Triumph for consumer rights as customer wins case

140209 Bedroom 1 Trickle Vent

A big step ahead for consumer rights has been made as a customer finally wins their case against a national company after years of trying, thanks in part to doubleglazingcompanies.com. It shows the power of the internet and social media, if you are determined enough and get good advice, in the face of mounting opposition and legal objection!

The experience however begs two simple questions;

As a business, just how bad does your customer service have to be before an irate consumer builds a review website damning your company; surely you’d have people working hard to avoid anyone getting so upset that their only recourse was to build a web site so strongly used that it ranked alongside your main web site?

As a home-owner, how can you avoid being short changed, having products that aren’t as advertised, that fail upon installation, and have the CEO of the manufactures tell you to “go forth” because your fitters installed his lovely products, badly?

If this sounds too incredible to be true then think again, this is a true story of someone building their dream home, who experienced just that and only found satisfaction because they built a damning review web site, which out ranked the official company site.

Mr H, started his building, full of excitement, which bricks, what tiles to have, and what style of windows would suit the property best. Trusting his local window installer that he had used before, they advised him that with the amount of bureaucracy these days, there weren’t any poor quality window companies; they all make good products these days, so just get the cheapest price.

We are calling him Mr H because whilst a true story, one which we helped expose, he now has a satisfactory resolution with the company concerned (after several years of wrangling) but he is required remove the website he built and remove himself from the blogs and forums he used to promote his campaign, effectively gagging him from revealing the company concerned.

Doubleglazingcompanies.com however is not bound by any such agreements; we merely seek to educate prospective purchasers of double glazed windows about the perils of buying on price and how to get resolve when normal relations break down.

Although we could publish the name and details of the company, the review web site which was built and thus shame the company concerned, we won’t be doing so because the company in question, is a direct competitor of the writers principal business (masterframe windows Ltd), as such we felt that although mentioning the company by name would have certain commercial advantages and that it was inappropriate to do so.

Whilst we are reporting internet content that has been taken directly from the public domain and there is little the company concerned could do to prevent us from naming them, maintaining the integrity and objectivity of Double Glazing Companies is paramount to us and, however tempting and arguably justified, we do not want to be perceived as capitalising on the opportunity to “slag off the opposition”.

Furthermore, Mr H has asked that we respect his wishes to remain true to spirit of the terms of his settlement and we wouldn’t want to compromise them or their ethics by third party disclosures.

Still this is a true story and there are some fundamental  questions that need answering, like,

What would you do in similar situation?

What are your consumer rights when things go wrong?
What would you do when being told it was your fault?
Is Court action the only solution?
How do you find a neutral, independent arbitrator?
What do you actually want from the situation?

The background

Being swayed by some impressive claims on their modern website, Mr H ordered sash windows for his new house via his installer, but he paid the manufacturer direct.

Q, who is the contract with, have you gained or lost any consumer rights?

Doors and windows arrived and the installer fitted them (poorly as it turns out) but it didn’t take long before the problems started. The sliding sash windows and doors failed badly, for such a wide variety of faults and so quickly that Mr H really regretted buying them and considered replacing them all.

Water began cascading into the room,
Fittings became pitted even started to rust, inside the building.
Virtually all the external gaskets became frayed and unsightly,
Glued on, horns, interlocks and trickle vents dropped off.
Tilt restrictors shaved off shreds of PVCu.

They were disappointed with the Company Customer Care’s offers to repair, patch up and make good as they believed the product itself was failing badly, not as described and frankly unsure of how they would perform after the repairs were finished, thus they explored legal action and other options to obtain appropriate redress.

Q, what are your consumer rights today, can you insist on a full refund for damaged or faulty goods?

The company promote themselves as the UK largest manufacturer of PVCu sliding sash windows. The conclusion Mr H came to is that the product is delivered to a low price, is unable to live up to its claims of quality that it publishes on its website and simply isn’t very good.

Unable to get any meaningful response Mr H felt the only remaining option was to published a video and photographic evidence of their issues and to inform consumers of their experience. He did just that and having posted it on YouTube the company instructed a solicitor to “threaten us with legal action” that they believed was intended to bully them into being censored.

However as Mr H had used their company logo they feared the lawyers would sue for damages because even though he felt the site was accurate, Mr H did not permission to use the company logo.

