Episode 9 Rip Off Britain


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Episode 9

Exposing the rip-offs that are costing British consumers. How does Britain's mobile coverage compare with services elsewhere - and what is being done to make it better?


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Transcript


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We asked you to tell us what's left you feeling ripped off,

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and you've contacted us in your thousands.

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You've told us about the companies you think get it wrong

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and the customer service that simply isn't up to scratch.

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They just want to take money from people.

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That's what it's all about.

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You've asked us to track down the scammers who stole your money

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and investigate the extra charges you say are unfair.

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What kind of people could do this to an innocent human being?

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And when you've lost out but nobody else is to blame,

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you've come to us to stop others falling into the same trap.

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You have to go through various levels of authority

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and push your way through.

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So, whether it's a blatant rip-off or a genuine mistake,

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we're here to find out why you're out of pocket

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and what you can do about it.

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Your stories, your money, this is Rip-Off Britain.

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Hello, and thank you so much for joining us for another

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Rip-Off Britain, tackling more of the stories that you've asked us

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to investigate on your behalf. And today, we're going to be

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getting to grips with some really big questions around the subject

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of customer service, because while most of us know what we expect

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from the companies we do business with,

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I'm sorry to say we don't always get it.

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Now, when there's been a problem and you're battling to get a result,

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the way that you're dealt with really can make all the difference.

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In fact, it sometimes ends up being an even bigger issue than the one

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you were originally complaining about.

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So, why is it that some companies get the whole business of

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handling complaints so badly wrong?

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And why is it that we're always having to ask that question?

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So, to try and answer it, we're going to be bringing you not just

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a real mix of examples of customer service, but also plenty of advice

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to ensure that you really do know the best way to get

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your voice heard, because while it's true that big companies may not

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always want to listen, even on some pretty major topics, there are

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particularly effective ways that you can get your message across.

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So, get ready to find out exactly what they are.

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Coming up - are Britain's new homes not being built properly?

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This woman has still got serious fault with hers

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well over a year after she moved in.

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I can't see when this is going to end.

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I really can't. I cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel.

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And we meet the woman whose dodgy mobile phone signal drove her

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to taking drastic action.

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That was when I just saw red and just went to, said to my husband,

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"I'm going to chain myself to the store

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"until they do something about this."

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Now, one of the attractions of buying a brand-new home is that you

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don't have to worry about some of the risks associated with buying

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an older property, like damp, subsidence, problems with the roof,

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you know the kind of thing. But, as the people we're about to hear from

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found out after they'd signed the contracts and moved in,

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that's by no means always the case.

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So, as demand for new homes across the country increases,

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can developers really keep up with the pace,

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or are corners being cut to meet targets and schedules,

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leaving homeowners with costly and potentially even dangerous mistakes

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to fix?

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Wendy Howell from Reading moved into her four-bedroom dream home in

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December 2015, together with her partner and teenage daughter.

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I fell in love with the design of this house.

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It was beautiful. I spent days wandering around the show home,

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waiting for my house to be completed.

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But 15 months after getting the keys to her almost £600,000 property,

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the builders are still here, because ever since Wendy moved in,

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the property has been beset with problems,

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or snags, as they're called in the business.

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And not just one or two - there were dozens.

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We weren't complaining about minor little snags,

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these were things like the back garden's flooding,

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the air bricks are below the ground level and we've got water coming out

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of the air bricks.

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And that was just outside the house.

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There was also an unfortunate problem with the acoustics.

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If you're sat in the study, you can hear someone on the toilet

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next door, and that's because there was no sound proofing there.

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In fact, there was so much for the developer to put right

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that Wendy hired an independent surveyor

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to provide her with a report,

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including an investigation into why her daughter's bedroom

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was so chilly.

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We had the surveyor, and we'd lowered the camera down.

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Areas where there should have been insolation,

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what we actually had was empty carrier bags.

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The surveyor's report found 19 different problems with the house

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which Wendy took straight to the developer, Taylor Wimpey.

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It wasn't until we actually got the surveyor's report and bashed them

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over the head with it that they admitted that,

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"OK, we'll resolve this for you."

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So, work began to do just that, but now, five months later,

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the builders are still here.

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There wasn't a single room where there wasn't either a wall

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taken down or a floor lifted up,

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and we've still got the exterior of the property to get sorted out -

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the flooding, which has been my issue from day one.

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It's horrifying to open up your garage door and find

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there's a huge puddle of water there.

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In a desperate attempt to get the developers to complete the work

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on her home, Wendy attached a protest banner to her balcony,

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spelling out her feelings.

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I can't see when this is going to end, I really can't.

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I cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel. I really can't.

