Page 1


n e m s e d a r t e v fi n One i t c a e h t n caught i

‘Goldilocks’ syndrome sees tradesmen treating your house like their home

W

hen the cat’s away the builders will play - that’s according to almost one in five homeowners who’ve caught a tradesman doing something they shouldn’t in their home. A recent survey of 1,000 UK homeowners by TrustMark, the Government endorsed scheme that helps homeowners find good quality, honest tradesmen, found that 18 percent had found tradesmen up to mischief*. While the more common complaints were tradesmen making themselves a cup of tea without asking or watching television in the sitting room, a few unlucky homeowners have caught their builder trying on their clothes, playing on the family Wii, having a fried breakfast and even sleeping in their bed! With homeowners spending on average more than £3,700 on each home

improvement job, it’s a big commitment and it seems a few tradesmen are taking advantage of the situation when they believe the house is empty. Roman Russocki, Chief Executive of TrustMark, said: “Whether it’s eating your porridge, sitting in your favourite chair or sleeping in your bed a few ‘Goldilocks’ builders are giving the rest a bad name. In the current climate, improving not moving is more common than ever and the best way to make sure your hard earned money is being well spent is to look for a reputable builder on the TrustMark database. In addition all of our tradesmen are subject to random onsite inspections.” The research revealed that the top ten compromising situations homeowners have found their builder in were: • Trying on the homeowner’s clothes • Playing on the family Wii • Making a fried breakfast

T H E O N L I N E C O N S U M E R W ATC H D O G M A G A Z I N E

• Working in the nude • Sleeping in their bed • Entertaining a girlfriend • Using their washing machine • Jumping on the kids’ trampoline • Looking through the household post and bills • Having a bath The research by TrustMark also highlighted that once the tradesmen had left six per cent of people were dissatisfied with the work carried out. Based on a national average, that equates to more than one million unhappy homeowners over the last five years. Finally the research also revealed that many homeowners believe the tradesman is still someone to be suspicious of – they were voted the fourth least trustworthy profession behind politicians, bankers and estate agents.


Be smart on your Doorstep T

here are legitimate doorstep sellers. However some are not and may pressure you into buying something that you don’t want or that is not good value for money. The next time someone comes knocking at your door with a persuasive sales pitch, use these tips to shop safely from your doorstep.

Think twice before you buy

Rogue doorstep sellers often use a range of high pressure tactics to get you to buy a variety of goods or services, such as overpriced or substandard home maintenance. If you feel under pressure to make a purchase, tell them: • • • •

you do not buy goods or services at the door you’d like more time to think about it you want to shop around and get other quotes you have to discuss it with someone else (for example, your partner or son/daughter).

If the seller tells you you’ll miss an exclusive offer, that’s just another high pressure tactic.

Double check the facts

Make sure you fully understand the total costs of the transaction including estimates, delivery and installation If you sign a contract, make sure you understand your rights Know the arrangements for after-sales servicing, such as the guarantees or warranties Only once you are satisfied that the transaction is entirely acceptable, should you agree to make a purchase

Buy wisely

• don’t sign on the spot, consider carefully whether you want the goods or service • always shop around for the best price • be wary of special offers or warnings about your home • don’t hand over a cash deposit • don’t agree to a trader starting any work straight away • talk to someone you trust for a second opinion • if in doubt, call Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06 or visit www.consumerdirect.gov.uk

T H E O N L I N E C O N S U M E R W ATC H D O G M A G A Z I N E


Glass and Glazing Federation


’ r e h t a e l t s ‘Bi ca ? c i t s a l p r o leather According to a 2006 OFT report consumer detriment is most likely to occur when irregular purchases of high value goods and services are made and not enough is known about the business involved. It could be argued that such a set of circumstances occur when consumers buy new suites of furniture. Leather furniture is certainly not something that is bought every day or even every year. But how much do consumers know about leather? - Do they really know what they are buying and are they getting what they think they are getting? Last year the Consumer Advice Centre in Belfast started receiving a number of complaints about loss of finish on leather settees and chairs. I did some research on the causes and came across the term ‘bi-cast’ or ‘bycast’ leather. I began to wonder if that’s what consumers were buying and what bi-cast leather really was. I even asked other advisers at the 2006 ICA AGM if they had heard of it, but no one else was familiar with the term. But what exactly is bi-cast leather? Bi-cast leather is made from split leather. It would appear from different descriptions of the manufacturing process that the thickness of the hide is split into a top grain and a lower split grain. The manufacturers then apply a layer of glue or adhesive to this lower split grain and this then is coated with a layer of polyurethane – essentially a plastic coating.The grain or texture of a bi-cast hide is embossed into the material during the bonding process which can make it look uniform in appearance. It can also have various colour effects and prints applied to it. The material gets nearly all its strength and colour from the polyurethane coating, which can vary from product to product and so the material itself can vary from product to product. Some bi-cast leather will be very strong while others will be softer.The surface scratches and marks quite easily but it would be resistant to everyday spills. It cannot be conditioned like leather because conditioning could

cause the coating to come away from the base leather. Once this polyurethane coating is damaged the material loses its strength and can crack and peel. Bi-cast leather will not age like good aniline leather, is not porous and does not have the suppleness of good leather. It is also easily damaged by heat. Apparently the surface of bi cast leather can actually melt in temperatures above 30ºc. Remember the heatwave last summer? There may be otherreasons why the polyurethane surface breaks down. It is possible that solvents used to cure the split leather may continue to work. These solvents may react with heat so areas where the surface is in direct contact with the body may show problems such as staining or even bubbling.There may be a breakdown of the surface where there is direct contact with sunlight or artificial heat. Is it possible that some of the complaints we receive about leather furniture are actually due to a breakdown of the polyurethane surface of bi-cast leather? Bi-cast leather has apparently been used for many years to make boots, belts and purses but it is now being used more and more for upholstered furniture. One might expect this furniture to be less expensive items but do consumers always know what they are getting? Is this furniture described as bi-cast leather in the shop or on the receipt? And even if it is, do consumers actually know what bi-cast leather is? Does the salesperson even know what bi-cast leather is? Would the man in the street think that his leather settee is actually made from a very thin piece of leather covered with glue and then a layer of plastic stuck on top? In 2004 the Commerce Commission of New Zealand launched an investigation into claims being made in the leather industry following complaints about retailers selling look-alike part leather products as though they were genuine leather.The Commission had previously entered into settlements with retailers that had represented reconstituted leather products as leather.The retailers had had to

