinched at the price, the salesman said he was authorised to apply a number of discounts, slashing the original quote to £10,123.

Despite having a number of alternative offers to do the work for under half the price, they believed they were buying the best so promptly put down a deposit of £2,000 and a non-refundable £149 ‘administration’ fee.

Shortly afterwards, a surveyor re-measured the windows and a month later they received a welcome phone call from the firm’s Portsmouth office confirming an installation date of February 21.

But from then on everything went downhill. First the installation team turned up but had to cancel the work because three of the windows were missing and the remainder were the wrong size and wouldn’t fit.

Then tempers began to fray when the couple repeatedly phoned to complain but say they were pushed from pillar to post.

To add insult to injury, they say they were threatened with losing 80 per cent of their deposit if they cancelled the order.

Over the course of the next five months they listed dozens of calls they made to customer services and each time were promised someone would be in touch. But no contact materialised.

Every time they tried to find out when their windows were scheduled to be installed, the firm’s customer service team sent them on a frustrating wild goose chase around the country. All their calls for information to the Portsmouth, Fareham, Norwich and Crawley offices were ignored or not returned.

Viv said she was astounded at the customer service as they struggled in vain to get answers.

She said: ‘John made a list and during the never-ending debacle we spoke to about a dozen people.

‘If the Portsmouth manager had just phoned and said ‘‘we have a problem, could you bear with us, we appreciate your patience’’ etc, we could have understood, but we never heard from him. It was always a promise to get someone to get back to us, but they never did.’

By mid-March the couple’s frustration boiled over as they claimed no-one at Zenith appeared remotely interested or had had the slightest inclination to get to grips with the situation.

Following an exchange of angry emails, a thoroughly exasperated Viv finally received confirmation that their windows had been re-ordered and the installation would be arranged in two to three weeks. But that turned out to be another abortive promise and was the last they heard from Zenith for a further five weeks.

When they still didn’t have the foggiest idea when the installation would take place, the couple decided it was time to take the initiative and call in Streetwise to find out where they stood.

We advised them to write to Zenith and give them one final chance to get the job done and dusted. Installation was made the key element of the contract. If it wasn’t completed by April 14, the order was cancelled and their money should be refunded.

Subsequent background probing revealed the Williams’ complaint about Zenith Staybrite wasn’t an isolated incident.

In March Streetwise featured the case of Gosport couple Elaine and Ken Tucker. They were refunded their admin fee after the company admitted defaulting on its installation promise by more than two months.

The internet was awash with similar damning customer complaints about sales practices and interminable installation delays.

Surrey trading standards had also felt the firm’s collar in July 2016. The company was convicted at Guildford Crown Court of 10 offences of unfair and high pressure sales tactics.

We were also concerned that Zenith was not a member of the industry trade body the Glass and Glazing Federation, leaving the couple without any informal remedy for a breach of the consumer code of practice.

We got on to Zenith management, pointing out they’d conspicuously failed to install the Williams’s order within a reasonable time. They were in serious breach of their legal obligations under sections 50 and 54 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Following our intervention, John received a call from the company. Simultaneously, a Zenith spokesperson assured Streetwise the matter had been sorted.

He said: ‘As a consumer-focused business, we constantly strive to provide all our customers with an excellent service and we welcome feedback.

‘Unfortunately it appears in this instance Mr and Mrs. Williams’ experience has fallen short of our very high standards. Although not an excuse, we believe the delay has come as a result of an internal re-organisation which has included the transfer of our customer service function from Norfolk to Cheshire.

‘We can confirm we are currently waiting on Mr Williams providing us with a convenient date and time for the installation to take place.’

After discussing the situation with John and Viv, we pointed out to Zenith management that refunding the couple wasn’t an option.

It had been made crystal clear a month earlier that their order had been cancelled.

It was contemptuous to continue to ignore the cancellation following five months of hassle and poor customer service.

Despite repeated requests, Zenith did not respond to confirm it was arranging a refund.

A determined Viv said: ‘There’s no way we’ve agreed to go ahead with the installation.

‘We’ve just completely lost faith in them. We don’t want them near the place.

‘The way we’ve been treated is absolutely diabolical. All we want is our money back.’

The couple are now planning legal action to recover their deposit.