Q, can you use the logo from a company when you write blogs etc?

Mr H removed their logo immediately, however the site remained and he commented upon the heavy use of the company’s legal team on his review site, which continued to gain momentum via Facebook pages, You tube and review website, with many disgruntled customers adding their weight to his cause.

The company and their solicitors, were keen to point out that Mr H has “no window manufacturing experience or surveying qualifications”.

Whilst that was never in dispute, Mr H was keen to point that out on his video and wanted viewers to read and review their comments, in just that context, as the lay people they were, but equally understand their total frustration and disappointment that they had bought and paid for products, which leaked so badly that the build stopped.

Mr H wished that an evidenced review of Company’s product had been available when making their decision regarding their purchase (that’s what doubleglazingcompanies.com is here for).

The Faults

Pitted handles

Pitted handles before they move into new home!

Hardware rusting, pitting
The vast majority started to fail within the first year. The initial suspicion was thought to be due to the house not being heated and that the fittings should not have been used before it was plastered and fully dried out. However when Mr H pointed out he had specified the same product for their (unheated) garage, these arguments were dropped.

The frustrating thing is that this clearly conflicts with other assertion that the statements regarding hardware suggest that they are “a quality product that is salt-spray tested”.

Whilst the installer offered Mr H a 10 year guarantee; the manufacturing company limits its guarantee (to the installer not to Mr H) to just 12 months. Clearly this 12 month guarantee would end before most people had moved in, it is short of the NHBC requirements and besides the new consumer rights offers far greater protection from faulty goods, than ever before.

Q, what is salt spray testing, and how do you know if it appropriate and what consumer rights do you have when companies offer short guarantees or simply try to avoid them?

140209 Bedroom 1 Trickle Vent

Look closely, no screws, these vents were stuck on, for a few months!

140125 Sitting Room Broken Trim

Again, stuck on horns and interlocks that have simply fallen off!

Bits falling off
Numerous trims fell off the windows; a couple of the trickle vents became loose for no apparent reason and the sash horns on three windows also fell off, each appeared to be simply glued on without any mechanical fixing of any kind. Mr H dedicated a page to bits falling off, because virtually every window was affected.

It seemed to Mr H that the company’s offer to send a man with a tube of Superglue*  is following a recurring theme, “patching up and sticking things back on that should not have fallen off in the first place”. They were unable to provide any reassurance that other bits won’t fall off in the future other than to say that they probably won’t.

This was particularly concerning as he wasn’t even living in the house at the time so the windows had had virtually no use since first installed, with more wear and tear associated with everyday living, he had very real concerns and worries about the potential suitability and longevity once they moved in.

Q, What are your consumer rights if bits fall off in the first 6 months, in the first 6 years or within the lifetime of the guarantee?

Doors that leaked

Imagine the damage if this room were furnished!

Leaks

All five sets of his patio doors leaked badly. The wet 2013-14 winter really exposed the shortcomings resulting in large puddles as a direct result of water ingress. Fortunately the ceilings and carpets weren’t fitted but these issues certainly slowed the build.

Despite the company blaming the installation initially, the size and construction of the “low threshold” undoubtedly contributed to the leaks.

Interestingly, the company concerned, pushed the fact that they only supplied the products that were ordered and would never have recommended low thresholds if they had been aware of the exposed position they were being fitted to.

The sash windows had different cill constructions, some of which leaked worse than others, with damp patches at the sides of windows.

Mr H had questions that he couldn’t express as a layperson, but he knew it concerned the exposure rating for water penetration and design wind pressures.

Claims on the company web site stated that water penetration was 450pa, (a VERY high figure, considering most areas of the country only require 200pa) so leakage of any kind was just unimaginable. Mr H could test the air leakage as he hadn’t moved in but he was concerned that the CE marking of the company stated just 1200pa design wind load, when most parts of the country require far higher!

Mr H didn’t accept any offer to rectify the existing windows as he remained unconvinced that replacements would be made to any better quality and as the company was unable to reassure him that they’ll prevent the same things from happening again.

Q, who is responsible for the correct design of your replacement windows, can you check the claims being made are truthful, should you have to work it out anyway?

