South West Wales

Direct Choice Home Improvements 'illegally cold-calling'

Direct Choice Home Improvements Ltd

A Swansea window firm fined for ringing people who had opted out of sales calls was still using the practice months later, a BBC Wales investigation finds.

Direct Choice Home Improvements Ltd was fined £50,000 in March 2016 by the Information Commissioner's Office for cold-calling 168 people who had opted out of receiving sales calls.

But BBC X-Ray found similar practices were continuing months later.

Direct Choice said one manager has now been sacked and another disciplined.

The firm had been fined for calling people who were on the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) - the register for people who do not want sales calls.

At the time, the company promised it had invested in new systems to prevent the problems happening again.

But BBC Wales' X-Ray programme has spoken to two customers on the TPS who were cold-called by the company in December 2016.

Image caption Mark Davies was cold-called despite being on the TPS register

Mark Davies, from Narberth in Pembrokeshire, said: "They rang me completely out of the blue... I was annoyed because I'm registered with TPS."

Mr Davies ended up speaking to a manager.

"I pointed out that it was an offence now to phone people on the TPS and it was up to him to check our number against it, and he basically said if he did that he couldn't possibly run a business," he said.

Chris Harvey-Jones, from Tenby, Pembrokeshire, who is also on the TPS, told X-Ray the company had called him about 23 times.

"I've said, right, take me off your database. I've got no intention of ever buying anything from you, so you're wasting your time, and they say, 'oh yes, we'll take you off and you'll never get a call from us again', and then three days later you get another call," he said.

Mr Harvey-Jones even agreed to a visit from one of Direct Choice's sales reps in March last year to tell him he wanted the company to stop calling him.

But, in December the company phoned him again.

"We feel like it's harassment," Mr Harvey-Jones said.

"I really am at the end of my tether. It's making me angry now that they're still calling me. I've done everything I can do, so I just don't know what to do next."

Image caption Chris Harvey-Jones says he has received more than 20 calls from the firm

Direct Choice has also been fined for the way the firm's reps sell its windows, doors and conservatories.

In 2015, it was fined £3,500 for falsely telling one customer their windows had a top A+ energy efficiency rating. That prosecution was brought by Trading Standards in Merthyr Tydfil.

And in October 2016, the company was given a £10,000 fine after a sales representative pressurised a grieving widow from Ferndale, Rhondda Cynon Taff, into signing a finance deal.

X-Ray sent a researcher to work undercover at Direct Choice in January to investigate the company's sales tactics, and the way it was cold-calling people.

The training was basic, with one manager telling new staff: "It's not customer services we're doing, it's not thanks for your time, have a lovely day, enjoy yourself - we keep them on the phone until they either say yes or they put the phone down."

Image caption John Mitchison has criticised the company's attitude

John Mitchison, from the Direct Marketing Association, which runs the TPS, watched some of the programme's undercover footage.

He said: "It does shock me. It's probably one of the worst attitudes I've seen in the way they're treating consumers."

In response, Direct Choice told the programme that following the BBC investigation it has now sacked one manager and disciplined another.

It has admitted it had issues with its "call centre making calls to persons who do not want to be contacted, through registering with the TPS or otherwise".

It said its system does now filter out people on the TPS, and added: "Direct Choice Home Improvements Directors are now in regular contact with the ICO, who note a significant reduction in complaints regarding the company in recent months.

"Recommendations made by them are taken on board to ensure the company constantly improves."

The company also apologised for the upset caused by one of its reps to the widow from Ferndale.

It said the sales rep was dismissed after the court case and it has significantly changed their working practices to stop such incidents happening again.

  • X-Ray is on BBC One Wales on Monday, 6 February at 19:30 GMT.

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