Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
Ms L.A. writes: When I moved into my new home, windows needed replacing. I contacted a number of companies and Anglian Home Improvements was the first to respond. I expected their representative to take 15 or 20 minutes, as other firms had indicated, but he was in the house for over three hours.
I was very tired, hungry, and just wanted him to leave. I paid £199 after he said this would keep open a special offer, and if I cancelled before a surveyor visited, I would have nothing to pay.
I cancelled the contract but now Anglian says I have to stick to it or pay them £1,409. They are threatening me, saying I must cover their costs, yet they have not done anything.
Tony Hetherington replies: You told me the Anglian salesman said that new windows would cost you £21,000, and when you replied that this was more than you could afford, he made some changes which amazingly cut the price by about half.
Threat: Anglian Home Improvements demanded £1,400 over cancellation
You still wanted to see what other firms would quote before you made up your mind, but then the salesman pulled another rabbit from his hat. The reduced price was a one-time offer, he explained. It would no longer be available, even the next day. Yet as a final clincher, you say, he told you that if you signed up with Anglian and paid just £199 immediately, the cut-price offer would remain open.
You were told that if you cancelled the deal within five days, you would get your money back. And as long as you cancelled before a surveyor visited your home, the contract would be cancelled and you would have nothing to pay. By this point, you told me, you were desperate for him to leave. You paid the £199 and scrawled your signature on to his tablet. Then you went straight to bed, exhausted.
Later, other firms said your replacement windows would only cost about £6,000, so you cancelled the agreement with Anglian. And this is where things became decidedly unpleasant. A letter from Keeley Richards, in Anglian’s legal department in Norwich, warned that your cancellation was too late, and you were in breach of contract.
She told you ‘we have suffered loss and damage,’ adding one option was for you to go ahead with the work, which would cost £10,725. Alternatively, since the windows had not actually been made or installed, Anglian would settle for keeping the £199 you already paid, plus a further £1,409, plus interest.
With the letter was 17 pages of a legally binding contract that Anglian pointed out was the deal you agreed to when you signed your name on the salesman’s tablet. In a nutshell, your signature confirmed that you had read and understood all of Anglian’s terms and conditions.
But here’s the funny thing. There is an electronic record which shows that the document was generated on Anglian’s tablet at 7.11pm on the day the salesman was in your house. And your signature is timed at 7.17pm. So, I asked Anglian whether it believed you had studied page after page of its legal terms, including many clauses and sub-sections; had raised any questions with the salesman and considered his answers; and then signed on the dotted line – all in six minutes!
And for good measure, I asked whether there really did happen to be a special offer available on that day, which would be withdrawn the following day. And I wondered whether Anglian does allow customers to cancel and pay nothing as long as the surveyor has not yet done his work.
Anglian replied, but without answering the questions. You had a seven-day cooling off period, it said, and its terms and conditions imposed a standard late cancellation charge of 15 per cent. It added that its terms ‘were emailed and provided to the customer at the time of signing’. I couldn’t help noticing that Anglian sidestepped every question, so I repeated them.
Was there a special offer that expired a day later? No. Anglian finally told me there was a ‘scheme’ that reduces prices for customers who promote the company. Did the £199 guarantee the special offer would continue? No. Anglian admitted that £199 was its normal minimum deposit.
Does Anglian allow a customer to pay nothing if they cancel before a surveyor arrives? No. After the seven-day cooling-off period, Anglian can apply its cancellation charges. As for allowing time to study the contract, Anglian told me it emails these, and ‘our customers have complete control and choice over if/or and when they open, read and sign any of our documentation’.
On the same day Anglian told me all this, it wrote to you with a total U-turn. It told you: ‘We have considered your cancellation request and decided with no admission of liability to accept your cancellation and refund your deposit in full.’ The demand for £1,409 has been scrapped, and your £199 was returned.
With a final empty threat, Anglian demanded its refund and the existence of your complaint remain secret. You were told you must never ‘disclose them to, or otherwise discuss them with or communicate them to any third party’, including the media. How silly of Anglian to impose conditions it could never hope to enforce, particularly as you had never signed up to them, or seen them in advance.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY or email [email protected]. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.
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