A Portsmouth family are angry after they learned that the elderly mother they tried to protect from predatory traders had been persuaded to buy a chair she couldn’t afford.
Sylvia Gilbert, 78, who has been diagnosed with dementia and a heart condition, phoned Westminster Recliners Ltd at the beginning of May for a price list and brochure after she’d seen its advert in a TV magazine.
The Gosport pensioner emphasised all she wanted was a catalogue and price list, but the following day a local salesman from the Ipswich-based company turned up with a demonstration chair.
Sylvia said: ‘He brought in this very comfortable chair, measured me up and was really flattering, putting on the charm.
‘He said the cost of the chair was £4,000 but I told him at least three times there’s no way I could buy it without consulting with my children. I had to speak to them first.’
But an hour-and-a-half later, exhausted by the length of the sales consultation, she signed on the dotted line.
The salesman caught her off-guard by claiming if she agreed to pay for the chair outright by debit card he could do her a special £2,000 half-price deal.
Sylvia phoned her daughter, Brigitte, for help once she realised she’d been a victim of high-pressure selling.
The following morning her son, Wayne, immediately rang the firm to cancel the order.
Streetwise became involved when, despite cancelling within the 14-day legal cooling off period, all the firm’s promises to refund Sylvia turned out to be empty.
A furious Brigitte said: ‘It’s so wicked and cruel.
‘Mum is one of those who always want to see the best in people so she’s one of the most gullible people I know, but we can’t wrap her in cotton wool.’
She believed the firm had demonstrated a high degree of contempt for her mother and told of the family’s anger and frustration about the failure to protect her from being cheated out of the bulk of her savings despite all their efforts.
Concerned at the way Sylvia had become a victim of the company’s sales techniques, Streetwise posed as a potential customer.
We tried to obtain product information and a price list, but discovered it was impossible without a home visit from a salesman.
We were told products were individually made to order and this was why a salesman needed to attend.
Further company background checks by Streetwise revealed Sylvia’s experience wasn’t just a one-off.
The firm’s director and company secretary Oliver Waters had twice been prosecuted by Suffolk trading standards for engaging in aggressive, unfair sales tactics and not giving vulnerable customers refunds they were entitled to.
We also discovered the firm had been rapped over the knuckles by the Advertising Standards Authority for misleading advertising.
A stunned Brigitte said: ‘I’m absolutely amazed that they are able to continue in business knowing they’ve no credibility,
‘I’m just flabbergasted they’re still getting away with it.’
Streetwise tried to get answers from Westminster Recliners boss Mr Waters, but without success.
But shortly before deadline, a Marc Bridges e-mailed us with a detailed, rambling statement.
He claimed that Suffolk trading standards had put out false and misleading information on its website about the firm’s convictions.
He confirmed that Sylvia had requested a sales call which necessitated taking measurements and making decisions about fabrics, after which she agreed to buy the chair.
He explained that as the chair had been specifically made for her, she was not entitled to a refund.
We disagreed and questioned whether it was credible that a customised chair could have been manufactured and supplied within 24 hours.
He also claimed that, following our intervention, the firm had decided to take a sympathetic line. Although the refund had been unavoidably delayed, Sylvia’s debit card had been credited.
At the time of going to press the refund had not been received.
Suffolk trading standards is standing by its published details of Westminster Recliner’s convictions.
A spokesperson told Streetwise: ‘Suffolk trading standards has successfully prosecuted Westminster Recliners on two occasions for aggressive practices.’