I’m not going to name either party – not victim nor perpetrator – because this is still an unresolved situation. A cold-calling rep came into the store and said he could appeal the rates and the only charge would be £795 + VAT. The retailer could change his mind if he didn’t want to proceed. He asked him to sign two documents. (Yes, he now knows this was mistake number two; the first was talking to the rep in the first place.)

When he checked the documents later, he noticed that the rep had also ticked one of the boxes saying there would be another 25% charge for this year’s evaluation and for the next two (in 2022 and 2027).

He decided to cancel and is now getting threatening calls from their legal department saying he is in breach of contract and that not only was £795 owed (plus VAT) but also another £418.75 (plus VAT) cancellation fee. Adding it all up it came to £1,037.75 for doing sod-all.

After looking at the letter and invoices and documents I showed them to specialist Ken Batty. We originally thought that the company was misleading the client by saying that the interim payment of £795 becomes payable once the proposal has been approved by the VOA. These days in reality no approval is sent out by the VOA until you register yourself on the Government Gateway site whereby you have to tell the government that you have given approval to whomever to act as your agent. (This should help to head off the cowboys.) And, of course, the retailer hadn’t followed that procedure.

But on closer inspection we saw that our retailer had signed the company’s Service Undertaking, which says the company will provide all the necessary information for the Government Gateway on request – failure for the retailer to comply would result in a cancellation fee. It is a stitch-up, no question.

Ken Batty has recommended that the retailer must say that he disagrees with this so-called customer care letter (ie the Service Undertaking) as the document should have been left with him for his consideration. Nor was he given the mandatory cooling-off period.

I’ve advised him that he will need to stand up robustly to the company. Any judge would find this to be an unfair contract: an astronomical fee following one brief visit to your premises by a cold-calling rep.

The company also “urged” him to go to a firm of solicitors specialising in contract law. I said: Don’t do that – the contract was designed to stitch him up and unfortunately he signed it. He must stand his ground, tell them he won’t pay and will defend his position should it come to court.

It’s scary territory, but that is what they are counting on. They expect you to cave in.

And from both Ken and I: it is always the cowboys who call out of the blue asking for signatures on the spot. Don’t. Do. It.