Other concerns

52 140309 Int (RH Set) Tilt Mechanism 'Guillotining' Frame (Left)

Razor sharp edges shave away parts of the window frame

Some of the mechanisms shave off or guillotine slivers of PVCu from the window frame when the tilt mechanism is operated, Mr H could not accept his window would slowly disappear each time he opened it!

Q, what consumer rights do you have?

Mr H noticed the website displayed a BFRC logo suggesting the company was a member and that its products were tested or certified by the BFRC, upon checking he was appalled to learn that the company was not a BFRC member, it had withdrawn its single product some 3 years earlier yet still uses the logo on it’s website.

Q, what should you do if you are misled by a company website?

So having built a web site to publish his concerns, help others to avoid the issues he had, Mr H agreed to meet with the company to find a resolution and remove the review website which was causing them harm.

Mr H had got a call from the company, who were making all the right noises about how concerned they were regarding his experience and how the Company Manufacturing Director was personally going to put things right.

The call concluded with company then asking that, now he had received those assurances, whether he would remove his you tube, review video.

That simple (ill timed) request gave Mr H real concerns regarding their sincerity and motivation but he agreed to meet and remain open minded.

The company’s Manufacturing Director would visit with an engineer and they would also send a representative from the company that supply their gasket seals. In spite of this the Manufacturing Director never turned up and they just sent an engineer.

This was extremely disappointing and made it a pointless meeting.

Whilst this may on the face of it seem reasonable, we have declined Company’s offer at this time.  Our big concern is that the bits that they are offering to repair should not have failed so quickly and so spectacularly in the first place. Replacing failed components with the same does not give us confidence. Sticking back things that have dropped off does not reassure us that the same won’t happen again to another window.

Also, we still haven’t had explanations for all the elements failing. Overall, we are so disappointed in the product that we are unwilling to accept a regime of replacement, patch up and repair and want to be able to replace the windows and doors with a better quality product.

After Mr H published his website, the chairman of Company, asked to visit us on site to ‘get our perspective in order that we can consider the best way forward’.  He told us that he’d not seen the video or any internet content as he likes to speak to customers without any prior knowledge to keep an open mind. He did however, give five separate verbal cues that suggested he was far better briefed than he would have us believe.

It was generally a positive meeting for the most part with him acknowledging all of the issues and agreeing that the standard was not right. He was almost evangelical in his promotion of the quality of the product, trying to convince us that it was the best available in the UK market and clearly frustrated when we said our experience did not match his view.

He concluded by offering a regime of repairs that was remarkably similar to what we’d already been offered and not accepted as we had no reassurance how replacing failed components with the same would stop a recurrence. When we asked how he would provide that, he said there was nothing else he could offer.

We suggested he could offer us our money back which is when his tone changed. The meeting finished with him swearing at us and telling us how mad he was becoming and how ‘f***ing p***ed off’ he was. We hadn’t really known what to expect from the chairman but, suffice to say, it wasn’t that!

An interesting meeting. Remember though, as the company had pointed out on more than one occasion, they were not qualified window surveyors, merely customers who have an expectation regarding basic quality.

So how did Mr H get satisfaction?

Well having received a detailed “independent” survey of the faults, the company was assured that the bulk of the problems lay with the installation of the products. Whilst Mr H never shy’d away from the fact that the installation did have some issues, he was flabbergasted that the product seemed to be free of faults, this simply wasn’t true, but he didn’t know exactly why nor the correct descriptions to identify the faults, so he engaged his own independent expert (us!).

We looked at the installation, we didn’t need to inspect the products in detail, just a quick visual inspection was sufficient to identify numerous issues that were overlooked, all of which were product related. Mr H was then able to ask a series of searching questions before he considered the next step.

Guess what, the company chose not to try to explain, not to answer any of the questions, instead effectively offered Mr H a full refund, providing he removed the review web site immediately!

A great result for Mr H, he himself has certainly learnt much about the doors and windows but even more about how difficult and lonely it is trying to fight for his consumer rights without incurring huge legal and advisory costs against a large, slick company  who happily employed lawyers to threaten them.

So what’s the moral of the story? Well there are a number of solutions to obtain a full refund, but only if you have good knowledge to sniff out when the other side is feeding you a load of bull!

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