Southsea couple Hilary and Bob Beagley splashed out a £950 deposit up front for a double glazing makeover and expected it to be fitted within weeks.
But after taking the money the firm failed to turn up, blaming a lack of fitters for the delay.
Bob told us the previous February they’d decided to have some of their windows double glazed by a Southampton based firm, Sage Windows and Doors.
They were particularly impressed by the fitters, who apart from a couple of minor issues which were quickly rectified, completed the work on time and to their satisfaction.
Last September they decided to go one stage further and sign up to have the rest of their windows upgraded.
They contacted the firm’s proprietor John Lepp, who promptly arrived and quoted £1,900 to complete the work by the end of October in return for an immediate fifty percent bank transfer deposit of £950.
Bob said: ‘We paid the deposit the following day, but a week later we got a text from what turned out to be the firm’s ex admin employee.
‘She said she no longer worked for them because the firm had financial problems and revealed the fitters hadn’t been paid.
‘I sent a copy of the text to Mr Lepp, who insisted that the work would be going ahead as planned and completed by the end of October.
‘But shortly afterwards he gave us a new fit date of 12th November which he agreed was due to a lack of fitters.
‘I took down curtains and moved furniture in preparation, but at 6.40 am on the day we received a text - not a phone call - to say they were not coming because fitters had let them down.
‘He then sent us another fitting date of 21st November, but this time we texted him a couple of days in advance to check they’d be coming, but then he got back to us with another revised date of 14th December.
‘Because we’d been let down so many times we started checking whether all was okay for 14th December but just didn’t receive a reply to any of our texts or messages left with the answering service.
‘Concerned whether he’d done a runner, we decided to visit the firm’s offices which turned out to be a couple of lock ups at an equestrian centre near Wickham.
‘There was no one there, and a notice on the door said to leave mail with the café, which didn’t exactly fill us with confidence.
‘After sending further text messages we were finally told the fitters had let them down again and the job would now be done sometime in the new year.’
The retired couple feared the worst. They blasted proprietor Mr. Lepp for keeping them waiting for more than four months with no realistic expectation of when the job would be done and nothing to show for their money.
When another fruitless round of emails and texts drew a blank they cancelled the order and asked for a refund.
But Mr Lepp, refused to give them the option of refunding their deposit without conditions attached.
They said when they declined to agree to his demands the tone of the conversation became threatening and bullying. They decided to get in touch with Streetwise to confirm where they stood.
We explained that under The Consumer Rights Act 2015 a trader was required to complete a service in a reasonable time. By insisting on a firm completion date they’d made it clear in the event of it not being adhered to they’d pulled the plug on the deal and were right to insist on a refund of the £950 deposit.
But once Mr Lepp learned the Beagleys had sought our advice matters took an uncompromising turn.
Although still not giving the couple a firm date for installation, he insisted he’d only complete the job without further charge provided they withdrew their complaint.
When we got onto him he deployed the shoot the messenger routine. He accused us of just trying to get a story despite receipt of a confirmation email from the couple he’d only reacted when we’d intervened.
When we asked him to reconsider his stance and agree to an unconditional refund we were blamed for confirming their statutory rights.
‘I have absolutely no doubt that you are the cause of the problems and have made the matter what it is,’ he said.
‘There’s no doubt in my mind that the Beagleys would have come round and we would have fitted their windows by now. Your opinion is cynically commercially biased based on wanting to make something out of nothing.’
Although Streetwise is sympathetic to firms that run into financial difficulties, trading out of the situation required sufficient insight to understand customers weren’t to blame for the situation. Stringing them along to retain their money wasn’t an option they were inclined to accept.
We put it to an angry Hilary and Bob that traders attaching conditions to refunds for a breach of contract were flouting fair trading regulations. Their only remaining options were to alert trading standards, go to court, or write the matter off to bitter experience.
Dissatisfaction with Home improvement makeovers was endemic, and alarm bells should ring when traders insist on sky high deposits before any work is started.
To limit the risk of being let down people should deposit no more than ten per cent of the total price and be prepared to walk away even if what was on offer appeared to be a good deal.
‘It’s been a lesson to us,’ said Hilary ‘the silence from Mr Lepp until you got involved was deafening.’
‘People should be warned of the pitfall of relying on satisfaction with previous work undertaken without up to date checking.