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Those Out For A Pound Of Flesh

It’s been a funny year, in all sorts of senses. A busy one yes. We have a family run installations business and sales have been pretty good in a year that threatened all sorts of bumps in the road. So far it looks like we’re going to exceed the sales of 2016. And if we do, my oh my will it have been hard work.

In my 12 years in sales in this industry, I can confidently say that this is the single worst year for home owners looking for their pound of flesh. It has been stressful, depressing, demoralising and infuriating.

Right now, as a business we feel about as open and vulnerable to abuse from rogue home owners as we ever have been. And I bet there are others who feel the same.

Little protection for business

Almost two years to the day, the Consumer Rights Act was updated. It’s purpose was to simplify and strengthen rights and consumer law for the general public. A commendable idea. There are some terrible businesses out there, including in the window industry, that consumers need protecting from.

The problem is however, business can be abused from both sides of the fence. There is little to no press about rogue customers looking to take advantage of a good, honest business where they see an opportunity. Whilst these laws are here for a reason, they have also left the door very wide open for businesses to be abused.

I said at the time that these new laws would lead some customer’s to seek to take advantage of certain situations, and I sit here writing this having been proved right. We have had quite frankly some ridiculous situations with certain home owners this year, clearly looking to take a pound where they have been given an inch.

Before I go on, if you haven’t already got yourself up to scratch with the 2015 Consumer Rights Act, check out this Which? guide to it all: http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/regulation/consumer-rights-act

I hope you’ve read that installers. The implications of even a small fault that takes a little bit of time to rectify could leave you wide open to compensation in frankly unfair circumstances.

These rules are massively open to interpretation and opinion, and can be ammo for a rogue customer who if smart enough and with a letter worded in just the right way might be able to coerce compensation from an installer. Where’s the protection for business? Where are the conditions for customers to have to comply to in order to get their compensation fairly? There ain’t much there if you ask me.

I have forgotten the number of times this year where the line “not fit for purpose” has been reeled off by home owners who make it less than veiled as to what their intentions are. From where I sit, certain types of rogue customers have latched onto the “not fit for purpose” line of the Consumer Rights Act and build up their case for their money back from there, often forgetting that the installer has a chance to put right whatever is wrong first. It often gets aggressive, unreasonable and downright rude.

The more I deal with the general public these days, the more I truly believe that they think businesses, not just window companies but all sorts of businesses, are there for the taking. They see them as a chance to get something for nothing. Free money.

With the complexities of our industry right now, and the various problems we face, the 2015 Consumer Rights Act is something all installers absolutely have to know. We’re vulnerable as an industry, and we all have a part to play to make sure that rogue customer’s don’t get the chance to take us for a ride, and to make sure genuine and honest customers get window and door products that are up to standard.

Fabricators have to be up to scratch

More and more fabricators are delving into the realms of the home owner. It used to be that installers would be the only point of call for the home owner when it came to the window and door sector. In the past few years however a number of fabricators and manufacturers have decided to go straight to the home owners themselves in an attempt to build up brand recognition and create leads. All well and good, but getting involved with home owners and striking that relationship up is a very different beast than dealing business to business. And it comes with a lot more risk too.

Given the nature of dealing with customers right now, and the stringent and fairly vague 2015 laws, fabricators have a duty more than ever to ensure that their products are delivered right on time, properly quality control checked and in good condition. If suppliers are going to start having direct relationships with both home owner and installer, they have as much responsibility at that point as the installer does. That’s where it gets tricky.

As I see it, the 2015 laws give very little chance for an installer to come back from a mistake, whether it is their fault or the fabricator’s. Say a fabricator delivers a house full of windows and doors to an installer, which are then installed into the home. What the installer doesn’t know until the protective tapes are off is that there are a number of faults on the frames that are beyond a simple repair. That then requires the installer to go back to the fabricator, negotiate remake frames, get them delivered as quickly as possible and then re-schedule a time to re-fit the frames that were damaged. A scenario most installers have been familiar with at one point or another.

The problem then however, as I understand the laws, is if the installer cannot either do the repairs or replace the frames in the above scenario in 30 days or less, the home owner can declare those products not fit for purpose and is eligible for some or all of their money back. Consider that it will take time for new frames in the above scenario to be made and delivered, and the installer may not be able to just drop everything and go and re-fit the new frames. That will take time. Now add into the mix the possibility that the home owner knows these 2015 laws and decides that they suddenly not available for the installer to come round and replace said damaged frames until a much later date, perhaps even surpassing the 30 day threshold. See how easily the laws can be manipulated? And of course most installers won’t dare challenge the home owner and accuse them of bending the laws to suit an agenda.

Product quality appears to have been a universal problem throughout the industry this year. But now, more than ever, with the laws so heavily weighted in favour of consumers leaving business with little to no protection, installers have to be able to rely on their fabricators to make sure the products they have delivered are almost perfect. I understand how daft that sounds, as nothing in this world is ever perfect. But I believe home owners are so finely tuned into the compensation culture, that if we as an industry fail to push up standards, installers are going to find themselves at the thick end of a lot of abuse.

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