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Will this rogue come clean?

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Katy R | 11:09 UK time, Tuesday, 24 May 2011

This week Rogue Traders is talking vacuum cleaners - the Dyson vacuum cleaner to be exact (other brands are available). We've been looking into companies that have found a way to use your Dyson to suck money out of you, companies like ASG (Midlands) Ltd, based in Lincoln and Vac Care Ltd, based in Hampshire. Not to be confused with companies of a similar name.

These companies cold-call people and persuade them to have their Dyson serviced in their own home. But once their foot's in the door, they try to flog you parts - parts you may not need and which in some cases could void your Dyson 5 year guarantee.

Graham Charles

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We've spoken to a number of disgruntled Dyson customers, including Yvonne Peacock who let ASG (Midlands) Ltd service her vacuum and replace the HEPA filter on her machine. Our Domestic Appliance expert, Graham Watkinson took a look at Yvonne's machine, and told us that ASG replaced her HEPA filter with a part that wouldn't collect the particles that can make a person cough or wheeze - particularly important for Yvonne as her son has asthma.

We also talked to Bill North who had his machine serviced by Vac Care Ltd. At the time it was covered by a warranty, but that was about to end when Vac Care put new filters into Bill's machine and told him it needed a new roller. Our expert Graham told us that not only had Vac Care fitted a copy brush to Bill's machine, but it was also designed for a different model.

That's not such great news for Bill, but we do have some better news which comes in the shape of Joyce Bissell from Surrey. A Vac Care Ltd engineer tried to sell her a new filter for £25, but quick-thinking Joyce checked Dyson's website, found a similar item available for less than £14 and sent him on his way.

So it would seem that all of this was the result of incompetent 'engineers', inferior parts and overcharging. We could go on, and so could our list of complainants. In fact, a constant stream of them have been calling Dyson themselves. And not just about the two companies we've mentioned. This cold-calling-and-servicing wheeze is happening all over the country. We needed someone to fill us in on this and who better than the man himself, Sir James Dyson. Sir James told us that they've heard from 2000 customers about cold calling companies.

So it was time to take action! We lined up a vacuum cleaner, an actress, and some hidden cameras and invited both companies to service a vacuum cleaner of our own. Our expert Graham had given both of our machines the all clear so we knew we didn't need any new parts on our vacuum cleaners. But would the reps agree?

First up, ASG Midlands Ltd of Lincoln. When we called for an appointment they told us their service costs just £15. But ASG's rep tells our homeowner that she has a clogged up filter and immediately recommends a new one. She also recommends a new motor filter telling us "that it gets so blocked that you can't, it can't get anymore, that's when it starts getting hot, and then overheating then eventually the motor blows up". She goes on to say "that is massively important because if this fails you're looking at a lot of money". She also goes on to say that our brush needs replacing, even though all it needs is a clean. This visit cost us £89.96. This includes £70 for parts that we didn't need, and that in fact cost us 40 % more than if we'd bought them from Dyson or an independent retailer. At least this company sold us genuine Dyson parts.

So the service turned out to be not much more than paying someone £15 to sit in our living room, polish our vacuum and look for blockages, and of course listen to them lie about why needed to spend more money.

Now for Hampshire based Vac Care Ltd. We spoke to a couple of their unhappy customers earlier but since then, boss Mark Henderson has shut up shop and is now running Vac Service UK Ltd from the same address. His business is not connected to Lincoln based ASG (Midlands) but their M.O. is very similar.

We've invited one of the Vac Service UK Ltd's reps to our wired-up house, and their approach seems to have a very similar ring to it. Although it starts off well with the rep mentioning that filters could be washed he then tells our homeowner that we need a new filter. Then they tell us that our roller needs replacing. The total cost is £70, including £50 for parts that, as before, we didn't need. And on this visit the rep promised to post our parts out to us, however five weeks later our brush and filter still hadn't arrived. Vac Service UK Ltd have now sent us a refund.

As we said before, Vac Service UK Ltd of Hampshire and ASG Midlands Ltd are not connected, but we do know of another company that there have been complaints about. They're called TSC Midlands Ltd and they share a website with ASG.

Before TSC (Midlands) Ltd can sell you parts, they have to get into your house, and to do that they cold-call. It's time to send someone in undercover and we have vacuum expert Graham and lawyer Andy Millmore on hand to give their expert opinions.

Our researcher Rebecca gets a job in TSC's telesales centre. Teaching her the ropes is call centre trainer Rob, who we secretly film cold-calling customers. First up - how do TSC get your number? It turns out it's from the phone book. Well if one in every three households has a Dyson, there's a fair chance whoever they call will be an owner. They don't tell them the number comes from the directory, though.

With the F section of the phone book in hand, Rob begins working through the names. He tells the customer he's calling from the "Independent Dyson Centre" and that "it's popped up on their system that you haven't had a service with us on your Dyson yet". But hang on, they don't even know she has a Dyson, let alone have a system for the customers name to pop up on.

Rob then advises the customer that Dysons should be serviced at least every 1 -2 years. However, our expert Graham says this is not what the manufacturer recommends.

And how much is this service going to cost us? Rob tells the customer that the service is on special promotion for £15. However, he tells our researcher that "it's just a sales pitch, it's never £40, it's £15. It's what you say to get them onside basically". According to our lawyer, Andy, this sales tactic is a classic breach of Consumer Regulations.

Rob goes on to tell the customer a "specialist engineer" will come to her house to carry out the service. But he reveals to Rebecca what the engineers actually have to do on a visit "don't tell the customers this but when the engineers go out they have to then do their own sales and sell them parts, so it could be £15 for a service but the customer could pay anything from £15 to maybe £70". He goes on to say this cross-selling and upselling happens every time.

