News item

TSI welcomes new regulations to protect consumers

New laws to protect consumers from high-pressure sales in the home are good news for householders, the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) said today.

Experts at TSI welcomed the arrival of new doorstep selling regulations because they offer further protection for consumers who buy from salespeople who visit them in their home.

The regulations, which come into force on 01 October, are designed to protect consumers when they enter into contracts signed in their home or their place of work.

The new laws, unlike the old regulations, cover both solicited and unsolicited contracts. This means consumers are covered if they enter into an agreement after a salesman has cold-called or if they have invited a salesman around to their home.

While welcoming the new regulations, TSI also wants to make consumers aware that if they agree in writing to work starting straight away and then cancel their contract within seven days, they will still have to pay a reasonable amount for any work done by the trader.

Steve Playle, TSI doorstep crime expert, said: 'The old regulations were introduced in 1987 and gave consumers seven days in which to change their mind about a contract if they had signed it following a cold-call. These regulations were particularly helpful in tackling rogue traders engaged in home maintenance work like roofing, block paving and tarmacing.

'The new law now covers solicited as well as unsolicited calls, which is good news as the regulations have been expanded to further protect consumers from high-pressure selling in the home.

'However, the regulations now make provision for a trader to ask the consumer to sign and give permission to start work straight away. The worry is that consumers will be pressured into doing this on the basis that they will receive an additional discount from an already inflated price. The consumer can still cancel the work within seven days if they agree to the work starting straight away but, crucially, they will be liable for any reasonable costs incurred by the trader during that time.

'Therefore, if a consumer asks a double-glazing firm to start work on new windows straight away and they then cancel their contract within seven days, they still might have to pay out for any work the double-glazing firm has done for them within that period.

'Overall, the new regulations are a positive improvement, but we want to make sure consumers are aware that the rogue element may look to pressure householders into letting them start work straight away. Consumers should not feel pressured into letting traders start work straight away and should always take time to think about agreeing to any work on their home, taking the opportunity to shop around and get more quotes first.'

Case Study

87-year-old pressurised to sign up for £6,000 solar heating panel

The daughter of an 87-year-old man is furious after a company put pressure on him to order a solar panel for his home costing almost £6,000 - and to sign away a seven-day 'cooling off period' during which he could have changed his mind.

And the company has already cashed a £1,800 deposit the pensioner paid by Barclaycard.

The salesman kept reducing the price - originally quoted at £9,000 - as the man and his wife told him they wanted to telephone their son or daughter for advice.

The 87-year-old had decided he wanted to install solar heating after reading an article about energy certificates - and because he wanted to be able to leave his home in the best possible shape to his children.

He contacted the solar panel company after a flyer was dropped to his home and made an appointment for a representative to call.

'They started at £9,000 but my mother wasn't happy and wanted to phone us, at which point the salesman reduced the price by £1,000,' said Sheena Walker, of Southend.

'When she still said they would phone us, the salesman called his office and eventually brought the price down to £5,950. My father paid the £1,800 deposit and signed an agreement waiving the seven-day cooling off period.

'Now I have discussed it with him he realises he should have shopped around and the incident has really knocked him back.'

When Mrs Walker heard what had happened she phoned the company, which said that the seven day 'cooling off' period it offered was only a gesture of good will. The firm asked that her father should write a cancellation letter, which would be considered, but has as yet made no promise of returning the deposit or stopping the order.

Mrs Walker contacted trading standards, which informed her that under current regulations a seven-day 'cooling off' period is required only for unsolicited doorstep sales visits.

'I think it is right that the new regulations will also include the cooling off period for sales visits made by appointment,' she said. 'But, regardless of the law, I think this company behaved totally unethically - and it may be too late to stop my father having to hand over at least £1,800 deposit or, possibly, nearly £6,000 for a solar panel.'

Notes To Editors

While Mrs Walker is willing to be identified and to be interviewed about this case study, she does not wish to give her parents' names.

Trading Standards Institute

The Trading Standards Institute has represented the interests of Trading Standards professionals for 120 years. We have a long and proud history of ensuring that the views of our members are well represented at the highest level of government, both nationally and internationally.

Our aim is to promote excellence and enhance the professionalism of our members in support of empowering and informing consumers, encouraging and working with honest businesses, targeting rogue traders and rogue trading practices and contributing to the health, welfare and wellbeing of citizens and communities.

TSI members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities in response to 2 million consumer and business complaints and enquiries each year. They also support the delivery of new initiatives such as Consumer Direct, providing first point of contact practical consumer advice.

They also work in the business, consumer and central government sectors in promoting and influencing the safety, prosperity and enhancement of individuals and markets with a dependency on effective and professional trading standards contributions and interventions.