Doorstep seller complaints hit record high
More of us than ever before have complained about the antics of doorstep sellers. Where do you stand if you've been caught out?
The Office of Fair Trading says consumers made a record 35,000 complaints to helplines about doorstep traders. That's anything from problems with people promising to tarmac your drive (my answer is always “I don't have a drive”) to – and this I find hard to believe – folk still selling reference books.
Why this new high? Perhaps doorstep scam perpetrators come out in hard times, or maybe consumers are more aware of their rights. But whatever the explanation, the 35,000 count is just tip of the iceberg stuff – there are many more problems go unreported.
Doorstep is a misnomer – the rules cover sellers invited into your home, not just those who stand by your front entrance and whether they have a prior appointment with you or not.
Most doorstep victims are elderly, more likely to be trusting, live alone, and have spare savings. They are also less likely to know their rights or access online advice. So if you have a relation or neighbour in this age group, read on so you can help spread the word.
The scams of choice
The consumer watchdog is currently focusing on two sectors – home insulation and mobility aids.
Dorset Trading Standards has an above average ratio of older people in its area. Last April, it reported people were sold £99 “money saving” gadgets which promised to cut energy bills by 40%. Needless to say, these cold callers spouted a lot of hot air – the devices did nothing and many were electrically unsafe.
To add insult to injury, the phoney gadget purveyors then offered to recover the money plus “compensation” of up to £3,000 through a “legal claims management” company. But to get this refund, the victim had to first pay over another £100 to £400 in “initial costs”.
Watch out too for the “petrol saver” device which claims to cut consumption by 40%. It does not and can actually damage the engine.
Solar panels are also aimed at older people, especially those living in sunnier parts (like Dorset). Targets are told they will save thousands on energy bills and cut carbon emissions. There is – as in all scams – some truth in these claims. But the price quoted is a rip-off. A solar water-heating system should cost about £4,500 to £5,000. Instead, doorstep sellers aim to get £15,000. And energy efficiency sellers don't offer good advice – they'll flog a system to someone with a north-facing roof permanently shaded by trees.
Stair-lift tracks have to be specially made to fit each home so the salesperson makes a big show of measuring up. But whatever the dimensions, the price demanded is nearly always around £5,500 to £6,000. And that is twice the real cost, even allowing for a decent profit. Sellers will take £3,000 rather than lose a deal. The same applies to other aids such as bath lifts, scooters and wheelchairs.
Again, advice is often deliberately dodgy or capriciously careless.
Doorstep selling rules
No one should buy without first contacting a health or social services professional to check whether the device is needed. Doorstep victims are often unable to shop around, forced to trust claims of expertise.
The doorstep selling rules cover items valued at £35 or more including home improvement, repair and maintenance services, gardening, cosmetics, clothes, jewellery and toiletries, household items such as vacuum cleaners, books, DVDs and other home entertainment items, nutrition and health products, energy supplies and disability aids and mobility products. But they do not cover financial services.
Under the rules, sellers have to tell customers about their rights to cancel over a minimum of the following seven days. This ‘Notice of the Right to Cancel’ must be in writing and applies whether the visit is with or without an appointment. If this notice is not provided, the contract cannot be enforced – failure to give a notice is a criminal offence with a fine up to £5,000.
Concerns about a salesperson or business offering goods or services on the doorstep can be reported to Citizens Advice on 08454 040506.
OFT head of campaigns Judith Frame said: "Nobody needs to sign up or agree to a purchase on the spot if they do not want to, whether on the doorstep or in your home. Everyone usually has a cooling-off period of seven days to change their mind or cancel.
"Anyone who arranges a visit by a doorstep salesperson should consider asking someone they trust to sit with them during the appointment."
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