Double glazing complaints soar

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The Independent Online
Complaints by the public about double glazing and installation have rocketed by nearly 50 per cent over the last five years and home improvement now accounts for a fifth of all consumer complaints, the Institute of Trading Standards Administration (ITSA) reveals today.

At the beginning of National Consumer Week, ITSA is focusing on improvements and safety in the home.

Complaints about double glazing and installation have gone up by 46 per cent in the last five years, upholstered furniture by 40 per cent, electrical goods up by 28 per cent and home maintenance, repairs and improvements by 25 per cent.

Total complaints for the home improvement sector came to more than a quarter of a million in the year to September 1994, although an OFT spokesman warned such figures were the "tip of the iceberg".

In 1994 there were 45,579 complaints about home improvements; 25,443 complaints about double glazing; 59,379 about electrical goods, such as radios and TVs, and 27,972 related to upholstered furniture.

Complaints have risen so steeply partly because of the static housing market, which means people have tended to improve their existing houses, rather than trying to sell. Cowboy contractors are said to trade on fear, with many elderly householders unable to argue that "urgent" repairs are actually unnecessary.

Tony Northcott, chairman of ITSA, said there had been cases of people calling out plumbers and being charged huge call-out fees of more than pounds 100, and in one case nearly pounds 1,000, for what were very simple, inexpensive jobs.

He also warned against hiring people who turned up on the doorstep: "It's up to you to pick someone to do a job, not someone picking you," he said.

"Individual consumers are at a great disadvantage in engaging builders and tradesman for improving their homes. Unlike commercial organisations who can withhold perhaps 10 per cent of a contract price until work has been completed satisfactorily, consumers often have to pay up first and argue afterwards."

He said existing laws, such as the Trades Description Act and the Consumer Protection Act, did not necessarily need changing but more resources were needed to deal with complaints.