Elderly and vulnerable people are being duped into handing over thousands of pounds for overpriced mobility aids. – Quote by BBC Rogue Traders
Trying before you buy – wouldn’t we all love to do this with everything we wanted to buy; This is just what some companies offer the vulnerable, staying in the comfort of your own home while they do all the work even down to the day and time that suits you, sending out a salesman’s packed with brochures and swatches for you to look through, you can even get a demonstration of the item you’re looking at buying. Whether it’s a powered wheelchair/scooter, rise and recliner chair or a specialist powered bed.
If you’ve read my blog before you’ll know I have a muscle wasting condition called muscular dystrophy (if this if your first time joining me then welcome. Like most with any disability sometimes you need Pacific bits of equipment that helps you to keep a certain level of independence.
I’ve always believed I’d never fall for that “salesman gift of the gab” far to savvy, me well so I thought!
This is my story – The hard sell
Back in 2015 after talking it out with my mum (because mum knows best!) it was time to really look into getting a better quality chair that was going to hold the test of time. so my search begin looking at companies that specialized in what I was looking for, surprisingly not as hard as I thought it might be. With everyone quoting they were “Mobility Experts“.
Calling around and getting as much information as I could, asking if they have knowledge and any dealings with anyone with Muscular Dystrophy which of course the answered was always ‘YES, Of course’, You can only ever go on face value so trusting what I’m being told for now, eliminating most i was left with two companies I felt happy with. Willowbrook and AgeUK.
Willowbrook – The salesman’s hard pitch
On 22nd April 2015 a man introducing himself as Mark from Willowbrook he arrived at my home early afternoon, he was due late morning but called to say he was running late, he came across at first as a very chatty confident man, going straight into his sales pitch he started talking about Willowbrook and how long they’d been in business for and that it’s a family business. even showed me a photo on his mobile of an elderly lady saying it was his dear old mum who had recently purchased one of Willowbrooks riser recliner chairs going on to say how much his mum loved it. After about 20 minutes talking about the business, himself and his mum, he then asked me why I had contacted Willowbrook explaining that I needed a specific type for my needs.
Explaining to him I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on an item if it wasn’t going to be right after delivery, he said don’t worry it’s very easy to send back with no questions or issues if you’re not happy i personally guarantee it, following with I know you won’t as it’s all hand-made to your needs, asking about my disability he said ‘oh yes I’ve heard of Muscular Dystrophy, I’ve had lots of dealings with people with this condition’. To then 30 minutes later tell me I had MS clearly not that much knowledge when he can get my disability right!
Sample chair – The try before you buy!
Setting the chair up in my living room he then asked me to try it out, it felt comfortable the footplate was at the right height for my legs, Unfortunately the arms were too low, Mark the salesman then said that’s no problem we can adjust if I ordered a chair. The sample chair only had a single motor but I would need a dual motor, again mark the salesman said no problem we can fit a dual motor.
Promising that dream chair!!
Ramping it up
After nearly an hour he upped his game saying let me call my boss I think the sister chair to what you’ve just tried has higher arms, calling and leaving a message in front of me a few seconds later he gets a call back “THE BOSS” still in front of me he spoke to his boss nodding with a lot of yes yes that’s great I’ll tell Kerry, coming off the phone he told me that the sister chair did have higher arms (what a surprise), Clarifying, I repeated everything he said with him answering yes that chair has higher arm rests.
By this point I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable and unsure I didn’t want a chair that was right for me. Tell him I’m unsure he went on about the price, again telling him I couldn’t afford much my max was £800 – £900 and if it was anything above I would struggle to afford it, don’t worry he said we offer finance I’ll look into it when I’ve written your requirements down.
The quote was £6000 – yes you read that right £6000 whole pounds I very nearly fell out my chair and said that this was too much for me; Mark the salesman then said I’m not finished yet I need to add “my discounts”. The price then went down to just under £2400, the breakdown of the “discounts” add was never explained.
The hard sell starts getting into full swing – let me get you finance, I’m starting to feel the pressure more and more, asking me certain details and feeling like I have no option then to tell him he said I’ll call the office to see if your eligible for finance. When he got off of the phone he said great news I can get you finance for up to £6000.
Telling him I don’t want to rush into anything and that I had another appointment Mark the salesman switched his tone and ramped the hard sell even more asked me who it was with I said AgeUK. He followed with you know that’s not actually Age UK but another company and the sales staff were not as professional as Willowbrooks the chairs were not as sturdy and don’t give the same level of care as Willowbrook, definitely feeling that he was trying to put me off AgeUK.
