Recliner chair seller successfully prosecuted after trading standards investigation
Shropshire Council has successfully prosecuted Steven Sloan (50), of Hunts Road, Stratford-Upon-Avon, following an investigation by Shropshire Council’s trading standards service in relation to a series of unfair trading practices. Mr Sloan was a company director and salesman of a business, Recline Ltd, that sold recliner chairs to the elderly.
On 14 November 2019, at Shrewsbury Crown Court, Mr Sloan was ordered to pay almost £18,000. He must pay fines of £6,500, a contribution towards prosecution costs of £7,500 and a victim surcharge of £120. He was also ordered to pay compensation to the victims of £3,875.
At an earlier hearing, on 2 April 2019, Mr Sloan pleaded guilty to four offences under The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. These resulted from sales orders obtained for recliner chairs when, in June 2017, he visited the homes of elderly customers who had agreed to a home demonstration by his company.
Mr Sloan obtained the orders through unfair trading practices in that he had:
- Applied pressure to a lady from Shifnal aged 75 to sign an order there and then during his visit, by making her believe that if she were to pause and wait until she could speak with her son about it, she would lose a discount he claimed she was getting and that she would have to pay an additional £350 to cover a second visit. She had hoped to buy a chair for £695 but was persuaded to order one that would cost £2,750, paying a £1,375 deposit.
- Stayed at the home of a Priorslee couple aged 82 and 84 for over three hours until, when tired, they had agreed to order two chairs from him at a total cost of £4,987. The visit was arranged for one chair, but during his time at the couple’s home he persuaded them to have one each. He repeatedly refused to reveal the selling prices of the chairs when asked, and also refused to accept a cheque (that could be stopped) for the £2,500 deposit.
In both cases, the customers made attempts to cancel the orders but were denied this on the grounds that the chairs were claimed to be ‘bespoke’. This led to the customers turning to trading standards for help. In interview, Mr Sloan denied the accusations. The case initially proceeded to trial on 1 April 2019, with the Shifnal victim giving evidence; however, on the second day of the trial Mr Sloan changed his plea and pleaded guilty to four of the six charges against him.
Speaking after the case, Grant Tunnadine, investigations team manager, said:
“This case highlights the importance of not being rushed when making any sort of purchase that is out of the ordinary and costly. Whilst there are, in general, rights that provide cancellation periods for contracts formed in our homes, there are some exemptions that apply; one of those is for items that traders will describe as ‘bespoke’. There is an entire sales industry formed around exploiting that exemption involving furniture like this, and it is not at all easy to discern and then prove whether the goods being ordered are genuinely unique. Consumers should take great care when allowing people into their homes to discuss major purchases.
“I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the witnesses who helped officers bring this case to Court; they have remained both patient and supportive throughout the investigation and deserve full recognition for the very important role they have played. I very much welcome the sentence and hope Mr Sloan now understands the impact that his unfair sales practices had on his victims. Cases like this are not only about financial loss but also the significant psychological impact that such illegal practices have on victims. Should Mr Sloan return to selling consumer products in the future, I sincerely hope he does so within the law. The outcome of this case sends a clear warning to others. The trading standards service will take action to tackle those individuals who take advantage of vulnerable members of the community and individuals involved can expect to find themselves under investigation, before the courts and with criminal convictions.”
Frances Darling, trading standards and licensing manager, said:
“It is very sad to hear of cases like this where an individual clearly intends to target vulnerable members of our community for their own financial gain. One of the council’s key priorities is to ensure care for those in need at any age. Such care is delivered in many different ways, not only through the direct care provided by adult social care services, but also by taking a much broader approach. The work of the trading standards team is a key part of the council’s efforts to protect vulnerable members of the community, and this case is a clear example of the way in which a very small team has taken action to ensure those in need are cared for by tackling unfair trading practices. This investigative work also protects legitimate businesses and helps the council to ensure businesses grow and succeed, and this can only be good news for our local economy.”
Consumers who have concerns about any product or service where they feel they have been misled in any way should contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06, with whom Shropshire Council works in partnership. Information can be given anonymously and will always be treated in line with the council’s information governance policies.