A double-glazing firm has been convicted of quoting inflated prices to make discounts look better and falsely claiming offers were time-limited to persuade customers to make snap decisions.
Zenith Staybrite Ltd admitted ten offences under Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations following an investigation by Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards*.
Five offences were engaging in an unfair commercial practice by quoting an initial inflated price before applying a number of discounts to give the impression of a bargain.
The firm also pleaded guilty to five counts of engaging in an unfair commercial practice by falsely stating that products would be available at a particular price for a limited time to persuade customers to make an immediate decision.
In one case, a householder from Lee, south east London, was initially quoted £52,120 for a replacement set of uPVC windows, fascias and guttering before a series of discounts were applied giving a final price of £22,362.
In another, a couple from Bookham, Surrey, were given an initial price of £25,412 for new uPVC windows which was then reduced to £16,000.
The firm admitted using similar tactics with eight other householders around the south east – in Ashford and Woking, Surrey, as well as in Yateley, Hampshire, Clacton-on-Sea, Essex and West Drayton, Croydon, Coulsdon and Bromley.
Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards is now seeking compensation from Zenith Staybrite for customers uncovered by the investigation who were victims of unfair and high-pressure practices. Officers began their probe more than two years ago after receiving complaints from Surrey residents about their dealings with the firm.
The firm, whose registered office is in Tib Lane, Manchester, entered guilty pleas through its legal representative at Guildford Crown Court on Friday 15 July and will be sentenced on Friday 7 October.
Six other defendants – directors Gary Burton and Philip Lamb and sales agents Nicholas Petrou, James McMenemy, Enso Ghisoni and Michael Brodie – were formally found not guilty of unfair trading charges after no evidence was offered against them.
The court was told that signed undertakings had been received from the six not to use unfair trading practices. Any breach of the undertakings could lead to legal action.
Richard Walsh, Surrey County Council’s Cabinet Member for Localities and Community Wellbeing, said: “This was a major investigation over two years into high-pressure sales tactics which drove customers to make on-the-spot purchases they might not otherwise have made and we hope the outcome will serve as a warning to firms across the country tempted to resort to such practices.
“Our advice to consumers is always to be wary of deals and discounts which seem too good to be true and hard-sell tactics geared towards rushing them into signing on the dotted line.”
*Buckinghamshire and Surrey operate a joint trading standards service