He said let’s get the chair ordered, I answered with no again I wanted to think about it, it’s at this moment it really changed I started to feel bullied in my own home he said and I quote “you’re in desperate need for a chair don’t be silly and let’s get your chair ordered I’ve been here nearly 2 hour I’ll need to call the office for more time, let’s just get the paper work done take your deposit and it could be here within 14 days”.
Feeling backed into a corner and nowhere to go there was no way I was going to get rid of this salesman until I had placed the order and he had taken a deposit. After filling out the all the paperwork he finally left. Before leaving he asked me if he’d been a pushy salesman’s and he had to ask for legal reasons, I had no words and did an uncomfortable laugh.
What happened next took nearly a year of endless email the threat of court and a statement to trading standards along with hundreds of others!
I quickly found out that It would be harder to cancel this chair than what I was originally told, calling endless times and leaving endless messages to get nothing back from Willowbook, then 14 days after mark Payne the salesman had entered my house a delivery van showed up, lost on what to do, do I refuse to take the delivery of the chair but yet they still had my deposit! Taking the chair in I thought this might make them give me my money back and cancel the finance as the chair was worth more than the deposit. Now I’m my head that totally made sense!
To make matters worse at first look you could see this was nothing like the chair I was told I was ordering, it had wheels with no brakes, arm rests where far to high and the footplate didn’t even go all the way up. Trying it out to see how bad it was the chair moved from underneath me as my husband tried sitting me down, I couldn’t move my arms it was like they were taped to my body with how high the arm rests where, This chair was so unsuitable for anyone with a disability. Making yet what felt like 100th call to Willowbook I finally spoke to a human being called Brenda telling her I’ve left endless messages already and feeling I’ve been mis-sold and bullied into signing for a chair that’s not fit for purpose, with no apology she told me she would get the manager Robin Dale to call me.
Two days later I received a call from Robin Dale explaining how I felt about the whole situation he said he wanted to come and see me, telling him no I just wanted to send the chair back cancel everything and get my deposit back I found myself with yet another pushy salesman’s on the phone refusing to do anything unless I agreed for him visit me again feeling I have no option. The following week Robin Dale visited feeling like I was repeating myself again i explaining how I felt about the chair, mark the salesman, how it’s been mis-sold, I felt bullied into signing and handing over money, it was falling on deaf ears He just kept pushing to rectify the issues with the chair. There was no care that I had lost trust felt bullied and I just wanted the chair collected. An hour in with no moving on what Robin Dale wanted again I was bullied Into agreeing for Willowbook to sort the issues with the chair, on the understanding that even after If I still felt the same way I could cancel the order with no issues and i wanted it in writing this time. Upon leaving Robin Dale turned and said don’t worry we won’t charge you for doing all the extra work to make you happy! I couldn’t believe my ears I felt like crying I was never going to get rid of this company.
“The equipment sold is rarely suitable, it is severely overpriced and will no doubt come with a cancellation policy that is extremely hard to get out of.”
Being chased by the finance company as well with them telling me that Willowbook had confirmed that I was happy with the chair and I needed to start paying thankfully they were understanding and put it on hold. Willowbrook quick to collect the chair leaving me with a temporary one that was dirty and frankly had better days, from that point Robin Dale was never contactable again I was given every excuse you could think of plus I never received written confirmation that I could return the chair. The chair was returned two weeks later in an even worse not fit for purpose condition it was still on wheels the seating had been padded out so my feet where 3 inches off the floor the footplate well that was ridiculous my legs where facing the ceiling my legs where so bruised it was crazy just after 10 minutes of trying the “new improved chair”
On 7th July 2015 I received a letter from Willowbrook after yet again leaving endless messages about my ongoing complaint, the reality that this company would go to any lengths It stated ‘They could not take the chair back and issue me with a refund and that the problem was with my condition’.
Doing my statement with trading standards the officer noticed something we hadn’t on the paperwork was a section entitled Cancellation Waiver Notice, it had been signed and dated the day that Mark the chatty salesman was at my home he had forged my signature himself leaving me no way to canceling the order.
After 9 long months I’d lost all hope in a last-ditch attempt I called the Citizen Advice Bureau Consumer help line advising me to write a final letters to Willowbrook threatening court action. Eventually on 8th December 2015 the chair was collected and I received a refund and the finance agreement was cancelled.
Even though the whole situation left me feeling like I was bullied in my own home, ill from worry and lack of sleep, I still learnt a great deal about not just myself but how others will go to any lengths when they think your vulnerable enough not to fight back.
If I could hand over any advice make sure you have someone you trust with you when that salesman comes knocking!!