ally Kelly found herself in a domestic dilemma one Saturday last June when she discovered the plumbing under her kitchen sink had sprung a leak.
It wasn’t that her Cosham home was at risk of flooding, but it was serious enough to have to put a bowl under the sink and the annoyance of keep checking it wasn’t about to overflow.
The 80-year-old pensioner’s first thought was to head for Yellow Pages. She didn’t know any local plumbers, and in any event as it was the weekend she reasoned there was a slim chance anyone would respond to her unexpected emergency at short notice.
A search through the directory pages turned up a Southampton firm, 24hr Emergency Services Ltd., so it was a relief when they offered to send a tradesman out immediately to fix the leak.
By chance she’d just treated herself to a £180 replacement Currys own brand dishwasher, and thought it might be a good idea for the plumber to install it for her at the same time.
‘The water was coming from the S bend,’ she explained ‘so it didn’t amount to a great deal. It was only replacing the plastic part and screwing it up.
‘I wasn’t sure if it was getting any worse, but I think if it had been a weekday I’d have taken more time to look around for a local plumber.
‘When I phoned they did say it would be £72 per half hour. I’d heard about these terrible call out charges but I reasoned the job wouldn’t take very long and the dishwasher only needed a pipe attached to let the water out.’
But Sally began to get reservations when she didn’t get a quotation from the plumber for the cost of doing the work, and went off to obtain parts for the first half hour.
He promptly sorted the sink then turned his attention to the installation of the dishwasher.
By the time he’d completed the job two hours later Sally discovered to her horror she was about to be invoiced £89 for parts and £391 for the labour.
When £70 VAT was added a stunned Sally found herself staring at a bill for £540, which was precisely three times the cost of the dishwasher.
Almost choking in disbelief she handed over her debit card to settle the bill only to discover after the plumber had left she’d been overcharged by £20 plus VAT an hour.
To add insult to injury his arithmetical skills were also found wanting. He’d also totted up her bill incorrectly adding a further £20 to it.
She immediately got onto their head office who said they were unable to help until they received a copy of the plumber’s invoice.
Sally added: ‘I kept on phoning them up to find out what was happening. Then they said they didn’t write cheques out until the end of the month and I’d have to wait for it.
‘I just couldn’t understand why they didn’t just reimburse me for the invoice mistake via my card, however when the cheque finally arrived and I paid it into my Nationwide savings account it bounced.’
The former nurse had been fighting the firm for weeks and just didn’t know which way to turn until a friend told her about Streetwise.
She dashed off a letter to the paper’s Lakeside office in a passionate plea for help.
We went over the paperwork Sally enclosed and agreed the overpayment trail had gone cold. She’d been given the run-around and had good cause to complain.
Apart from rubber cheques, we accepted her explanation why she’d felt under pressure to agree to the work at the quoted ex-VAT £144 an hour price tag when saddled with an emergency.
Our primary concern wasn’t that ex-VAT pricing is banned by law and can only apply to business customers, but the plumber’s failure to provide a quotation for the dishwasher installation had left her in a state of shock at the staggering cost of the final bill. We pointed out it was a potential infringement of the Consumer Contracts Regulations, and helpful compliance advice could be obtained from Southampton Trading Standards.
When we got onto the company’s boss and asked him to investigate the overpayment was promptly refunded.
Angie Morris, the company’s services manager claimed they were unaware the refund cheque sent to Sally had bounced and disputed she’d been given the run around.
She said: ‘We confirmed with Mrs Kelly that payment would be by cheque but now being aware that this has not cleared it has now been actioned to credit her card.
‘We are a rapid response company and our rates reflect the service and response time offered. Our charges are comparable with other companies offering similar response times.
‘We ensure that every customer is fully aware of rates, quoting the rates on the phone whilst booking and whilst on site the engineer will reiterate the rates and gain signatures in agreement prior to work commencing.
‘If at any time a customer is not happy with the charges they can either decline the call out on the initial phone call or refuse to sign the invoice in agreement. In that case no work would be undertaken or charge made. It is the customer’s decision to decide the urgency of the works.
‘We follow a Vulnerable Person’s policy which is issued to all who represent the company. ‘
A grateful and relieved Sally said she was so distraught she was resigned just to give up when she received the bounced refund cheque.
‘When I told my friend she asked whether I’d heard of Streetwise in The News. She told me about other cases that had been solved and people had got their money back.
‘It was just the relief, because you know you’re being taken for a ride but it was the sheer frustration of it all.
‘The friend who told me to get in touch has gone round and told everybody the good news. I can’t thank you enough for your help.’