T H E O N L I N E C O N S U M E R W ATC H D O G M A G A Z I N E

Institute of Consumer Affairs give refunds and correct their advertising. The new complaints related to a different composite product where a synthetic layer was applied to a ‘leather split’ or the underside of leather.This product would then be printed to make it look like genuine leather. This New Zealand Commission said it felt that “….representing these look-alike products as ‘100% leather’,‘genuine leather’ or as simply ‘leather’ may mislead consumers about the real nature of the product they are purchasing.” So what do we think? The name bi-cast has very little if any meaning for the general public. But is bi-cast leather really leather? Are complaints about ‘leather’ furniture really about products made with ‘bi-cast leather? Do all shops make it clear that the settee or chair is made of bi cast leather and what does it say on the receipt? Does a shop have to say the furniture is made of bi-cast leather and if it is not so described could this be a false description? What if a consumer takes out an extended leather care warranty and gets a leather kit? If the furniture is made of bi-cast leather any leather conditioning treatment could potentially damage the polyurethane surface. Nevertheless the debate is growing. Even eBay have published an article entitled ‘Bi-cast leather – what is it – is it leather?’ Would consumers buy such furniture if it was described as polyurethane? Just because the backing material is very thin leather, should it even have leather in its name? If it could not be described as leather would manufacturers continue to use leather as the backing material or would they use another backing material that might make a better end product? So next time you get a complaint about bubbling or loss of finish on leather furniture or discolouration where the users’ head/arms have rested - think! Is this really leather or is it plastic coated leather - and what did the consumer think s/he was buying? The Institute of Consumer Affairs


If you wish to be seen as a competent Fence Installer, you’ll need to join EFIA F

encing is probably the oldest trade in the Building and Civil Engineering sectors – ancient man quickly learned to make a fence of some description around the entrance to his cave long before he made his first hovel! For many years, the European Fencing Industry Association (EFIA) has been a part of the British Standards Institute’s B/201 team, whose task is to ensure that the several parts of the standard remain dynamic and take advantage of the new materials that become available. EFIA is also concerned with Health and Safety not only in the production of fence materials but also in their installation on site including the use of machinery and associated equipment by site staff. Because fencing covers many trades and skills including woodworking, steelwork, concrete handling, painting, wire manipulation, manual and machine excavation, forklift handling, dumper driving, fence installation is not the simple trade it might first appear – if Health and Safety and a worker’s best interests are to be preserved at all times. This is why EFIA have their own Code of Practice that, if observed at all times, minimises risk of accident and injury not only to staff but also to the general public. Additionally EFIA are partnered with a well established training provider that delivers Fencing NVQs 2, 3 and 4 anywhere within the UK at very competitive rates

For greater details of what EFIA can offer and how to become a TrustMark fence installer go to the website http:// www.efia.co.uk or email us at info@efia. co.uk or telephone 0845 450 4898. You will also find us at www.fencingtradeportal.co.uk where any fence installer may register. Consumers using a TrustMark registered contractor through EFIA can be assured that: • We have carried out basic checks on the firm’s technical competence, trading record and creditworthiness • The member has signed up to an appropriate code of practice that includes mandatory insurance, good health and safety practices and proper dealing with customers; • Its quality of work, trading practices and customer satisfaction are checked and monitored; • The member will make sure you are aware of any building regulations issues ; • If you have a problem or disagreement with a member, we have a clear and user-friendly complaints procedure to help resolve the issue; • Our members provide insurance cover automatically covering the possibility of them going out of business. • In return, you are expected to deal fairly with the member, agree a fair price for decent work, and pay promptly on satisfactory completion.

T H E O N L I N E C O N S U M E R W ATC H D O G M A G A Z I N E 7


It pays to be prepared

Start saving for Christmas 2011 …today!

N

ext Christmas may seem far away, but it will be here before you know

it. And along with it often comes festive money worries that you may still be feeling from this past Christmas. Have you run up your credit card bill or borrowed money to get that special gift? To help ease stress and boost your holiday cheer, it pays to plan ahead and start saving early. There are many different savings options available to you from savings accounts with banks and building societies to hamper and voucher schemes. Consumer Direct offers these top tips to help you become a savvy xmas saver. • Plan early – be realistic about what you are going to need for next year and budget accordingly. Whether you want to stop yourself from getting at your money before Christmas or would like to gain interest on the money that you have saved, there are a number of savings options available to meet different needs.

• Look at your options – find out about the pros and cons of each saving option to determine which one is best for you. Here is a snapshot of some of the main options available: • Standard bank and building society accounts - It’s up to you to put the money in and when you take it out – though with some accounts you have to give notice to withdraw. Your money will earn interest and it’s protected if the bank or building society collapses. • Special building society Christmas account - There’s likely to be a minimum you can pay in each month, which could help you save. You’ll get interest and a bonus – which you could lose if you take your money out early. • Credit union savings account members of these financial co-operatives can save when and how much they want You can take your money out when you like and you may get a dividend and a bonus. You’re not tied to particular shops and your money is safe if the credit union goes bust.