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When we contacted Taylor Wimpey,

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the company apologised for the problems and disruption that Wendy's

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experienced, adding that it's "working hard to put things right,

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"and to fix any outstanding issues."

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But, according to reports from housing charity Shelter,

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over half of the people who move into brand-new houses report finding

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major faults, a figure which doesn't surprise our legal expert,

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solicitor Gary Rycroft.

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There are no official rules about snagging,

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and there's no law relating to snagging as such.

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In many ways, as a consumer,

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you have more rights if you buy a tin of beans than you do if you buy

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a house, because with a tin of beans, you can take it back,

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whereas with a house, it's very difficult to reject the goods

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and take it back afterwards, so really, the practical advice is -

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get snagging dealt with whilst the builder still has something that

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he wants from you, which is, frankly, your money.

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I would recommend that you get an independent snagging company

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to do that for you.

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Who knew such businesses existed?

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But Tim Fee, a former quantity surveyor,

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now works as a professional snagger.

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He's called in by new-build buyers who'd like his help identifying

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the faults with their home.

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You can see the gap,

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how out of level it is between the bottom and top.

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You never know what you're going to find, so in some,

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it may be the standard of decoration is abysmal.

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Others, it can be quality of workmanship on joinery,

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so doors that don't fit properly.

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Today, Tim is in the Yorkshire village of Eggborough,

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taking a look around the home of Andy Greenwood and his wife.

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They paid a quarter of a million pounds for this brand-new house

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in 2016, but now rather wish they hadn't.

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When you spend £200,000-plus on a house, even if it was

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a £100,000 house, you shouldn't have to fix a new house.

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On the long list of problems is their sloping floors.

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I'm just looking at the flooring here, and at the moment,

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it's clear that the floor is falling away, so if I put the level here,

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if I put it between, there's obviously a gap underneath.

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As I bring the level round this way, here, you can probably see,

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there's a substantial gap appearing where the floor is

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falling quite substantially towards the patio door.

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The property was built by Harron Homes,

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who Tim has had dealings with in the past,

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when his own daughter was left disappointed with a property

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the company had built. And though the company's website said Andy's

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development showcases the very best that new homes have to offer,

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in fact, independent snagging specialists have identified

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234 separate faults with his new-build home,

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from guttering to paintwork. And Andy is not impressed.

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We were drawn in by the adverts promising us the best of the best,

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and we looked at the show homes, which were the best of the best,

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so we assumed that we would be getting the standard

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that we were being offered.

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Well, Harron Homes told us it's evident that this house didn't

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meet the high standards that customers expect,

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and it apologises unreservedly for any inconvenience caused.

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It goes on to say that after being initially told about three snagging

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issues when Andy and his family first moved in,

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it has since seen a copy of the independent report and says 40%

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of the points identified are covered by the homeowner's warranty,

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and it immediately put plans in place to address them.

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It tells us the ongoing remedial work will be dealt with

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"appropriately and in a timely manner,"

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and it appreciates Andy's family's patience in this matter.

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Meanwhile, in Pontefract,

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there's another family living in a new house they're now having

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second thoughts about. Ann is a midwife and works shifts,

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and her husband Barry also works unsociable hours.

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But Ann says getting any shut-eye is made impossible by the property's

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noisy floorboards keeping them awake.

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You walk on the floor, and there's a horrific click.

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It echoes down into the kitchen, it transmits throughout the house,

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to the point that if somebody's in bed,

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nobody dare walk around the house because it wakes people up.

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Ann says they've had ongoing building work to sort out the issue

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ever since they moved in two years ago.

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So, this is the kitchen where the main of the clicking

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were first identified.

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In the ceiling, we've had two lots of screws put into the ceiling,

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so they've re-plastered the ceiling twice following that.

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They've taken the ceiling down last August.

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That were down for six weeks.

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And because of all the work, they've still not properly unpacked.

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There's no flooring in here because we're waiting for the rest of the

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works to be done for us to move back in here.

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This is the first floor that they've replaced.

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So, we are waiting at the minute for them to come and refit

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our wardrobes, re-carpet it, so we can move our bed back in here, and

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move out of the big bedroom so they can start working on the upstairs.

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The developer of Ann's house, Strata, told us it

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acknowledges that there have been some ongoing issues with repairs

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which could have been handled more swiftly.

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It's apologised unreservedly for that, and has now agreed

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and begun a programme of work.

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But I'm afraid here at Rip-Off Britain, we keep hearing of

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situations where snagging has taken months, if not years, to resolve.

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So, solicitor Gary Rycroft says the best way to minimise the chances of

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that happening is to do your research

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when choosing your new home.

