Three company directors whose company used aggressive trading practices and overcharged vulnerable residents for work carried out have been handed fines totalling £50,000.
Jason Walchester, of Franklin Drive, Stoke-on-Trent, Paul Birks of Crackley Bank, Newcastle and Christopher Davies of The Crossway, Newcastle, traded as Ecoseal Home Improvements Ltd. They pleaded guilty to 15 consumer protection offences at an earlier court hearing.
Staffordshire County Council’s trading standards team prosecuted the three men and the company following a lengthy investigation.
Today at Stafford Crown Court 49-year-old Walchester, Birks, 41 and 35-year-old Davies were each fined £5,000. The company was fined £35,000 and must pay costs of nearly £93,000. Each defendant was also ordered to pay £5,000 costs.
The court heard that Ecoseal, which traded from Loomer Road in Newcastle and was predominantly involved in double glazing sales, made persistent cold calls and its employees engaged in pressure selling to customers.
Complainants were vulnerable either due to age or health reasons which the directors knew to be the case. They were then sold products at vastly inflated prices. The company had been previously advised and warned on three separate occasions by the trading standards team and had even signed an undertaking to stop any aggressive or pressured sales practices.
Documents obtained during the investigation showed that sales staff were informed by their bosses that ‘65 per cent of appointments are made after the fifth objection.’
Ecoseal ignored warnings and carried on with its practices over a number of years and staff could spend up to two-and-a-half hours in victims’ homes.
In one case, a victim with a diagnosed brain injury paid £18,000 for double glazing when experts said that it was only worth £7,100.
Another victim with memory issues signed a total of five credit agreements which accounted for 25 per cent of her income over eight years. An expert for the prosecution said that after examination of the documents, they considered it was most likely not her signature.
In other cases, the price charged or quoted for home improvement works was as much as almost 400 per cent over the reasonable market practice.
Staffordshire County Council’s communities leader Gill Heath said:
People need to feel safe in their own homes. Vulnerable people particularly are protected by law to ensure they are not badgered and harassed by this type of business. These types of crime cause immeasurable pain and suffering.
The company directors failed to provide protection to their customers from unfair trading practices.
They have shown a complete indifference to the vulnerability of its customers who they overcharged on numerous occasions. The directors had been warned by our trading standards team about inappropriate trading practices on several occasions prior to this series of offences.
We are pleased therefore with the outcome of this case. Our trading standards team’s priority is to support and advise local business – however it also has an important job to do in keeping Staffordshire people safe and will pursue those carrying out illegal trading activities.”