• Christmas hamper and voucher schemes - The company will collect the money from your home, you’ll get a bonus and it will be difficult to take out the money before Christmas. The hamper may not be better value than high street shopping. The Consumer Direct website has a handy chart that will help you identify which option would work best for you at www.consumerdirect.gov. uk/savexmas. You can also call 0800 389 3158 to order a free leaflet which explains the different savings options. • Take action – choose the best option for you, and start putting some money aside today. • Enjoy a stress free festive season! For more information on saving now for Christmas, visit www. consumerdirect.gov.uk/savexmas

T H E O N L I N E C O N S U M E R W ATC H D O G M A G A Z I N E


S R E T S U B M SCA

Who You Gonna Call…

I

n 2006 the then Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) launched a pilot scheme introducing Regional Teams to help tackle Trading Standards related cross border crime. It was recognised that Local Authority Trading Standards Services often were required to take on a national role to tackle itinerant rogue traders, but because of resource issues and legislative constraints many were prohibited or inhibited from investigating the activities of those offenders who do not respect boundaries. These issues led to perceived inconsistencies in enforcement that the introduction of the regional teams would address. The first pilot teams went operational in the Midlands and the North East. By September 2006 the SCAMBUSTERS, East of England, London & South East teams were also operational. The pilot proved to be a huge success and in 2008, BERR announced that the scheme would be launched countrywide and provided about £7.5 million to fund the project over a three-year period. The current funding is due to end in March 2011. Teams were formed in Newport and Conway covering Wales, Mansfield covered the East Midlands, Bristol covered the South West of England, Dundee and Motherwell covered Scotland, York covered Yorkshire and Humberside and Liverpool covered the North West of England. Since their launch all the teams have built partnerships with local authorities and other enforcement agencies such as the Police HM Revenue & Customs and the Benefits Agency and latterly with UKBA and SOCA in an attempt to target the hardest to tackle scams and rogue traders that set out to defraud the most vulnerable of our population. Their primary focus though is to support LATSS and provide an

enforcement capacity that adds value to the consumer protection environment.

The types of crimes that are investigated by Scambusters: • Doorstep crime • Deceptive selling techniques • Home working and other ‘get rich quick’ schemes • ‘Cowboy’ builders doing shoddy and unnecessary work • And in some regions large scale organised counterfeiting operations These teams have uncovered some horror cases, amongst them the case of an elderly retired civil servant in London who paid £82,000 for “substantial” work on the roof of his home when in fact the traders had done nothing whatsoever. It was established that the case was linked to an existing police investigation and a joint operation is now being undertaken. The following case study best illustrates the type of crime the SCAMBUSTERS have investigated. Mr. A is 75 years old and lives in North London. He owns a large terraced house, which he moved into in 1968. The house is about 100 years old. In around 1986, Mr. A had a new roof fitted to the property by a reputable company. In September 2007, Mr. A was walking close to his home when three men who were in a van approached him. One of the men told Mr. A that his roof was in need of repair and they invited him to jump in the van to take him back home. Back at the house, one of the men put up a ladder and told Mr. A that he had a tile missing and it would cost £60 to replace. Later that month, the men came back and told Mr. A that he had some rotten wood in the roof and there was some water damage near the chimney.

T H E O N L I N E C O N S U M E R W ATC H D O G M A G A Z I N E

This would cost £3,000 to put right and Mr. A believed that the work was needed and the scam continued. The story now was that all the roof tiles needed replacing and this would cost an extra £10,000 for cash. Mr. A withdrew the £13,000 from his bank and paid the money. The next day, some scaffolding was erected at the house and Mr. A was told by the men that the roof was in danger of collapse and would need a new RSJ, which would cost £25,000 to fit. Mr. A was pressurised into agreeing to this additional work and paid over a further £25,000 cash. The price continued to escalate with further cash amounts being paid until the total amount reached a staggering £82,000. Mr. A eventually realised what had happened, but it was too late – the criminals had his money and they were no where to be found. No meaningful work was carried out on Mr. A’s property. He was reduced to living in one room of his house because of the damage caused by the criminals. A joint investigation by SCAMBUSTERS and the police led to two men being charged with fraud. However Mr. A died before the case came to court. Fortunately his evidence was obtained in such a way that it could be used to secure the conviction against the men. They both received substantial custodial sentences. The individuals who make up the teams are passionate about what they are trying to achieve. What will happen if funding doesn’t continue? The worst-case scenario would be that the teams would be disbanded and their current caseload be returned to the LATSS that originally referred them to the team. This would be a major setback for the local officers who referred the case to the team as they may not have the capacity to deal with these types of investigation but also the victims who have had the crimes perpetrated against them. Have the teams been successful enough to warrant continued funding? The answer to that would be a resounding yes. One of the targets in the SELT team was to achieve consumer savings of £8 million over the 3-year project period. This has already been exceeded with savings of £20.578 million achieved with 6 months of the project still to run. Report Rogue Trading or Scams to Consumer Direct on 08454 040506 www.scambusters-uk.org

www.onlinewatchdog.co.uk


A code to cut “new homes from hell” down to size Consumer for

Code ers

Home Build

the nt contains This docume nsumer Code Co Builders mandatory me Ho t ts tha requiremen to follow are required

Consumer Code ion Second Edit

B

uilders must be fair to home buyers and keep the promises they make – or else. That, in a nutshell, is what the Consumer Code for Home Builders, launched in April 2010, is all about. The new Code was developed by the house-building industry in response to criticisms raised by the Office of Fair Trading in its 2008 market study on new homes. So why is the Code needed, and what will it do for consumers? Contrary to popular belief, not everything that goes wrong with a newly built home is covered by the National House Building Council (NHBC warranty) that came with it. Warranties provided by NHBC and similar organisations, eg Premier, are pretty well confined to whether a home has been properly built to agreed standards. But complaints from dissatisfied home-owners show there are plenty of problems that don’t come under that heading, from failure to give and keep to a finished date to whether all the amenities set out in sales literature actually materialise. The Code says that anyone who reserved a new home on or after 1

for

April 2010 is entitled to receive from any builder registered with NHBC or Premier (and that’s the majority of house builders): • clear and truthful sales material • clear and fair terms and conditions in the sales contract, including termination rights • realistic information on when the home will be finished • enough detail of off-plan homes for the buyer to know what the layout, position and contents will be • accessible after-sales service, plus details of warranty and appliance guarantees etc.

