Dawn’s Story

My name is Dawn Burdett and I'm a married mother of 2 from the East Midlands.

I signed a contract with RTA in August 2005. Like Gill Draper, I didn't have the up-front fee so they upped the withdrawal fee. Again, like Gill, the rep said the contract was for 12 months. He valued the business at £90k which was double what I paid 2 years earlier. When I queried the valuation with the rep on the day, he said it was because we'd negotiated a new lease so the business was worth more - I don't do business valuation so how was I to know this was rubbish?

Having spoken to my business partner after the meeting, we decided that the valuation couldn't be right - it looked to us as if it had been valued high to maximise their commission. So we called RTA a couple of days later to change the valuation and commission rate - RTA said 'no'. So we asked to be taken back off the books (it had been 3 days and they hadn't produced the details so couldn't have spent any money) - RTA said only if we pay the commission in full. Obviously, we weren't very happy but there was nothing we could do.

After that, I never heard from them again - even though their rep said we'd get a monthly breakdown of how many people had requested our business details.

Not even one viewing in 5 years.

Naturally, as the rep said the contract was only for 12 months, I eventually forgot all about them.

In 2008 I put my business on the market with another company at £30k and sold it for £25k in October 2009. The new agent sent about 5 people to view in the first couple of months alone.

Out of the blue, in January 2010, I received a letter from RTA saying that it was no longer viable for them to market my business (I didn't know they still were) so they were withdrawing from the contract giving a months notice and sent me a bill for £1000 plus VAT.

As you can imagine, I was stunned.

I contacted a couple of their offices posing as a buyer. London office told me my business was no longer on their books and they hadn't actively marketed it since 2008. Stockport also confirmed they had no business of my type on their books in my geographical area - confirmed by a member of their staf via email. The business wasn't listed on their own website either.

So it was obvious to me that they had already stopped acting as a selling agent (you can't say you're a selling agent for a business that you don't market, don't claim to have on your books, and don't send particulars out for) so they must've already withdrawn from the contract without notice. So I wrote to them and told them this and said that the contract was only for 12 months but they'd already withdrawn from the agreement without notice in any case so it was all redundant.

I then had a further letter from them in early Feb saying that they'd just found out that the business had sold because they contacted the shop to arrange a viewing (even though they have it on file that they should contact me on my mobile and not at the shop, and that they're not currently marketing or sending out particulars so where did they manage to get a buyer from after 5 years?) and sent a new bill for £3900 plus VAT which consituted the commission.

I wrote back immediately asking what efforts they made in advertising, how they managed to find a buyer without advertising and after so long, full details of the buyer. I complained about the service, valuation, unclear contract, etc. I had a subsequent letter in early Fenruary which basically said that I had to pay up or else because they don't work for nothing. That's odd because they want me to pay for nothing.

I then formally wrote back a 3 page essay after re-checking dates, collecting evidence and speaking to my solicitor (and using the info provided by Gill Draper).

My response to them was that Gill's case makes the contract a consumer contract and that the clauses in the contract are unfair (contrary to the regulations), they are ambiguous, and that I should have been given written notification of my rights to cancel so the contract is unenforceable.

I've also requested the full contact details of the mysterious buyer that they suddenly found after 5 years - I am to request that they stand as a witness (that's if they exist) in any court proceedings.

At the end of February 2010, RTA's Paul O'Reilly responded by telling me that my case was nothing like Gill's (even though it's exactly the same, right down to where we each initialed the contract), that they were 100% confident that they would win their court case and I would incur substantial costs. And that, in any case, they had already issue a summons as it was evident I wasn't going to pay.

I didn't get a summons but a month later I received a 'draft' summons from another member of RTA staff with a letter saying they would issue the summons in 7 days if I didn't pay. So Paul O'Reilly lied about that.

That was around mid March 2010. I wrote back just to say that Mr O'Reilly had said in his letter a month earlier that he had already issued summons so presumably that wasn't true and that I had no intention of being bullied into paying when they had yet to respond to any of my issues so, if necessary, they would need to respond to them in court.

My court case was settled out of court (I didn't pay RTA a penny!) but I vowed to go on and try to change or stop these people from their unethical partices.

During the last 18 months since I helped start this support group I have spoken to scores of people who have come into contact with RTA - all of them in dispute.

Although RTA claim that they have 8,000 businesses on their books and so a 'handful' of complaints is inevitable, not one of their 'happy' customers has come forward to say what a great job RTA did.

Now I help people who are already in litigation and I haven't lost a case yet - so far (fingers crossed) RTA haven't won a case at hearing that I've produced an evidence bundle for.

We've already made some progress - for instance, RTA have now joined an Estate Agents Redress Scheme after our members filed scores of complaints with Trading Standards. Our last communication with the Property Ombudsman was that RTA's application had been put in and the were working towards compliancy.

And now we are moving onto our next attack - to campaign for an Industry-wide code of ethics for Business Transfer Agents.

We are already campaigning Trading Standards and the OFT for change. We are planning to petition MPs and already have Business Transfer Agents who are pro-change and behind the theory of a Code of Conduct.

Dawn Burdett September 2011