Consumer Report
Abatec Direct Northern
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Some Background:

Our central heating combi-boiler was working okay until a bloke came to replace the gas meter on behalf of British Gas. When he tried to switch the boiler on again, he couldn't get the pilot light to light. With no recommendations available, the advertisements in the Thompson Local guide for Stockport 2006 all looked very similar. The one for Abatec looked representative of them.

Abatec advertisement

The benefit of hindsight . . .
   The business is run by one Mark Sumnall.
   The CORGI registration number in the above advertisement (72634) is genuine, but it belongs to Mr. Sumnall's Uncle Paul. Mark Sumnall was prosecuted by Stockport Council's Trading Standards Department and fined for this piece of false advertising.
   There is no website for 'www.24hrleakline.co.uk' and Mark Sumnall has no connection with any of the organizations, whose logos are shown.


The Abatec Experience 2006 – Timetable

May 31st : Called Abatec. An engineer called Mark arrived an hour or so later gold star type 1

He cleaned the ignition mechanism, removed the casing to look over work involved in a boiler service, (incidentally, taking several calls on his mobile phone) and left with the service manual for the boiler after promising to check on the availability of the materials for a service and fix up an appointment for the service.

Charge: 65 plus VAT = 76.38 black star type 1
Mark didn't put his name on the invoice in the space provided for the engineer's name. black star type 2

black star type 3 I asked about the "Special Rates for OAP's" in the Abatec advertisement, as the owner of the property is a pensioner, but I was told that no discount was available on the first call-out.

The benefit of hindsight . . .
   The man who answered the call was Mark Sumnall, the proprietor of Abatec. He was not CORGI registered at the time.
   [Information from Stockport Council's Trading Standards Department]

black star type 7After a period of silence and several phone calls to Abatec, Mark arranged to do the service on Thursday, June 8th.

June 8th : Mark was a no-show and no explanation was offered. black star type 4

black star type 7 Further phone calls to the Abatec office over the next week or two produced promises that Mark would call, but he didn't. Then he went on holiday.

August 8th : The letter below was sent to Abatec:

The Managing Director
Abatec Direct Northern
29 Sandileigh Avenue
Brinnington
Stockport SK5 8AJ

Cc: File, SMBC/TSD (pending), CORGI (pending)

8th August, 2006

FOR THE RECORD/FUTURE REFERENCE

Dear Sirs,

On May 31st, Mark (no second name offered), one of your engineers called at XX Zaaaaaa Zaaa, Romiley to relight the pilot light of our Vailant VCE T3W combi-boiler.

He left with the service manual for the boiler, having arranged to perform a service. He took the manual to check on the availability of the materials required.

After a long silence and several phone calls, Mark made an appointment to carry out the service. He did not arrive on the day and no explanation was offered for his failure to show up.

Further phone calls to your office have resulted in promises that Mark would contact me. Needless to say, I have heard nothing from him.

It now seems clear that your engineer is not interested in performing the service job, and I would appreciate the prompt return/replacement of the service manual for the boiler so that I can give the job to another company.

As you claim to be my "genuine local, reliable company" with "thousands of satisfied customers" in your advertisement in the 2006 Thompson guide for Stockport (page 80), I trust that you will be able to return/replace the service manual SPEEDILY and spare everyone the hassle of further letters, complaints to regulator, etc., etc., etc.

Your co-operation will be much appreciated as I wish to get the servicing job out of the way before the weather turns cold again.

Yours in expectation,

 

August 23th : Phoned Abatec as a final-phase follow-up on the letter. I was told that the office manager wasn't in, the bloke in the office couldn't help me and I'd have to ring back 'tomorrow'.

August 24th : Mark rang me to tell me he was no longer with Abatec black star type 5. He was calling to find out if I had made any formal complaints [I was still assembling the case file and waiting to include the response to my letter]. He told me that he would put the service manual in the post and I would receive it 'within 14 days'black star type 6.

September 20th : Nothing further heard from Markblack star type 7. Phoned the Abatec number and asked to speak to the office manager. Told he wasn't available. This person seems to be permanently absent and to have lots better things to do with his time than manage the office.
   Quoted the Abatec invoice number from May 31st and asked for Mark's surname. The bloke said he would get back to me. Not holding my breath.

