I have been talking to Richard Hare, MD of Peopletime, which specialises in payroll, human resources and health & safety.
He had some good pointers: if you are contacted by a rep selling on the back of scare tactics - such as what it might cost if you were taken to a tribunal - take time out before signing up to a five-year contract which isn’t quite what the rep promised.
Age-old advice: “Shop around for the right deal at the right price,” concludes Richard.
If you go with his company you can leave on three months’ notice - and I’ve got that in writing!
This sadly is where Lynn and Andy Thurston went wrong. They got stuck with a five-year contract with Peninsula Group (although the rep promised on two occasions that they could cancel with six months’ notice) shortly after new rules on unfair dismissal came into effect in December 2010.
They have been paying more than £200 a month ever since for a service they say they could get elsewhere for just £20 a month.
Lynn says they have used the service twice for their business (Gemco News, Braintree) and each time it has involved numerous phone calls, emails, recorded delivery letters. “And you do not speak to the same person twice and the advice is always different depending on who you talk to.”
The above all blew up after a Tesco threatened its presence 50 yards away and the couple looked for ways to cut costs.
Peninsula, however, will not budge on the contract - or wants a £5,000 cancellation fee.
The company told me that the couple have used the service 84 times in the past 12 months, but Lynn refutes this, saying that this is because the company counts every contact which you are required to make to set out the problem, to confirm it and to report step-by-step procedures. “It’s an 0845 number and they rarely ring back.”
She also says her Barclays bank manager told her that many local businesses had complained to him after Peninsula carried out a sales blitz in the Braintree area.