A home improvements firm has been fined £36,663 by a court after admitting it harassed householders.
Sales tactics of Dorset-based Apple Group Holdings Limited, which owns Apple Larkin in Weymouth, were described in court as a ‘persistent nuisance’, which caused suffering for elderly and vulnerable people.
Weymouth magistrates heard that the firm continuously cold-called residents over the phone and at their doorstep.
The company, which pleaded guilty to six counts relating to cold-calling at peoples’ houses and five counts of cold-calling people over the phone, was also ordered to pay £1,129 in costs and a £200 victim surcharge.
The case, which related to nine householders living in Weymouth, Portland and West Parley, was brought to court by Dorset Trading Standards.
Ivan Hancock Dorset County Council’s trading standards service manager, told the court the string of offences breached the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 Act and related to procedures not being followed correctly between July 2012 and July 2013.
Mr Hancock said trading standards wrote to Apple Group Holdings in May 2012, visited the firm a month later, sent a second letter of advice in July 2012 and met with a director of the company in November 2012.
He added: “Despite these warnings, the complaints continued.
“There was a persistent nuisance from this company which is why these offences are being brought before the court.”
Magistrates were told that the householders affected were registered with the Telephone Preference Service not to receive unsolicited calls.
Mr Hancock said government regulator the Information Commissioner had written to Apple Group Holdings warning it about misuse of data.
He said: “This is the most significant problem we have had with a company in the last 10 years.”
Those who suffered most from the company’s harassment were elderly and vulnerable people, Mr Hancock said.
Complainant Dr Michael Watson suffers from heart failure and was cold-called when he was in bed for half an hour after a meal-time, the court was told.
Representing Apple Group Holdings, Jon Payne said the company didn’t buy information from the Telephone Preference Service ‘from the outset’ but does now.
He said: “These are 11 charges relating to 2.5 million visits. That shows the scale of the number of complaints there are.”
Mr Payne said the company had taken ‘very significant’ steps to resolving the situation and two of the complainants had been offered a ‘gesture of goodwill’.
Magistrates fined Apple Group Holdings £3,333 for each of the 11 counts – £36,663 in total.
Mike Owen, chairman of the bench, said: “We believe that this shows a culture of disregard for consumers’ rights and a systemic lack of managerial control.”
Speaking after the hearing Mr Hancock said the magistrates sent out an ‘extremely powerful’ message with their fine.
He said trading standards had received 49 complaints about Apple Larkin over the last three years.
GEOFF Kirby, 74, was one of the nine complainants in the case and came to court to see the firm sentenced.
He said he was pestered by cold callers from Apple Larkin two or three times a week for months.
Mr Kirby, of College Lane, Weymouth, said he was ‘persistently hassled’ by ‘pushy’ sales pitches from Apple Larkin despite asking them to stop calling.
He set up a website documenting his frustration to warn his friends.
Speaking after the case, he said: “The fine was eye-watering but it was a fair settlement.
“I hope this sends out a message to companies who are cold-calling people.”
Working hard to correct mistakes
ANDY Downes, operations manager at Apple Home Improvements, part of Apple Group Holdings, said the company is working hard to correct ‘mistakes’ it had made in the past.
He said: “Apple Home Improvements is a well established and professional local company with expansion plans which has resulted in a rapid increase in turnover and staff in recent years.
“Employing local staff, we take our reputation and customers’ perception of our business seriously.
“We have made some mistakes in the past but have worked hard to put these right.
“Apple has worked hard with the Trading Standards, the ICO and TPS to ensure that we raise our standards, improve our processes and meet our obligations now and in the future.
“We are pleased that the court has recognised that we have made substantial progress in recent times.
“Apple will continue to ensure ongoing future compliance.
“We apologise for any inconvenience or disruption we may have caused during our legitimate and well intentioned marketing practices.”