MOTORHOME DILEMMA – WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
THE FOLLOWING STORY IS TRUE…
Dilemma - motorhome or no motorhome? (thanks for pic humblebee)
You are a journalist working on a national television show which often deals with consumer issues.
You speak to a police officer who’s having problems with a company which supplies motorhomes. He’s paid out more than £40,000 on a wonderful vehicle but it turns out to be a complete lemon. The money took his life savings – a silver wedding anniversary present for him and his wife. It was a dream purchase.
It leaks, it’s mouldy, it’s not fit for purpose and he doesn’t want it in this state. But the company refuses to resolve the issue, insisting that repeated repairs are the answer.
He’s at the end of his tether, it’s causing arguments with his wife and he just wants his money back or a brand new vehicle. The company won’t budge – court action looms.
As a last resort, he contacts you – a journalist.
You listen, ask him to send in copies of paperwork and photographs to verify his story. It all checks out.
But you know from experience that chasing this could take weeks of writing, fending off lawyers, talking to lawyers, and that’s before you’ve filmed a shot. All of that takes money and time.
So you want a firm commitment that if you take up this case – he’ll agree to be interviewed and filmed.
He says to you ‘I’m my own man, no one will force me to do anything’.
You proceed and take up the case. Letters, e-mails fly around. Many talks take place with the retailer of the motorhome. It tries to fob you off with talk of it being the manufacturer’s problem. But you know that under the Sale of Goods Act, the responsibility lies with the retailer.
Eventually, some weeks later, the company contacts you to say the matter is resolved, they’ve backed down. But you need to contact the police officer, your interviewee. You know that this is a situation that would not have come about had it not been for your intervention.
But you feel that there’s something to this deal that you won’t like – what could it be?
The police officer doesn’t contact you. You leave several messages but none are returned. Eventually, you catch him by surprise and he’s forced to talk to you. He confirms what you suspect – he’s been told he’ll get his new motorhome if he calls you off and refuses to cooperate.
So what happens next?
Consider this – what would you do if you were that journalist? what about that police officer? What about that motorhome company? How would you try to deal with this dilemma? Do let me know…..if I get enough comments – I’ll let you know what actually happened next week!
I’m sure many of you will have heard of the sub-prime market in financial services…
It’s a rather fancy name for something which is very well-known to journalists especially those with an interest in consumer matters.
Companies operating in this part of the market lend to people who are often in debt, high risk and generally, in financial hardship.
We’ve all seen the growth of high street shops offering short-term loans for small amounts at huge rates of interest.
I’m not suggesting that these are operating against the law in any way. What you see is what you get.
However, this market is full of vulnerable people who are often desperate to find money to pay off debts. So it’s a booming business for unscrupulous companies and loan sharks who prey on those who are in need.
The Office of Fair Trading is trying to clamp down on bad practice but it will, as usual, take an age. The OFT has recently been dealing with a ‘super-complaint’ from the Citizens Advice Bureau about this type of company.
One of the areas where the bad companies operate is online – offering to secure loan agreements for people who are high risk. They contact these people, often through cold calling, and can take an upfront free in return for ‘introducing’ them to a lender.
However, after taking the money, the customer can find that what was promised is not forthcoming. A loan is either not available or is available at a much higher interest rate. Getting that upfront fee back when you’ve got no loan, can be impossible. At best you might wait up to a year for a refund.
Many of us might think well it’s only £50 – but for someone who is in desperate need that £50 might be their last, might be their tiny bit of savings, might be their household budget for the month.
I encountered one of these companies based in South Wales and, worryingly, it was attached to yet another company which dealt with debt management.
So you might pay your £50 in the hope of a loan and then be contacted by a sister company offering to manage your debts. But guess what? That involves a fee too – often much higher. Let’s say the whole of a first month’s payment to creditors plus a cut of later payments.
Doing a story on this particular company – which had received previous bad publicity – I filmed exterior shots of its premises on an industrial estate.
While getting those shots, the bosses of this company came out, with all of the staff, at least 100 and surrounded us.
As luck would have it, a colleague was hidden from view behind a car and was able to stand by to get help if things got nasty.
It was an unexpected turn of events, we’d been turned down for formal interview and tour of premises. I got the impression that those behind the company wanted to intimidate us and for a moment it worked.
But given that we were not trespassing on their premises, we were on a public road and we kept the camera rolling – well it did make for good tv.
There was lots of shouting (you are picking on us, we could lose our jobs) but I did manage to mention those hundreds, perhaps thousands, of customers they’d been happy to take money from but who’d got nothing in return.
For balance, I also interviewed two or three members of staff about the work that they did – we help people, we have many satisfied customers, they said.
There were some uncomfortable facts about this company – it was being investigated by the OFT, its former boss had a chequered business past and had been banned as a company director for ten years over previous business dealings and it did use aggressive sales tactics. Several customers had told us about those tactics.
Would I do that story again, given that I know that the bosses were prepared to intimidate? Too right I would.
What would I have done if I’d been the boss of that particular company? Would I have got my staff to come out en masse and surround a tv crew when I’d previously turned down the opportunity of an interview? How did that make my company look? What did that say about my brand? Would I care?
Either way the publicity was hardly going to be positive. What would you have done?