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Go and look at some of the building sites.

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If they are tidy and organised, then it's more likely that your

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house will be built properly than if it's chaotic.

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If you're buying the second or third phase of a development, go and

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talk to the people who've already moved in and bought phase one.

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Go and knock on their doors and ask them,

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"What was their experience of the building?"

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Meanwhile, in Reading, Wendy hopes her banner might

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bring forward the day when she can finally consider her home snag-free.

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My dreams have been shattered.

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This was going to be my forever home.

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It's just been a nightmare.

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There are very few things in life that we genuinely

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cannot live without, and while our survival could hardly be said

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to depend on it, one item most of us would probably include on the list

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would be our mobile phone. And I bet, even as you're watching this,

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yours won't be very far away.

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But the fact that so many people own a mobile phone doesn't mean that

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we're always able to use them quite as effectively as we'd like.

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Patchy signals can leave the best of us utterly exasperated,

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so we've been finding out exactly why that is, and more importantly,

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what is being done about it.

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Now, there are many things we can be very proud of in the UK,

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but one thing we certainly don't seem to have got sorted out

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is our mobile phone signals,

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as many of you are all too aware.

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Do you think that the mobile phone companies are doing enough

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-to improve...?

-No. They're definitely not.

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Do you ever get into a situation where you've got no reception at all

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-on your mobile phone?

-Yes, I do, yes.

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-How frustrating is that?

-It's very frustrating.

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I could throttle them when they tell me that we can get a signal.

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We can't, we can't!

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You've just got to warm the bath up, Edmund.

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Diane Cartwright runs a dog grooming parlour in the coastal town

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of Porthmadog in North Wales,

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and as Diane is often out and about with her job,

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a fixed landline isn't an option for her,

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so she really relies on her mobile phone to keep her business going.

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I groom dogs. They get bathed and clipped and styled,

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and people come in and have their nails, their dog's nails, done,

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and they'll phone for advice, and I'm really quite a busy little shop.

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All done here. You're going to have a bath now, aren't you?

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But problems with her mobile phone reception means that Diane can have

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real difficulties keeping in touch with customers.

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When I'm, like, phoning them to say, "Can you come and collect your dog?"

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I can't get in touch with them, so it might be hours later,

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and I've got this dog waiting to go home and I can't get in touch

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with anybody. And if people can't get through,

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are they going to come into my shop to book again?

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And in 2016, things really reached a head.

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It got to a point where I couldn't receive any calls,

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couldn't make any calls, nothing at all.

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So, determined to get something done, Diane, an Orange customer

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at the time, went to her local branch to get some advice.

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The staff told her that if she moved over to the EE network,

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she would be more likely to get a better signal, as EE was rapidly

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improving its coverage in Wales.

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Hoping this would solve her telephone problems,

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Diane signed a new 24-month contract with EE.

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It did work for about two hours, and then after that when I got home,

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it was exactly the same. I wasn't getting incoming calls,

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couldn't make any calls going out.

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No texts, no messages, nothing at all.

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As Diane was still within the cooling off period for her

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new contract, she took herself back to the mobile phone shop

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with the intention of moving to a different company altogether.

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But she also wanted to keep her mobile phone number because it was

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the one she used for her business,

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and to do that she needed a special nine-digit code called a PAC code.

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However, there was a misunderstanding

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over how quickly she'd get it.

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That was when I just saw red.

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I said to my husband,

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"I'm going to EE and I'm going to chain myself to the store until they

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"do something about this."

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And it was the only thing I could think of to do to get noticed,

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to get them to stand up and listen to me, really.

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And I needed it sorted today.

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I couldn't let it go on for any longer.

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And the whole incident was caught on film.

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And it was after a minute or two it registered what I had done with one

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of the staff. And he came over to me and asked if he could help me.

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The police came.

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They couldn't do anything at the time because I was just sitting

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peacefully. It would have been worthwhile getting arrested for.

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Well, when we spoke to EE,

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they disagreed with various elements of Diane's story,

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making it clear that its staff had tried to help and stressing that she

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would have received the PAC code quicker than she realised.

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Even so, the company added it understands how frustrating it is

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when people can't get a signal in the places they need it,

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but pointed out that in Diane's postcode,

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EE provides some of the best coverage in the area.

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And while most people who can't get a good signal wouldn't go quite

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as far as Diane, plenty of her fellow Porthmadog residents find

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the situation equally maddening, learning through bitter experiences

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the places where they can make a call.

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I can only use it out the front or in my front room.

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I used to be able to get a signal in the house, not much,

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just one or two bars in the house.

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"Oh, we've increased the coverage nationwide."

