Savi EPC trader pays the price for unfair practices

Published: 28 Feb 2017

Christopher Whatcott, 42, of Colwyn Close in Stevenage, was sentenced in relation to three counts under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, following a successful prosecution by Hertfordshire County Council’s Trading Standards Service.

He received eight months and two weeks imprisonment, suspended for two years, on all three counts concurrently.

He was also ordered to complete the maximum penalty of unpaid community work; 300 hours, and pay compensation to witness victims. In addition, he was disqualified as a director for 10 years and ordered to pay a contribution to prosecution costs.

On 24 February, St Albans Crown Court heard that Mr Whatcott had acted as a broker for putting house sellers in touch with EPC assessors. He was sentenced for levying unlawful penalty charges and charging customers’ credit cards without their permission. Mr Whatcott traded under various names, including First Choice EPC, Low Cost EPC and Savi EPC, between May 2014 and March 2016.

His Honour Judge Carroll said in his summing up: “It was not the service itself that was wrong but the complex, dynamic and deliberately misleading system you operated for the cancellation of contracts.

“I am entirely satisfied that you operated a system positively designed to freeze out rights given when distance selling occurs. I am entirely satisfied this was not accidental.

“Thereafter, if as customers frequently cancelled or attempted to cancel, your business model was to immediately charge grossly inflated cancellation fees that bear no relationship whatsoever to true costs of cancellation and thereafter imposed a sequence of charges increasing at Olympian speed and at eye watering rates. Within 15 days, they reached £439.95.

“There are several features of the conduct that are deeply unsavoury. E-mail correspondence was nasty, mean spirited and bullying.

“You are unfit to run any business. You shall not do so as a director for some years. You are still minimising your conduct. You have minimal insight and show no real remorse. I have no doubt you are still feeling hard done by. You are an arrogant and manipulative bully.”

In mitigation, Whatcott’s defence team said that their client was in work, had good references, had no previous convictions and had pleaded guilty, albeit after the trial had commenced.

Councillor Richard Thake, Hertfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Community Safety, said: “The sentence and comments from the Judge reflect the seriousness with which this matter has been viewed.

“Despite the comprehensive advice Mr Whatcott was given by Trading Standards, he took advantage of consumers when they were in the stressful situation of house selling. He took money out of people’s accounts without their permission and charged extortionate penalty fees, whilst relentlessly and aggressively pursuing them for unlawful payments.”