The thrill of Everest is adventuring into the unknown. Even the most doughty stamina and resolve can’t guarantee those who commit to the journey will reach their goal. Which is why Britain’s second-largest double-glazing company seems aptly named.
Everest was the second choice of Michael and Catrin Poole when its rival, Anglian, declared the arched doors and windows they required could not be manufactured in uPVC. The Everest salesman, in contrast, was apparently confident even though his computer resisted his attempts to produce a design.
So, last May, the couple signed a £45,000 contract to replace the doors and windows and to build a conservatory and sunroom in their house in Barry, Vale of Glamorgan. Unwittingly, they were committing to a 10-month suspense drama. In July, the surveyor said the arched windows and doors promised by the salesman could not be supplied. In August, he changed his mind and promised a technical solution. In September, the Pooles learned of supply problems with the sunroom door frame. In October, they were told the sunroom had been cancelled but that the conservatory would go ahead that month.
Poole, an airline pilot temporarily based in Abu Dhabi, used his annual leave to return to the UK for the installation, but the appointment was cancelled at the last minute because of damaged parts. In November, Everest announced supply problems would delay installation until January this year . By then, the couple had lost faith in Everest. They had still not seen the design solution for the doors and windows and were going to be based in Abu Dhabi through 2019.
Everest refunded £6,300, which it declared was the value of the sunroom, but Poole claims it refused to let them cancel the contract. “I thought choosing a household name would be a smooth and seamless process. How wrong I was,” says Michael.
It took Everest more than 15 months to complete an installation of three windows for Mary Ford*, and two and a half years to make good the damage it caused to her house in Croydon.
“My first insight into their awful service was when they cancelled on the day of installation because the windows, which had taken six months to make, were too heavy for them to lift,” says Ford, who paid £11,000 for the work in July 2016. “I had to make numerous calls to arrange a new appointment, deal directly with the scaffolders and endure a two-month gap between the installation of the upstairs and downstairs windows.”
She claims she was left with damage to her walls after windows were installed without sills, allowing rain to seep in, abandoned debris blocked the drains, and a hole was left in her roof. “On countless occasions they did not respond when I tried to get them to finish the work and, on at least 10 occasions when they arranged to come, they cancelled or did not turn up,” she says. “They asked for quotes to repair the walls which I provided six months ago, but I have not heard since and they’ve offered £350 compensation for over two years’ hassle.”
Internal correspondence sent by an Everest employee to Michael Poole suggest disorder within the company, which announced cost-cutting measures in 2016 to offset plunging revenue. Turnover fell from £122.3m in 2015 to £113.2m at the end of 2017.
A salesperson told Poole that communications had suffered after a rapid turnover of call centre staff and claimed the company’s reputation was being compromised by “embarrassing” customer service. A senior manager complained that the operations team had “consistently failed” to respond to his requests for updates on the Pooles’ case and that he felt “desperation” over the “unjustifiable” customer experience.
Poole suspects the sunroom was cancelled because it was going to cost more than contracted. Ten weeks after the door frame had been ordered the cost was still unknown, according to staff emails. “Somebody PLEASE HELP!” ended one desperate missive to the operations team.
Everest said the Pooles’ account was inaccurate and untruthful, insisting the sunroom was cancelled due to technical reasons. It insisted it had offered to install the windows, doors and conservatory in January but the Pooles refused.
This month, it confirmed to the Observer it would cancel the contract but the £6,400 deposit would not be refunded, even though it admitted it was “not sure that goods were ever completely manufactured”. It added: “Everest remains, however, very happy to work with Mr Poole in the event he changes his mind,” though it did not make Poole aware of this.
When the Observer raised Ford’s issue, Everest accused her of “steadfastly refusing to make payment” for the installation. It later retracted this, since Ford had signed a credit agreement which started as soon as installation was complete. It said: “I accept that the installation of the windows, and in particular the snagging that followed, took longer than we had all hoped, I sincerely apologise that this was the case.” Only after media involvement did it agree an undisclosed settlement, it seems.
Home improvements are covered by the Consumer Rights Act, which states contracts must be fulfilled with due care and skill within “reasonable time”. Everest maintains both contracts stated a “target” date for installation and, being a “target”, was not binding. It said Ford and Poole were at fault for not declaring, in writing, time was of the essence if they had wanted work completed sooner.
Poole reckons the sector should be governed by the same compensation requirements as airlines when work is delayed or cancelled. “Why can’t Everest admit it messed up, apologise and return our money. That’s all we are asking,” he says. “The stress has started affecting our work. We saved for eight years to improve our home. Instead, we found ourselves climbing a mountain called Everest.”
*Name has been changed
Know the rules
• If you need works completed by a certain date make sure this is specified in the contract.
• If you pay by credit card (even the deposit) or by a credit agreement arranged by the trader, the credit company is jointly liable for breaches of contract.
• If you agreed to the contract in your home you can cancel within a minimum of 14 days. This does not apply if you sign in the trader’s premises.
• If the job is botched the trader must repair or replace within reasonable time and without causing “significant inconvenience”.
• Communicate problems by letter or email and follow the procedure in the T&Cs.
• If the issue remains unresolved, state a deadline in writing. Should this pass, send an ultimatum saying you will get someone else to complete the work and recoup the cost from the company unless they comply by a certain date.
• If the company is a member of a trade association with an alternative dispute resolution scheme, you could use this.
• The last resort is the small claims court if the sum is within the limit (£10,000 in England and Wales; £3,000 in Scotland and Northern Ireland).