The managers of a furniture company which aggressively targeted vulnerable elderly homeowners on their own doorsteps has been ordered to pay back over £350,000.
Last year the directors, management and staff of Peterborough furniture company Life Comfort Products Ltd, were convicted of professional diligence charges and sentenced following an 18-month long investigation by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Trading Standards.
The investigation found that staff used misleading and aggressive sales tactics, had deliberately targeted ‘no cold calling zones’ and neighbourhoods with a higher proportion of people living with a disability by pressuring them for hours to buy furniture they did not want.
Following the convictions, a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing was initiated, to address the proceeds that the firm's Directors Geoffrey and Jacqueline Turner, Sales Manager David Turner and National Marketing Manager Tim Clarke benefited from as a result of their criminal enterprise.
At a hearing at Cambridge Crown Court on Wednesday 3 July, the four were made subject to confiscation orders by HHJ Cooper under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Director Geoffrey Turner was given a confiscation order for £172,879.50, of which £15,329.50 will be paid as compensation to victims. He was given three months to pay the order, which if not paid, will result in a default prison sentence of two years. He was also ordered to pay costs of £12,130.
Director Jacqueline Turner was given a confiscation order for £172,879.50, of which £15,329.50 will be paid as compensation to victims. He was given three months to pay the order, which if not paid, will result in a default prison sentence of two years. She was also ordered to pay costs of £12,130.
Sales Manager David Turner was given a confiscation order for £5,000. He was given 28 days to pay the order, which if not paid, will result in a prison sentence of three months.
National Marketing Manager Tim Clark was given a confiscation order for £1,000. He was given 28 days to pay the order, which if not paid, will result in a default prison sentence of one month.
Three members of the company’s sales and canvassing team have already been dealt with, with some of them also being ordered to pay compensation for their part, to some of those affected.
Peter Gell, head of regulatory services for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Trading Standards, said: "We are pleased with the Judge’s decision and the fact that the victims of this company and their families will be compensated financially, which I hope serves as some form of closure for them.
"The excellent investigative work carried out by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Trading Standards supported by National Trading Standards resulted in the company’s directors being sentenced and their confiscation orders. This case should continue to serve as a strong warning to other companies who think they can get away with targeting vulnerable and elderly people for their substantial financial gain."
The original investigation followed hundreds of complaints to Citizens Advice concerning aggressive and misleading practices by their sales and door canvassing teams all over England.
Officers from Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Trading Standards executed a warrant at the Life Comfort Products offices, where they seized a range of scripts and training materials that encouraged hostile sales tactics.
Evidence gathered confirmed that Life Comfort Products Ltd employed very aggressive and misleading practices to secure sales of expensive rise and recline chairs and electric adjustable beds. The company actively targeted older consumers and people living in vulnerable situations. This included:
Tasking canvassers to seek out addresses with disabled access ramps, grab rails and other indicators of a potentially vulnerable homeowner.
Giving three-hour demonstrations to extremely vulnerable individuals without anyone else being present. Evidence was gathered showing a number of demonstrations had been given to customers with Alzheimer's disease or dementia, with family members stating that their parent's vulnerabilities would have been plainly visible to anyone.
As part of the investigation, three independent furniture reports showed that the chairs were not fit for purpose, had not been made to the consumer's individual’s measurements and had a number of manufacturing defects. In two cases there was evidence suggesting that a chair and an electric adjustable bed actually made the consumer's health complaints worse.