– January

2010

Premier. It remains to be seen whether the Code, coupled with the protection from existing build quality warranties, can produce even 99% satisfaction ratings from every new home owner (it won’t do away with disgruntlements caused by lack of parking spaces nearby, for example), but at least it’s virtually industry-wide and a big step in the right direction. For more details on the 19 rules new home sellers must follow, how the code will be enforced and how disputes will be handled, visit the www.consumercodeforhomebuilders.com website. Judith Gubbay

Home Builders So what’s the “or else”? If a consumer believes a builder has failed to comply with the Code (a copy of which they should have been given) and this leaves him or her out of pocket, there’s an independent dispute resolution service run by IDRS Ltd, which can make an award of up to £15,000. Customer satisfaction and industry compliance will be monitored, and builders who flout the Code’s requirements in a big way can be drummed out of both NHBC and

This document contains the mandatory Consumer Code requirements that Home Builders Institute of Consumer Affairs

T H E O N L I N E C O N S U M E R W ATC H D O G M A G A Z I N E


s y o b w o c e h t Conquer a g in s a h c r u by p e e t n a r a u g building work ! t n e m t s e v in r u o y g in t c e t & pro

C

ontemplating building work? It’s always difficult to know whether we have made the right decisions and employing a builder can sometimes be risky business. But it’s not just the ‘cowboys’ we should consider. What happens if Joe Bloggs with the best reputation in the neighbourhood comes into some trouble and finds himself out of business? Who will complete our project? With a building work guarantee from the Federation of Master Builders subsidiary company you will have complete peace of mind in this situation. Not only will your project be completed for you at no additional cost but you also have a choice of a 2, 6 or 10 year warranty for any mishaps down the line. The warranty also comes with a free conciliation service that aims to resolve disputes that may arise between you and your builder to ensure the work is up to scratch. You don’t even have to employ one of our member builders to obtain the insurance as it can be purchased by you directly simply by contacting NRWB on 01223 508407. Although, if you’re trying to avoid the cowboys you might want to bear in mind that our members have satisfied stringent entry criteria including previous

client references, financial checks and an inspection of a work in progress job – and they will contact you! With our newly improved find a builder service, www. findabuilder.co.uk, you just need to enter a few details and wait for the phone to ring. And it’s not just domestic work we can cover – our warranty portfolio includes deposit protection, new housing and surety bonds. Further information on any of our products can be found online at www.fmb.org.uk/nrwb or by speaking to an advisor by calling 01223 508407. Complete your project with confidence, purchase a warranty and sleep peacefully at night.

‘Having had the luxury of using a warranted builder we would never have any future work done by anyone else and without the added protection of an insurance backed guarantee.’ Mr Pledger, two time warranty customer.

Standard MasterBond logo

T H E O N L I N E C O N S U M E R W ATC H D O G M A G A Z I N E

Full Width

/4 width

1

/4 width

1


Plugging into safety with the ESC E

very year in the UK, about 70 people die1 and 1.2 million2 are injured in electrical accidents in the home. There are also more than 20 thousand domestic fires each year that occur through misuse of, or faults with, electrical appliances or installations3. Now a major campaign – ‘Plug into Safety’ – launched by the Electrical Safety Council (ESC) in May 2010, aims to help reduce electrical fires and accidents by promoting the use of RCDs. An RCD or residual current device can save your life by rapidly switching off the electricity to prevent a fatal electric shock. Government research also suggests that it can help reduce the risk of fire. “Our aim is to take RCDs mainstream, in much the same way that smoke alarms are now recognised and used by over 80% of the population4”, explains Phil Buckle, Director General of the ESC. “The key message of the Plug into Safety campaign is simple - RCD protection could save your life.” ESC research indicates that more than half the homes in the UK – that’s 13 million5 - don’t have adequate RCD protection installed. And, according to government figures, approximately 4,000 domestic fires each year – that’s 20% of fires with an electrical origin6 - might have been prevented if RCD protection had been fitted and functioning in the fusebox. The initial stages of the Plug into Safety campaign have focused on DIYers and gardeners, as these groups tend to experience increased risk from electrical accidents around the home. Both groups use hand-held tools or appliances, with leads that can be damaged or cut through. Both are likely to work in damp or wet conditions, (which increase the risk of electrocution) and both activities look to be on the increase in the current economic climate. “For many people, electrical safety is not an issue they think about and to some extent this is understandable. Electricity is such an integral part of daily life, we don’t give it a second thought – until something goes wrong”, adds Phil Buckle. “When the Fire Kills campaign began, only 8% 7 of households had smoke alarms. Now they are in over 80% of homes and we want to establish a similar change in terms of awareness and use of RCDs.” The Plug into Safety Campaign uses a number of different approaches to reach people through a range of channels. As well

as a continuing media campaign, it liaises with industry partners to ‘get the message out’. For example, a toolkit has been developed for registered electricians, which provides impartial consumer information they can leave with clients after a call out. Working with regional papers, the ESC is sponsoring a number of competitions designed to increase people’s awareness of RCDs and electrical safety. And our public affairs programme involves liaising with local and national government to promote a greater awareness of electrical safety in UK homes. The importance of RCD protection has been incorporated into the other campaigns the charity runs, most of which are focussed on the most vulnerable members of society, particularly the elderly and those on benefits. Many ESC campaigns run in partnership with local, grass-roots organisations, which means that information and support can be directly provided to those most in need. In addition to its campaigning activities, the ESC also provides a wide variety of material for consumers, all of which can be easily downloaded from its website or obtainable from the helpline on 0870 0400561. To find out more about the Plug into Safety campaign or to find the answer to any of your electrical queries, please ring the helpline or go to www.esc.org.uk In the meantime, here are the ESC’s top tips for Electrical Safety in the Home:

• If you think something is unsafe, stop using it immediately. Weigh up the cost of a repair against the price of a new item.

