A frosty reception...
We all love sitting down to watch a spot of television so when things go wrong, it couldn't be more annoying. Ghosting, digital picture freeze, everything out of sync, it's frustrating to say the least. When it does all go wrong many people turn to the internet for help, which is where the Surrey based Television Aerial Company Ltd - also trading as TV Aerial Company and Satellites & Aerials and Aerialforce (UK) advertise heavily.
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Harry and Carol Kirby came across one of their adverts when they had a problem with their TV signal. The picture was pixilating and Harry knew to fix this, his satellite dish needed realigning. He called the TV Aerial Company and was quoted a £39 callout charge which included checking the alignment. Harry was at work when the technician arrived and was surprised when he received a phone call telling him he would need a new dish at a cost of £200, especially as his current dish wasn't even that old. As Harry was at work, and just wanted his TV working again, he agreed to have a new dish installed.
Harry's wife Carol was at home whilst the company did the work, she was shocked when she was presented with a final bill of £333 - considerably more than what she had been quoted. As she was alone in the house with her daughter, and thought the engineer wouldn't leave until she paid up she paid. The couple later complained and the company offered a refund of just £39 plus VAT (which didn't arrive until we got in touch with the company months later).
So it seems they are keen to replace parts, but are they always necessary? What we needed was some concrete evidence, so we set up two houses, both with satellite dishes in full working order, and both with homeowners who'd be lost if their TV's stopped working. Unfortunately for them expert Lee Mercer had been tinkering with their installations by moving them slightly so they were no longer pointing directly at the satellite. To fix the fault the trader simply needed to realign the dish by using a meter to gain a top-class signal.
The first installer, Steve, arrived at house one - a bungalow in Seaford. Barbara was playing the part of our homeowner in this house and she explained that she'd lost her satellite signal. Expert Lee Mercer who had created the fault by loosening the bolts reminded us that no new parts were needed, just a tightening of the bolts and a simple tweak of the dish. With the right equipment he said it shouldn't take more than five minutes. Steve climbed the ladder and gave the dish a quick wiggle before declaring Barbara's dish had gone and she needed a new one. He hadn't even tested it yet and we knew it worked just fine.
On a different day, at house two in Stansted, a second engineer arrived to inspect another dish, with the same fault on it as Barbara's. What would this engineer make of it? Well, he started off well by using his meter to check the signal strength, which was what he should have been doing. He asked our second homeowner Lucy if her dish had been knocked recently, also good, and that meant he may have guessed the problem. The installer fiddled with the dish and we got a picture. That's all he needed to do. But he wasn't quite finished, he told Lucy that her LNB (the receiver at the end of the arm on the dish) needed replacing because it wasn't working correctly, which wasn't true as expert Lee had tested it just moments before the engineer arrived and it was working fine.
So that's two houses, two engineers, two simple faults, two sets of unnecessary new parts fitted.
So what was the damage at house one? Steve told Barbara her dish was rotten, which it wasn't. According to our expert the dish worked fine, despite being a bit old, and if the engineer had just tested it he would have seen that. In total Barbara was charged £240, for a dish that simply needed moving back into position, a job which should have been covered by the call out charge.
But things had taken a different turn over at house two in Stansted, the engineer charged Lucy £46.80, just for the call out. For some reason the installer's decided not to charge for the new part.
So we've got one case of overcharging and one case of not, time to call them out one more time.
We set up house number three, and this time a new satellite and aerial installation expert helped us out - Keith Bail. He came up with a new problem, but it had nothing to do with the dish. Keith put a fault on the coax cable screw connector where it goes into the set top box, he took a braid off and twisted it round the middle. It was a common fault that does occur on these types of screw connectors. Keith told us we should expect to pay no more than the standard call out charge, usually between £40 - £50.
With Keith's short circuit in place, and the TV picture bust all we needed were the installers from the Television Aerial Company Ltd. When they arrived they introduced themselves and got to work, they knew the problem was with the set top box and told our actress Jean that it looked like one of the inputs had gone down, the engineer, Scott said this was serious and meant she would need a whole new box. Jean left the room to make a cup of tea and Scott sent his colleague to go and get a new box from the van. With everyone out of the room Scott fiddled with the cable and suddenly our TV burst into life. It looked like he had discovered the real problem.
Scott's colleague came back with the box and saw the television was on, he asked Scott if it was working again but Scott completely ignored him and switched off the TV quickly, just before our homeowner Jean came back into the room. He quickly installed the unnecessary new box. Jean asked Scott to leave the old box behind so she could show her son and Scott started to back track slightly, he told Jean that the old box might sometimes work as it could have an intermittent fault. He told her that if she can put up with it turning off and on constantly then she could still use it. It looked like Scott had covered his back there by saying the old box might still work. Time for the bill, we were charged a whopping £407.97 in total.
Keith examined Scott's handiwork after he left and confirmed our suspicions; we could clearly see that all the braid had been pulled back together, well clear of the centre. So Scott had found and fixed the problem but continued to tell us the fault was with the box and then went on to sell us a new one. A job that should have cost us £45 ended up as £407.
We wrote to the director of the Television Aerial Company Ltd, James Barnes. He wrote back and said he could not comment on our allegations without seeing the footage, but did say he was concerned the second engineer was giving away free stock. He also said all his engineers have a minimum of five years experience in the industry and adhere to strict guidelines. If they're found not to have followed correct procedure they are likely to face disciplinary action. He's also now sent Harry and Carol Kirby their refund (£39 plus VAT). He's also told us that Scott no longer works for the company.
Following the broadcast of this programme the TV Aerial Company has now issued the BBC with a refund for the unnecessary set top box that Scott installed at Jean's home.