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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 19:33 UK time, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

In the last year, two of Kevin Collinson's mobility firms have gone into liquidation and he's now running a third.

Rachel Treadaway Williams investigates.

For many elderly and disabled people, a mobility scooter is an essential. They may not be the fastest form of transport but plenty of customers are willing to pay out for the independence a scooter can bring.

But before you hand over your cash, you'll want to make sure you're getting a good deal and great after-sales care.

Judy Owen and Lysette Temple hoped that's what they'd get when they bought scooters from a company run by Kevin Collinson.

But they were left disappointed and out of pocket, as were many others. Last March the first of Mr Collinson's mobility companies went into liquidation.

Since then he's been the director of a second, but last month that went bust too. He's now running a third mobility company.

Mr Collinson may not realise he could be committing an offence, according to legal expert Dr Tim Pryce Brown.

He explains, "If a company goes into insolvent liquidation then a director is precluded from being a director of a company trading in that particular area, on that premises or in a company of a similar name for the next 5 years.

"The problem in practice is it's poorly policed."

The story begins back in 2001, when Kevin Collinson set up Prestige Mobility in Bangor.

Once named the fastest growing firm in North Wales, Prestige Mobility received more than a quarter of a million pounds in grants from the Welsh Assembly government. It employed more than 70 people and won awards from the business community.

But as the company grew, so did the number of complaints about pushy sales techniques, faulty goods and failure to give refunds.

And the complaints against Prestige Mobility showed no signs of slowing. X-Ray first came across Prestige back in 2006, when customers asked us for help in getting their money refunded.

When we got involved, Mr Collinson paid up, but a year later the company was under scrutiny again when our colleagues on the BBC's Rogue Traders programme obtained a copy of the company's sales manual and went undercover to capture their pressure-selling techniques on camera.

The authorities too were becoming increasingly concerned and insisted that Kevin Collinson sign a formal undertaking, promising to trade fairly in future.

It was his final warning, according to John Reynolds from Gwynedd Trading Standards.

"The number of complaints had reached a stage where we were considering the need to go for an enforcement order", he said.

"But we were trying the final carrot before reaching for the stick, shall we put it that way!"

Within months vulnerable and elderly customers were facing a different problem. In March 2008 the company went into compulsory liquidation.

But the mobility mogul didn't give up. He already had another company, Instant Mobility. It hadn't been trading for more than a year, but sprang into life again just before Prestige Mobility went under.

When Prestige Mobility went into liquidation, Instant Mobility carried on trading from the same premises in Bangor.

The director and many of the staff remained the same. But there was one big difference - the debts and liabilities of the old company had been wiped out.

Kevin Collinson told X-Ray that he contacted Prestige Mobility customers who'd lost money and offered them alternative scooters through the new company.

So would Instant Mobility do better? There were fewer complaints but some customers were far from happy.

Judy Owen from Margam has chronic asthma and emphysema, so finds walking difficult. "As I try to explain to people, my chassis is excellent, I've got no aches and pains but the engine has conked out!"

In March 2008 Judy was contacted by an Instant Mobility salesman, who then came to her house.

"I stipulated that I wanted next to new, preferably six months or under. I was all enthusiastic so I bought it." But one day a trip on the scooter almost ended in disaster.

"I went to post a letter and thought my end had come because it decided to stall, just stopped in the middle of the road," explained Judy.

"And it didn't stop slowly, it just stopped, completely cut out. There were cars coming in both directions.

"So I did the frozen rabbit bit and hoped the cars would miss me. And that was the life of the scooter then was just stalling."

And Judy wasn't the only unhappy customer. Since having an operation a few years ago, Lysette Temple from Rhos on Sea has been in constant pain.

"Getting around the house is fine", she said "I use rails and hold onto things but when I'm out and about I have to be aided by people or use a scooter. And a scooter was the best because it meant I was independent.

"I chose Instant Mobility mainly because it was a local company and any problems I had with the scooter could be done very very locally."

So after seeing a newspaper advert last October, Lysette asked a salesman to visit her.

"The scooter itself was going to cost £1,600", she said. "So what was arranged was that I was able to part exchange my three-wheeler scooter for £400 and so that left me with £1,200 which I didn't have in cash so I paid by credit card."

But the next day she changed her mind as she felt it was too expensive. The company told her she could get a full refund within 30 days if she sent in cancellation slip, so she waited patiently for her refund.

Meanwhile, Judy had had enough of her stalling scooter and wanted her money back too. And, eight months after she bought it, Instant Mobility promised her a full refund.

Judy was very pleased when, in November, Instant Mobility sent a van to collect the scooter from her house. They assured her that the refund would follow.

But that was the last Judy saw of her scooter and her money. A few weeks ago, Instant Mobility went into liquidation too, owing a total of more than a million pounds to creditors.

X-Ray obtained a copy of a letter from the liquidator to the creditors of Instant Mobility. Lysette and Judy are among more than a hundred customers owed a total of £40,000 by the company.

According to company law, a director of a business forced into liquidation must not run a similar firm for up to five years. It's called phoenix syndrome.

Lawyer Dr Tim Pryce Brown told X-Ray that he suspects Kevin Collinson may have committed this offence.

"Potentially he could be disqualified from being a director for between two and 15 years.

"He could be made personally liable for debts of his former companies if it is proven that he has committed phoenix syndrome and it can also carry with it a criminal penalty as well. But we'll have to wait and see what the liquidator comments in his report."

But even after two liquidations in one year Kevin Collinson hasn't thrown in the towel. He's already set up a third mobility company to sell scooters.

It's called Lifestyle Plus UK Ltd and it operates from a building in Llanfairfechan.

Our reporter Rachel Treadaway Williams arranged to meet Mr Collinson at Instant Mobility's former premises in Bangor to ask him about his string of companies and to find out why customers like Lysette and Judy never got their refunds.

Kevin Collinson told us that it was morally and ethically wrong that Lysette Temple didn't get her £1,200 back and he has now offered her a full refund - which Lysette has declined as her credit card company has already reimbursed her.

As for the reason for the delay, Mr Collinson says this may have been due to cash flow problems.

He says his role at the time was business development director but he admitted he was a company director at the time.

When asked about Judy Owen's case, he told us that he had now spoken to her and was sorry to see she was upset.

He has now refunded her £800 and says he is working through a list of other customers and intends to offer them alternative products from his new company.

We asked Mr Collinson why, when one of his company gets into financial difficulties, there always seems to be another mobility company in the wings?

He told us that from now on he intends to have one strong brand which works and says he will use his experience of 'good and bad practices' to ensure that his new company, Lifestyle Plus UK, issues prompt refunds to customers in future.

We also asked Mr Collinson if he had in fact committed what Dr Tim Pryce-Brown described as the "phoenix syndrome".

Mr Collinson denies this happened when Prestige Mobility was dissolved because he says Instant Mobility was already an established company.

He also says Lifestyle Plus operates from a different address in Llanfairfechan 'many miles' from Instant Mobility in Bangor.

The company moved to Llanfairfechan - just nine miles from Bangor - in January this year.

Kevin Collinson is now waiting for the findings of the liquidators report into his latest failed company, and further investigation by Trading Standards.

We'll keep you posted on any developments.

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