Don’t

• Wind leads around heated electrical items, such as hair straghteners and irons, until they have cooled down. • Stretch leads too far. Leads or flexes attached to personal grooming products can become easily damaged if stretched to reach a mirror, for example. • Attempt to clean electrical items when they are plugged in. • Bring mains powered portable appliances into the bathroom • Use any electrical equipment or switches with wet hands • Retrieve toast stuck in a toaster while it is still plugged in (and especially not with a metal knife – there are often live parts inside!) • Fill a kettle or steam iron while it is plugged in. The Electrical Safety Council is a UK charity committed to reducing deaths and injuries caused by electrical accidents at home and at work.

Do

• Check that you have RCD protection by taking a look in your fusebox (also known as a ‘consumer unit’) by looking for a red test or ‘T’ button – this is your RCD. • Try testing it to see if it is working properly – it will cut out the power sockets in your home that it protects. Please note that the RCD protection installed in your fusebox may not cover your entire property. Where the power does not cut out, you will need to use a plug-in RCD or ensure that sockets have an RCD fitted into them. - Make a visual check of the electrical items in your home – especially the ones that are used near water or in the garden. Make sure they are unplugged first and check: - All leads, flexes and plugs for signs of wear and tear. • That there are no exposed wires coming out of the plug and that the plug is not loose

1 Figure established from World Health Organisation, Health &Safety Executive and Communities and Local Government data 2 Ipsos Mori online panel June/July 2010. 3 CLG 2007 4 Survey of English Housing 2004/005 5 Figures derived from BRE data 6 DTI report 1997 7 Survey of English Housing 2004/005

T H E O N L I N E C O N S U M E R W ATC H D O G M A G A Z I N E


Hedges in the Urban Environment A

good hedge is pleasing to the eye and is a complementary background to an attractive garden. While being cheaper to erect, replace or maintain than most fences, hedges provide the owner with many other benefits such as shelter from the wind, privacy, security and seasonal variety. Hedges play a crucial role in the provision of wildlife habitat and that means we get to see more birds and mammals in the garden. Yet some people would rather not have a hedge on or adjacent to their property. Hedges take time to establish, where as a fence can give you immediate benefits. Hedges need maintaining on a regular basis. Maintenance normally means pruning/trimming back but could also include replacement planting, fertilising, pest control, watering and so on. Hedges can shade out and kill other vegetation in the garden, while foliage dropped can block drains and make a mess of your lawn. The hedge could even absorb so much moisture from the soil that surrounding plants suffer from the effects of drought. Even more serious is the problem of subsidence when trees/hedges are planted too close to structures (including houses) that are sited on shrinkable clays. Shrinkable clay is a soil type prone to shrink as it dries out and expand as it gets moist. However, it should be pointed out that subsidence of buildings due to trees or hedges is uncommon (especially in Scotland). Most of us live in fairly heavily populated areas where not much space is available and your neighbours are never too far away. It is not surprising then that

many hedges are planted with the aim of providing a bit of privacy. Generally this is fine but we all need to be aware that any barrier to prying eyes will also block sunlight reaching our garden and the neighbours’ garden too. Clearly if you find your view blocked and your garden is in perpetual shade due to your neighbours tall hedge you may not be happy about the situation. It is worth considering therefore that a hedge of no more than two metres high will provide privacy from most ground floor windows and will minimise shade issues. If you are the aggrieved party you will find it hard to prove you have a right to light and there are no common law rights to any particular view. Beware of planting the very common Leyland cypress (x Cuprocyparis leylandii). It is a favourite because it can grow over a metre a year and makes a very dense evergreen barrier. However although you will have an effective hedge within a couple of years it won’t just stop growing. Trees of 36 metres (well over a hundred feet) have been recorded, so clearly this tree is a bit extreme for most gardens. To keep it in check you will need to clip it at least twice a year. So hedge your bets and opt for a slower growing smaller scale species. For something a bit different try, Ilex x altaclarensis “Golden King”, a slow growing Holly with lovely yellow leaf margins. Or the Beech (Fagus sylvatica) cultivars “Rohan Pyramid” and “Rohan Gold” tightly planted will give a vibrant hedge of purples and golds during the summer, while the dead bronze leafs will be retained during the winter.