September 29th : Having heard nothing from Abatecblack star type 7, I made one final attempt. Predictably, the office manager wasn't there (and probably never is). I left my contact details and the nature of the problem. The bloke on the phone promised to phone back on Monday. Still not holding my breath.

October 04th : Having heard nothing from Abatecblack star type 7, I faxed a complaint about Abatec to Stockport Council's Trading Standards Department using the number provided on the council's website.
Environmental Health & Trading Standards Service
Environmental Health & Trading Standards Department,
Economic & Environmental Development Services,
Stopford House,
Piccadilly,
Stockport SK1 3XE
Tel. No. 0845 644 4301
Fax. 0161 474 4369
Email. trading.standards@stockport.gov.uk

October 05th : I converted the 4-page complaint into a .pdf file and emailed it to Stockport Council's Trading Standards Dept. in case they needed to print any of it.

October 06th : I received an email from the council's 'Trading Practices' to tell me:
black star type 7
1. They had lost my fax.
2. They no longer handle complaints about rogue traders and I should contact Consumer Direct either by phone on 0845 404 0506 during business hours on Monday-Saturday or via the website: http://www.consumerdirect.gov.uk/complaints.shtml


October 19th Consumer Direct offered the following advice:

Thank you for your enquiry to Consumer Direct regarding Abatec.

From the information you have provided us we understand that the trader did not carry out any work**, but has kept the manual which goes with the boiler.

As the manual would be classed as your property, if the engineer refuses to return it to you this matter could be classified as theft, and as such would not be a Trading Standards matter - you would contact the Police.***

Before taking that approach, we would advise you to send the trader a recorded delivery letter, outlining everything to date, and making 'time of the essence' to resolve the matter within a set period of time (i.e. 14 days) by returning your manual. you may wish to make it clear that failure to do so may leave you no option but to report this matter to the Police. It is also worth retaining copies of everything sent, for your records.
This would hopefully resolve the situation without the need for further action.

 

** Not sure how they reached this conclusion; looks like whoever wrote the advice didn't read my information thoroughly enough.
*** If the police won't investigate serious crimes like burglaries, are they likely to want to know about a stolen boiler manual? Does anyone at Consumer Direct live in the real world?


October 27th Stockport Council's Trading Practises Department asked for a copy of my Abatec .pdf file. I found out that the business was being run by one Mark Sumnall, who had been hauled before Stockport Magistrates' court on October 18th on charges of false advertising. He admitted that the logos on his advertising material [see above] were there without justification and he was fined heavily.
The Trading Practises officer offered to mention my problem of recovering the service manual when he contacted Mr. Sumnall to offer him 'help' with an up-coming advertising campaign. He was honest enough to tell me not to get my hopes up.

November 19th Phoned by someone doing a survey of people's experiences with Consumer Direct. Told him that they had not read the material submitted with any degree of care, that the 'advice' was useless and contacting Consumer Direct had been a waste-of-time diversion when the local Trading Standards Dept. knew Mark Sumnall and were much better qualified to deal with him.

November 21st A Stockport Council Trading Standards Dept. officer called to confirm some details about Abatec. She confirmed that Mark Sumnall is not CORGI registered. After contacting him, she called back to say that he had promised to return the boiler service manual 'within 7 days'.

November 29st Phoned the Trading Standards officer to tell her that there was no sign of the boiler manual. She said that she would chase up Mark Sumnall, who had told her the week before that he had the manual.

Summary of the Abatec Experience:

Good Stars
gold star type 1
Promptness

Bad Stars
black star type 1
Very high charge for the amount of work done
black star type 2
Anonymity makes the customer suspicious
black star type 3
Misleading advertising, not a confidence-builder
black star type 4
Unreliable if appointments are broken without notice or explanation
black star type 5
The guy who did your job is history, not a confidence-builder
black star type 6A response obtained only under the threat of a complaint to the regulator, not a confidence-builder
black star type 7
Careless with communications

Conclusions

Abatec's advertising creates the impression that it is a reasonable size business, which has been trading successfully for a fairly long time. In fact, it seems to be just a one-man band run by Mark Sumnall, who has a bloke at 29 Sandileigh Avenue in Brinnington, acting as an answering service for Mark and other one-man bands, and who blames all difficulties on a fictional office manager.
   Knowing this explains why calls were never returned and Abatec was so reluctant to reveal Mark's surname, even after he was 'fired'.

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