I'll get straight to the point. There are individuals targeting retailers with Lanwall/Key Commercial Finance contracts, visiting stores and offering to remove the old machines and supply upgraded ones for £300 and, at the same time, 'settling' the lease/hire agreement to whom they pay their direct debit.

Champak Mistry, who runs the Corner Shop in Cheltenham, says: "I told the guy that I already had a hire agreement with Key Commercial Finance and I was then handed a letter from Lanwall Systems Ltd, signed by its md Mark Waller, saying that he would settle the hire agreement for me. And on that basis, therefore, would I like a new copier?"

Key Commercial Finance, which has some 200 Lanwall customers, has taken a dim view of this and has reported the matter to the police. Sarah Bitmead, company secretary and daughter of the owner, says that retailers must make sure that, when a third party makes an offer like this, they get it in writing from their finance house that they are allowed out of the existing contract.

This is how the original Lanwall deal worked. Lanwall sold retailers photocopying machine contracts on the basis that it would cost nothing because the company would pay rebates to low transaction outlets to cover the leasing cost. Unfortunately, this didn't happen in many, many cases (there is currently more than £60,000 in judgements against Lanwall). Leasing arrangements were with four companies, Bank of Scotland being the biggest and Key Commercial probably the smallest.

The leasing companies, surprisingly, don't make much on these deals, especially as they pay upfront to the machinery company and take the hit if the end user defaults.

Sarah Bitmead adds: "We make £100 for each machine for the five-and-a-quarter years' contract. We now have £90,000 in arrears where people haven't paid. We feel very sorry for people stuck in this contract but, believe me, we are not raking it in."

Footnote: As this piece was being written, a number of retailers forwarded to me copies of a lengthy letter received from Mark Waller, admitting that Lanwall can no longer support its maintenance contract for photocopiers.