The government was so concerned about hedge disputes that a “High Hedges” bill was passed as part of the Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003 (Part 8 – High Hedges), giving local authorities (LPAs) the right to arbitrate over neighbours disputes. They now have powers to enforce the reduction in height of troublesome hedges to 2 metres. Two very informative pamphlets have been produced by the Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions (DETR). These are “The right hedge for you” and “Over the garden hedge”. Both can be obtained free of charge from, Department for Communities and Local Government; Free Literature. http://www.communities.gov.uk Chris Simpson Informed Tree Services TrustMark Registered Arboricultural Consultant Written in association with Tree Care Approved www.treecareapproved.org Tel: 0845 4094552

T H E O N L I N E C O N S U M E R W ATC H D O G M A G A Z I N E


e m i t l l a c e w d l u o Sh f o g n i l l e s p e t s r on doo ? y t i c i r t c e l e d n a s ga O

ver the past couple of years I have become concerned by the number of complaints I have seen about doorstep selling of gas and electricity. Complaints of consumers being regularly misled by salesmen who claim to be calling to read the meter, to have been sent by the government or asked to call because they have discovered you are paying too much…… the list goes on. I have heard of consumers signing up just to get rid of salesmen or because they feel under pressure and obliged to sign. The level and seriousness of the complaints last year led the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) to call for a ban on doorstep sales of gas and electricity and interestingly as I write this article I hear news that OFGEM are investigating four energy companies over energy misselling. Depending on who you speak to, doorstep selling is either a sales practice that leads to consumers feeling pressurised and threatened on their own doorstep and something that does not belong in 21st century Britain or, as the energy companies argue, it is a vital ingredient, needed to ensure competition and a good deal for consumers. So who is right and should we allow it? I take the view that doorstep selling can never be undertaken in a way that does not lead to at least some people feeling pressurised, threatened or uncomfortable. Salesmen have to be persuasive but when a persuasive person turns up uninvited on the doorstep of someone who is at that moment feeling weak, vulnerable or distracted the salesman’s persuasion can quickly translate into pressure. Combine that with misleading and aggressive sales practices, that seem to be all too often a feature of the sales pitch and you have a recipe for disaster. The energy companies say that far and away the best way to get people to switch energy supplier is by speaking to

them on the doorstep and that people do not switch as a result of other forms of marketing. So perhaps they have a point, perhaps you can make an ethical, moral argument for doorstep selling if you can show that the number of people benefiting through greater competition and cheaper prices outweighs the number who are put under pressure and feel forced to make a decision they would not otherwise have made. This utilitarian approach sits uncomfortably with me, partly because I am not a utilitarian and partly because I think the argument is flawed. I think doorstep selling is an easy option that avoids energy companies having to come up with alternative and novel marketing streams. It is after all competition that is required to ensure a good deal for consumers and not doorstep selling. So as organisations and individuals who want to see a fair deal for consumers what should our response be? Clearly we don’t want to stifle competition and put prices up but we also surely don’t want the status quo either? Do we argue for a ban on doorstep selling of gas and electricity? I think that whilst we continue to allow doorstep selling we will never fully eradicate misleading and aggressive sales practices. Even if the energy companies are fully committed to eradicating misselling they cannot fully control the activities of every salesman on every doorstep. In my view a ban has to be a preferable solution but at present I do not see it as a realistic short-term option as businesses will lobby government hard to prevent a ban and I don’t see the political appetite being there for such a step. I think a compromise position should be found. I think consumers must have a right to opt out of receiving doorstep sales calls and I think work must be undertaken to find alternative marketing streams that can generate the competition needed to enable energy companies to move away

T H E O N L I N E C O N S U M E R W ATC H D O G M A G A Z I N E

from their reliance on doorstep selling. A lot has happened since TSI called for a ban. All the big six energy companies have agreed to respect “no cold caller” door stickers and this has been written into the Energysure Code of Practice. Consideration is being given for consumer groups to work with energy companies to find new ways of ensuring people, particularly the elderly and vulnerable get non-pressured, unbiased information about the best energy deals for them and are helped to switch in a safe and secure environment. In Surrey we have a case in court at present against Scottish and Southern Energy PLC who we are prosecuting for alleged misleading sales practices breaching the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations. All too often it is easy for consumer focused organisations to think they cannot have an impact on the workings of large business and they resign themselves to reacting to individual complaints rather than tackling the root cause. On this issue Trading Standards Officers and partner agencies have tackled the cause and in response the industry have agreed to respect door stickers. Now we need the other industries who use doorstep selling to follow suit and we need to continue to tackle the problem of doorstep selling which is at the root of so many of our most serious complaints. David Bullen - Trading Standards Officer, Surrey

Institute of Consumer Affairs


TRUST THE PROFESSIONALS – GET YOUR ELECTRICAL WORK COMPLETED SAFELY AND LEGALLY

D

uring the present housing market condition homeowners are opting remain in their current property and improve rather than move. Property DIY is especially becoming more popular, both as a hobby and a way of increasing the value of your home. However, many home owners do not realise that some Electrical work needs to be notified to your local council in order to comply with Part P of the Building Regulations. Certain electrical work in your home should be completed by a Registered Electrician to perform the work safely and legally. No matter how competent you feel you are to carry out the task you may not only be risking your life and others but further down the line you may encounter problems selling your property. NAPIT, is a Government approved register holder for contractors within the electrical, ventilation, plumbing and heating industries. If you require any electrical work to be completed in your home a NAPIT Registered Electrician could advise you. Here are five benefits of using a NAPIT member:

get the work done by a professional in the first place.

2. To abide by the law

Contractors registered with NAPIT are regularly assessed to ensure they meet stringent technical and safety standards.

With around 21 fatal, 2,788 non-fatal electric shock accidents and 7,990 fires due to faulty electrics in the UK, this gives considerable incentive to

If you decide to complete the work yourself you will need to show you’re competent to do so. Upon inspection by a Building Control Officer if the work is deemed unsafe or installed incorrectly Building Control can insist you complete the work again to standard. Overall this may be a very costly final bill when rectifying your own mistakes. As this is a criminal offence you can also be fined up to £5,000 for not initially complying with regulations.

3. Future assurance

1. Safety

obliged to notify the work to your Local Building Control, before you commence work and once it is completed. Depending on the work carried out and the area you live in this can cost between £80 - £300. If you use a NAPIT registered installer they will complete this on your behalf.