Selling is what ALL TSC's so-called engineers have to do to make a living. Another of our moles discovered that they're only paid commission- the company even charges them for using its vans. After meeting Tom Scoffin - the Director of TSC, our second mole is out on the road with another TSC operative - Jeremy. He's trying to sell the part that makes a vacuum's roller brush spin; the clutch. His customer is an elderly lady whose machine is still under guarantee, not that Jeremy bothers to check. He tells her she needs to change her clutch every 3 - 4 years. But we know that this is not what Dyson recommend. In fact, if the elderly lady's clutch was on the blink she'd be eligible for a new one from Dyson, as her vacuum's still covered by their guarantee. But Jeremy flogs her a new one anyway, along with two filters and a roller brush for a total cost of £99.96.

So why do people get when they let TSC (Midlands) Ltd into their homes? We wanted expert Graham's opinion so we showed him the cold-call that Rob made and then showed him all our footage of the ten service appointments we filmed whilst undercover.

During the phone call, Rob says that the engineer will strip down the Dyson to the motor and carry out a complete safety electrical check. But Graham hasn't seen either of these claims put into practice on any of the appointments. In fact, Graham says they haven't done any safety electrical tests, which could be very dangerous.

We did see TSC carry follow through on some of their promises such as taking the hoses off, steam cleaning the machine and checking for blockages. However, they also promised to add sweet smelling pellets but we only saw that happen occasionally. The final promise was a written service report but this turned out to be just the invoice. So what else didn't they do?

Our expert Graham tells us that the reps didn't seem to test the parts before they recommended a replacement and said "I believe they just put parts in for the sake of it".

Since we contacted the company they say that they're grateful to us for pointing out room for improvement in certain aspects of their service. They also say they've amended the telephone script, restructured the telesales department and supervise staff more closely.

Which is all very well but we still don't know why they don't carry out a proper electrical safety checks and why they don't check properly before they sell you a new filter and new clutch or a new brush. So we head to TSC's HQ in the hope of meeting the Director Tom Scoffin. But when we get there he's nowhere to be seen so we speak to a senior manager Craig McAllister instead. Craig tells us that TSC now have Portable Appliance Testing kits before locking the door of the office.

So if you receive a call from someone out of the blue asking how your vacuum cleaner is think very carefully about it.

TSC (Midlands) Ltd Statement

We acknowledge that there was room for improvement in certain aspects of our service and are grateful to Watchdog for pointing this out.

As a result of the BBC's concerns TSC has amended its telephone script, restructured the telesales department and supervises its staff more closely.

Whilst we have never claimed to be connected to Dyson, we now expressly state on the telephone that "we are an independent company specialising in the service of Dyson vacuum cleaners".

If any customer has felt mislead in any way, then TSC sincerely regrets this.

TSC is shocked and dismayed by the journalistic tactics which the BBC has resorted to during the course of its investigation.

This has involved not only extensive deception which is disproportionate to the matters at issue but also the unwarranted harassment and intimidation of our staff which breaches the BBC's own editorial guidelines and the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.

As a consequence of this we are lodging a complaint with BBC Editorial Standards and Ofcom.

We strongly deny the BBC's allegations that we provide a "substandard" service; we believe that the work which Dyson owners choose to have done with us improves performance and prolongs the life of the machine.

If we recommend new parts, we always show these to customers first and in some cases we even fit them to the machine so the customer can try out the difference before deciding whether to make a purchase.

We have dealt with all the issues raised and have a customer satisfaction rate of 96.7%.

ASG (Midlands) Ltd Statement

ASG (Midlands) Ltd offers the owners of Dyson vacuum cleaners a cost effective and high quality alternative to the routine service offered by Dyson.

Dyson says that its vacuum cleaners should not need servicing IF, but only if, the filters are washed. However, in our experience, most Dyson owners never wash the filters.

Dyson's own guarantee states that filters (and other parts including brush bars) are parts which "might wear out over time". This is why thousands of replacement filters are sold every year.

ASG is very disappointed by the standard of journalism exhibited by Watchdog during this 'investigation' which breaches the BBC's own editorial guidelines by:

  • Relying on biased sources with their own commercial agenda whilst presenting these as neutral;
  • Using deception against our staff in a manner which is wholly disproportionate and without obtaining the necessary consent;
  • Failing to differentiate between opinion and fact;
  • Giving undue prominence to the opinions of a commercial competitor;
  • Failing to represent alternative opinions;
  • Presenting a generalist electrical engineer with no special expertise in vacuum cleaners services as a Dyson servicing 'expert'.
We have no reason to believe that our engineer's recommendations were unnecessary or inappropriate.

Our engineers are trained to recommend replacement parts only when we believe this will improve performance and prolong the machine's life.

Our customers are free to decline any recommendations for new parts that we may make. Those who follow them are delighted with the results, as is clear from the testimonials on our website.


VAC SERVICE UK LTD Statement

The Company is an independent vacuum service and repair company that specializes in the repair and servicing of Dyson vacuum cleaners.

The Company will not tolerate any member of staff deliberately misinforming customers and their representative has been disciplined for his actions.

The Company does not condone any engineer replacing parts unnecessarily and parts should only be replaced with the customers consent. The decision to replace any parts rests with the customer and should be an informative decision based on the visual evidence presented and the engineer's recommendations.

The three customer complaints highlighted by your program have been investigated and letters of apologies have been issued along with full refunds.

The Company is disappointed that its level of customer care has been put under the spotlight and would like to reassure its thousands of satisfied customers that this is not representative of the Company's usual high standards.

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