A director whose company provided misleading information to an elderly couple prior to them agreeing to put their property in trust has been ordered to pay thousands of pounds.
Andrew Stewart Hesketh, 59, from Greater Manchester, was director of a firm which provided information to the County Durham couple which wrongly claimed the financial product they ultimately paid for was endorsed by the Institute of Professional Willwriters and a code approved by trading standards.
The couple felt overwhelmed during a visit by a representative from the company and that he wasn’t going to leave unless they signed up, resulting in them agreeing to pay just under £2,800.
When the couple wrote to the company to cancel, their request was refused and their money was not returned.
The director has now been ordered to pay out more than £5,000, including full compensation to the couple, following a successful prosecution by Durham County Council.
Hesketh, from Hawthorn Avenue, Holcombe Brook, Ramsbottom, appeared before Newton Aycliffe magistrates last Wednesday, when he pleaded guilty to two charges of engaging in unfair commercial practice.
The court was told that from August to November of 2017, Hesketh was director of Silver Rose Marketing Limited, formerly Prestige Tax and Trust Services.
During that time, a woman living at Ovington, near Barnard Castle, was canvassed by a representative of the company offering to arrange for her house to be put into trust.
The representative produced a brochure in the name of Prestige Tax and Trust Services, and letters which contained logos from the Institute of Professional Willwriters and a code approved by trading standards.
However, the court was told the product being offered had not been approved by either.
Magistrates also heard the brochure contained misleading information.
It was presented to the woman that she would avoid having to pay care fees if she and her husband had to go into a home, if they put their property into a trust.
Other representations included how much control a person would have over property subject to a trust, the monetary limit at which probate would be required and the likelihood of a court challenging a trust.
The court was told the information was likely to mislead the average consumer into purchasing a trust.
The woman said she that she felt overwhelmed during the visit and that the representative wasn’t going to leave unless the couple signed up. She paid £2,795 to set up the trust.
She later wrote to the company to cancel the arrangement however it refused to do so as the request came after the 14 day cooling off period. No money was returned to the couple.
In an interview, Hesketh said he was unaware where the information in the brochure had come from and that it was not deliberately misleading.
In court, magistrates were handed a letter from the defendant in which he said he “deeply regretted” what had happened with the couple and how he had employed a fully qualified retired solicitor and trained consultants to oversee the selling of trusts as health issues saw him able to spend less time at work.
Hesketh was ordered to pay compensation to the couple of £2,795, costs of £1,877.28, a victim surcharge of £63 and a fine of £637 – a total of £5,372.28.
He was also banned from being a company director for 24 months.
Joanne Waller, the council’s head of environment, health and consumer protection, said: “This was a particularly shocking example of a couple who were potentially vulnerable by virtue of their ages being mis-sold a financial product.
“We are very pleased the couple will be fully reimbursed and with the severe financial penalty imposed. We hope it will act as a deterrent to anyone tempted to engage in such practice, and send out a message that it will not be tolerated in County Durham.
“Our advice to anyone who is offered financial products on their doorstep would always be not to sign up to anything straightaway. Take time to think about it and if you have doubts about what you are being offered, seek advice.”