Cheshire East Council's trading standards team has secured a successful prosecution against a business woman who left several elderly customers more than £50,000 out of pocket.
Belinda Rogers, of Devonshire Drive, Alderley Edge, took large deposits from her customers but failed to deliver stairlifts to some customers or installed products that were faulty.
Rogers, who ran Britannia Homelifts from offices in Congleton, received a six months' suspended prison sentence and must pay £50,350 in compensation to people she had let down, plus £500 compensation to each of three customers who suffered distress after their lifts failed to arrive. She was also ordered to carry out 100 hours' unpaid work.
She was also disqualified from being a company director for 10 years and ordered to pay £7,500 in prosecution costs. Her prison sentence was suspended for two years.
The Council says the case represents one of the most distressing their trading standards team has had to investigate and involved support from other trading standards teams around the country.
Rogers, who advertised her business nationally, appeared at Chester Crown Court on 28 November for sentencing and was told by the judge Mr Justice Ian Dove that she displayed 'dreadful' business incompetence, had caused financial distress to her customers, had let old people down and demonstrated a litany of failures.
She pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to contravening professional diligence, an offence under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
The court was told of eight instances where customers had paid substantial deposits – from £7,000 to £13,500 – for stairlifts and through-the-floor domestic lifts intended to assist people with mobility difficulties. Some lifts were not delivered at all and those that were delivered developed faults and could not be used or were not fit for purpose.
One 96-year-old, who lost £11,000, had a hole cut in his floor but waited 18 weeks for his lift only to learn the business had gone bust. When another elderly customer refused to pay the balance until repairs were made, the company instead deactivated his lift, which the local council condemned as a fire hazard owing to its location in the house.
An elderly woman, who paid a £8,000 deposit, was left with a hole in her floor for two months and never received her lift or a refund. She had to sleep downstairs.
Another elderly woman paid £6,365 but the lift installed had no stop mechanism and she suffered falls from the equipment as a result. She was also forced to sleep downstairs for five months, suffering 'significant' impact on her health and wellbeing.
Although three customers were reimbursed via their credit card chargeback scheme, others lost substantial sums when the company went into liquidation. Rogers said the day-to-day running of the business was delegated to staff and she relied on her managers. She said staff had not followed procedures. The court heard she would sell property to reimburse all those who lost money.
After the hearing Frank Jordan, Cheshire East Council's acting executive director of place, said: "This was a lengthy, and at times, distressing investigation by our trading standards officers and I wish to thank them for bringing this case to court and ending the highly irregular and insensitive business practices of this company.
"The council would also wish to express its sympathy for these elderly, vulnerable adults who have lost huge sums of money as a result of the incompetence of this individual."
Mary Nash, daughter of Dr John and Rosemary Gittus, from Alcester, Warwickshire, said: "My father died early this year, aged 87. He never recovered from the distress this had caused him. It has been desperately distressing and all the people affected by this have been elderly and vulnerable people.
"I am eternally grateful to Cheshire East trading standards for the hard work they have carried out to bring this matter to court."
Rogers had been previously disqualified for two years in 2018, when her business collapsed. However, the council has succeeded in securing a further disqualification owing to the scale of the distress and financial loss to her customers.