When you come to sell your home in the future you will need to show all work covered under Part P legislation has been completed correctly by producing your Electrical Safety Certificates and Compliance Certificates. Without these certificates to show the electrical work in your house is compliant you may encounter problems selling your house. If you don’t have these certificates you can apply for a regularisation certificate from your Local Building Control. This will cost you in the region of £250 and does not fully certify the work; therefore, individuals wishing to buy your house can use this to their advantage when negotiating on price.

5. Up to 6 year’s Work Quality Guarantee

Work notified as carried out by a NAPIT member is covered by a Work Quality Guarantee for up to 6 years. This protection also includes consumers’ advance payments provided these have been notified to NAPIT.

While all homeowners are not expected to know about these laws tradesmen are, therefore, always remember when hiring someone to complete work on your behalf to ask them if they are registered with a Competent Person Scheme. To find your local NAPIT Registered Electrician you can visit the NAPIT website at: www.napit.org.uk/fastSearch.asp, alternatively call NAPIT on: 0845 543 0330.

4. Save yourself time and money

Should you decide to complete the work yourself you are still legally

T H E O N L I N E C O N S U M E R W ATC H D O G M A G A Z I N E


photo by Damien Everett

Money transfer scams revealed as leading consumer con OFT launches nationwide ‘Scamnesty’

T

he Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has launched its 2011 Scams Awareness Month, as new figures reveal the UK’s top scams. With the support of consumer champion Esther Rantzen, the OFT is calling on people to bin scam mailings in ‘Scamnesty’ bins located around the country. New research commissioned by the OFT shows that 39 per cent of people who lost money to a scam in the past 12 months were victim of a money transfer or advance fee scam. These dupe people into handing over their bank details or paying an up-front fee by leading them to believe they are entitled to an inheritance, donating to charity or even helping release funds from a corrupt country. The research reveals the scale of the problem with mass-marketed scams in Britain, which arrive by post, email, text, phone or the internet and aim to con people into parting with their cash. The survey also found that: • Nearly one in every twenty people (four per cent) lost money to a scam last year alone. • Amongst these, the realistic nature of scams was the top reason for falling for them. When presented with a list of options (see point four in notes), 61 per cent said they think scams looking real made them get involved with them. • Of those who reported being scammed in the last 12 months, seven per cent lost more than £4,000. • 39 per cent of respondents who had been scammed in the last 12 months said they did not report it to the authorities. The extent of the problem with money transfer and advance fee scams is also exposed by the latest Consumer Direct figures, which show more complaints about these scams than any others (see notes). Esther Rantzen, who herself has spent over 40 years exposing scammers and con-men, said: ‘Scams can have a devastating impact

on people’s lives. The conmen often deliberately target older people or people who are especially vulnerable. Stigma or embarrassment can wrongly make victims think they are to blame, and discourage them from reporting these crimes or seeking help. No-one should feel like this. I want people to feel able to speak to their friends, family and neighbours so that we can put these con-artists out of business. ‘I also want to help raise awareness through this OFT campaign of the tricks and methods that scammers use on unsuspecting and often vulnerable people. I urge people to outwit the scammers and simply bin any scams they receive.’ This year’s Scams Awareness Month is seeking to raise awareness of the scale of the problem with a nationwide ‘Scamnesty’ run in partnership with 86 local authority Trading Standards Services (TSS). The campaign calls on consumers to drop scam mailings they have received into designated ‘Scamnesty’ bins or boxes at local libraries and public areas across the country. Consumers can see if their TSS is participating at www. consumerdirect.gov.uk/scamnesty. Michele Shambrook, Operations Manager for the OFT-managed advice service Consumer Direct, said: ‘Scammers are using ever more sophisticated and cunning tactics to dupe people out of their cash. We want people to recognise the warning signs, and feel confident enough to seek advice from friends and family or from Consumer Direct.’ The OFT is encouraging people to remember the following tips: • Stop, think and be sceptical. If something sounds too good to be true it probably is. • Do not be rushed into sending off money to someone you do not know, however plausible they might sound and even where an approach is personalised. • Ask yourself how likely it is that you have been especially chosen for this offer thousands of other people will probably

have received the same offer. • Think about how much money you could lose from replying to a potential scam it’s not a gamble worth taking. • If you are unsure of an offer, speak to family or friends and seek advice from Consumer Direct before sending any money or giving out any banking or credit card details. To find out more information or report a scam, visit the Consumer Direct website at www.consumerdirect.gov.uk/scamnesty. You can report fraud to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or visiting www.actionfraud.org.uk. Complaints to Consumer Direct 1 October 2009 to 30 September 2010 Type of Scam

Complaints

Advance fee and money transfer

1035

Prize draws and sweepstakes

867

Ticketing

606

Foreign lotteries

509

Career opportunities

488

Miracle health and slimming

300

Working from home

281

Pay in advance credit

263

Investment opportunities including property and land

261

Respondents were provided with the following options when asked ‘Why do you think you fell for the scam?’: • it looked real when I received it • it seemed to be something for very little • the scammers were persuasive when I contacted them • I felt intimidated by the scammers • I was harassed by the scammers • none of these

T H E O N L I N E C O N S U M E R W ATC H D O G M A G A Z I N E


Why Become a TrustMark Registered Contractor through NFRC

T

he largest and most influential roofing trade association in the UK, the National Federation of Roofing Contractors Ltd (NFRC), represents 60% of the UK’s roofing industry by value. A trade association that ensures that competent roofing contractors are correctly recognised and to gain more work. We achieve this through: • A comprehensive Technical Advisory Service open to members and their clients; • a series of business services for members; • close co-operation on training and recruitment matters with the Construction Industry Training Board on behalf of members; • a formal complaints procedure linked to the Federation’s Code of Practice; • the promotion and marketing of members to major clients, major contractors and the domestic market.

