Time to crack down on dodgy double glazing salesmen

The Law Commission wants to make it easier for consumers who've been swindled by dubious sales tactics to get their money back.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 28 Jul 2011
What do mobility scooters and double glazing have in common? The answer, according to a new review by the Law Commission, is that both industries have an unusually high number of dodgy salesmen targeting elderly or vulnerable people. In fact, the problem has got so bad that the Commission has launched a review of the regulations surrounding aggressive sales tactics, with the aim of making it easier for people to get their money back and even claim losses for ‘distress and inconvenience’. Good news for Mabel and Arthur down the road – but struggling businesses will argue the cost of compliance is going to make life even tougher...

According to the review, two-thirds of adults say they’ve experienced a ‘misleading or aggressive trade practice’ in the last two years – whether that’s a pushy double-glazing salesman, or simply a dodgy second-hand car dealer. In households where vulnerable, elderly or disabled people live alone, there are tales of doorstep sellers hiking up prices by as much as 400% (so roughly in line with inflation, then). In 2009, there were 5,000 complaints about companies selling mobility aids – a 20% increase on the year before.

The Law Commission says that under the current legislation, it isn't very clear what people can do about it, so the law needs to be simplified. It's proposing that people who have been pressured or duped into buying something they don’t want through ‘wins’ or freebies that actually add to the price would have the right to cancel the transaction, return their items or get a refund – for up to three months after the sale.

Now admittedly, nobody likes the idea of Auntie Doris being hoodwinked into handing over her life savings for a set of new windows she doesn’t really want or need - and few tears will be shed for purveyors of the sharpest practices. But the worry, as always, is about unintended consequences. The Commission reckons that if its proposals are enforced, it could lead to an extra 1,000-5,000 court cases - which would result in compliance costs of about £6.5m for UK plc. And it's a little out of kilter with the Government's much-vaunted drive to slash red tape. So it's important to strike the right balance.

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