NFRC continually works towards higher standards within the industry through initiatives such as the National Heritage Contractors’ Register; which aims to identify reliable and suitably qualified heritage roofing specialists. NFRC also now operates a Competent Person Scheme for the refurbishment of roofing works, CompetentRoofer. The NFRC is member of the Green Roof Organisation (GRO), National Specialist Contractors’ Council (NSCC), National Home Improvement Council (NHIC) and the Construction Products Association (CPA) and takes an active role, chairing many key committees i.e. Education and Training, Health and Safety. The NFRC is also the UK’s representative at IFD, International Federation for the Roofing Trade, who promotes cooperation among member associations representing countries across the world. Ensuring international agreements and standards are established and supported with the aid of expert practitioners. The NFRC is currently holding the Presidency. By becoming a NFRC member you will receive the following benefits as well as access to services provided by our Associate Members: • Automatic TrustMark registration as part of admittance • Technical advice and guidance with telephone support of three technical officers • Extensive health & safety advice

T H E O N L I N E C O N S U M E R W ATC H D O G M A G A Z I N E

including helpline • Regional meetings, seminars and networking events • Arbitration and conciliation service • Representation within Parliament and industry bodies • Access to training courses • Free web listing and link to your own website. For full list of membership benefits please visit our website www.nfrc.co.uk Or you can apply for an information pack by phone: 0207 638 7663; by fax: 0207 256 2125; or by email: info@nfrc.co.uk


e r a s e m i T n e h W f o e r a w e B h g Tou s y o b w the Co W

could lose you your house! hilst there are professional These people are also generally bodies for Tree Surgeons unaware or unconcerned about Tree and Arboriculturalists, Preservation Orders and Conservation there is nothing to stop anybody Areas. They will take the risk and disappear calling themselves a Tree Surgeon and with the cash, potentially leaving you offering a tree pruning and felling facing a prosecution, a heavy fine and service. A van, a chainsaw and a few perhaps, more importantly, a criminal hundred leaflets and they are off, record. knocking on doors, taking out local Engaging contractors who have been adverts and cold calling people who assessed by a competent body, who have made Tree Preservation Order have signed up to a customer charter applications to their Local Authority. and against whom there is an established They often give misinformed and complaints procedure (like those of Tree damaging advice, winning your Care Approved who are the TrustMark confidence with much teeth sucking Scheme Operator for Arboriculture), gives and an ‘old countryman’ accent. you the comfort of knowing that it is in These are not necessarily bad people. their vested interest not to do anything Made redundant from other trades they that might generate a valid complaint from are only trying to make a living, but they you and jeopardise their approved status. are frequently unskilled, unqualified, You then, in effect, have the clout of the uninsured and a serious danger to approval body behind you rather than themselves, the trees and to you. They simply your own lone voice. may seem an attractive proposition. All TrustMark Scheme Operators are Because they might not even be paying for required to maintain an independent insurance or training, charging VAT or, in board to investigate complaints some cases, even declaring their earnings against approved operators. This was a for income tax, they are cheap. But the Government requirement of the scheme cost to you of using them could be an included to avoid the potentially unsafe awful lot more than you bargained for! situation that can be created when Trees are complicated organisms organisations do their own investigations and poor tree work practices store up How do I fin d... Some Serv members. problems for the future that can involve ices covered A TrustMarkinto their own subscribing by TrustMark Tr ee Care Appr Tree Care Ap We are a practice of Arboricultural you in significant on-going costs. Felling oved proved registered firm s registered firm ! Consultants who do not carry out tree and pruning trees in a confined space is a highly skilled operation that, if not done 1. Log on to our website www.TreeCa properly, can result in serious damage reApproved.or Contractor ser g vices Consu ltancy servic es Tree planting. to persons and property. Particular risks 2. View list of Tree reports in servic Pruning. support of from our approv es offered planning applica ed contractors Dismantling. involve trees adjacent to buildings, public tions. Tree Preservat Bracing. ion Order (TPO) assess Stump remova ment. highways and overhead cables. If you l. Tre e Inspections. 3. Enter your Hedge cutting Postcode . Homebuyers Wood recycling tree surveys. engage an uninsured contractor the cost Trees and bou Chipping, log ndaries. gin g Expert witness and Bio mass . of any damage they cause to you, third 4. You then see the following: Woodland ma nagement. Your local con tractor parties or even themselves can fall back on Their services & contract det Location Map ails you. That is because in employing them 5. If you do not have internet access, you can without checking their insurance you have helpline on: 084 contact our 5 409 4552 failed in your duty of care to third parties. The quick £100 cash to have the Tre tree felled e Care Appro ved registered firm s identity card andcarry an verified on-line can be .

For further det ails on the ser vices our approved reg istered firms offer, including explanation a full of those servic es visit our web site….. Visit our website www.TreeCar eApproved.Or Or contact our g consumer hel p-line on 0845 409 455 2 to find a loca Tree Care Ap l proved registe red firm

T H E O N L I N E C O N S U M E R W ATC H D O G M A G A Z I N E www.TreeCa

reApproved.o

rg

work and have no vested interest in giving biased advice regarding how you might select a Tree Surgery Contractor. So please take heed, if you need to have tree work done in these hard times, we strongly suggest that, when choosing your Tree Surgery Contractor you seek recommendations, stick with the established companies, look for professional accreditation, check insurance and expect to pay a fair price for a fair job. Enjoy your garden and keep your house! Mark Hinsley MSc. Res Man(Arb). OND(Arb). M.Arbor.A. TrustMark Approved Consultant www.treecareapproved.org Tel: 0845 4094552

Looking for a reputable trad esman to work on yo ur TREES?

Consumer Watchdog Feb 2011  
Consumer Watchdog Feb 2011  

Consumer Watchdog Feb 2011

Advertisement