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-I can't get a darn thing!

-Right.

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I can get a signal, but it's upstairs in the bathroom.

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-In the toilet?

-Yeah.

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It's ludicrous! And we're in an area of the country that neither

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the government nor the companies feel is economic for them to give us

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-a better service.

-You know what you all have to do?

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You all have to go down to your phone shops and chain yourself up

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and make a stand.

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Not so sure about that one.

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But anyway, a recent government report concluded that here

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in the UK, when we get a new mobile phone contract,

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we're all very focused on getting the right price,

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the right tariff or handset, but may not even think to check whether

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the coverage we're likely to get is going to be good enough.

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So perhaps it's no surprise that more than six out of ten people

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report a patchy signal indoors and experts estimate that 10% of the UK

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still doesn't have any voice coverage at all.

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To overcome patchy signals in much of the rest of Europe,

0:18:340:18:37

mobile phone companies let you roam between or share networks,

0:18:370:18:41

so that if you lose a signal in one town, another network will kick in,

0:18:410:18:45

so that you can still make and receive calls.

0:18:450:18:48

However, the UK phone providers don't currently do this.

0:18:480:18:51

In fact, the main companies in the UK have openly opposed

0:18:540:18:57

working together to allow network sharing,

0:18:570:19:00

putting the cost of doing so at anything from £64-£128 million.

0:19:000:19:05

Now, our technology expert, David McLellan, says all of this,

0:19:070:19:10

coupled with the fact that the masts that we rely on to send and receive

0:19:100:19:13

mobile phone signals, are in short supply and expensive to install,

0:19:130:19:18

means that UK customers are left with very hit and miss coverage.

0:19:180:19:22

Cell towers are one of the keys to getting better mobile coverage

0:19:230:19:27

all around, but there are obstacles between your phone and the

0:19:270:19:31

cell tower that provides the mobile coverage that can make it

0:19:310:19:36

more difficult for you to get a good service on your phone.

0:19:360:19:39

But not everyone wants a cell tower in their back garden and there are

0:19:390:19:44

a number of cases where mobile phone providers have tried to erect

0:19:440:19:48

a cell tower and local groups have said, "We don't want that here".

0:19:480:19:52

But there are things you can do to boost your chances of getting

0:19:530:19:56

the best coverage on your phone.

0:19:560:19:57

The communications regulator, Ofcom, released an app.

0:19:580:20:01

It gives you a map and you can check for a particular postcode.

0:20:010:20:06

It can even work out where you are.

0:20:060:20:08

And it will tell you for every major mobile phone provider,

0:20:080:20:11

whether you get good coverage in that location.

0:20:110:20:14

But some of the people we've spoken to, including Diane,

0:20:160:20:19

say that this map doesn't always reflect the true signal, and that

0:20:190:20:23

when the app is showing good coverage in their area,

0:20:230:20:25

the reality may be very different.

0:20:250:20:27

When we put that to Ofcom,

0:20:290:20:30

they told us that its maps are based on coverage predictions

0:20:300:20:34

from the mobile operators,

0:20:340:20:36

and made with computer programmes that simulate the way signals travel

0:20:360:20:40

from mobile masts and are blocked by obstructions such as

0:20:400:20:43

hills, trees and buildings.

0:20:430:20:46

The regulator added that its own measurements have shown this

0:20:460:20:49

methodology is usually accurate, but can sometimes be wrong,

0:20:490:20:53

which is because signal loss can vary significantly,

0:20:530:20:57

depending on factors such as the device you're using,

0:20:570:21:00

the materials used to construct whatever building you're in,

0:21:000:21:03

or congestion on the network.

0:21:030:21:04

It went on to say that it's continuing to conduct extensive

0:21:050:21:09

field testing, to confirm its maps accurately reflect the usage of

0:21:090:21:13

mobile devices in different locations and is collecting

0:21:130:21:16

crowdsourced data, using a mobile research app,

0:21:160:21:20

to help improve the accuracy of the information it provides.

0:21:200:21:23

But it may also be worth checking out some of the other apps

0:21:240:21:27

out there, designed to do the same thing, like this one by OpenSignal.

0:21:270:21:32

It's a company that maps phone and data signals using the experiences

0:21:320:21:36

and data provided by users.

0:21:360:21:38

Indeed, when we checked out Diane's postcode on THIS map,

0:21:380:21:42

it paints a very different picture of what mobile phone signal

0:21:420:21:45

she can expect, suggesting only limited coverage is available.

0:21:450:21:49

And if you're already tied into a phone network that just doesn't have

0:21:510:21:54

a good signal where you live, David says you should usually be able to

0:21:540:21:58

try one of the apps that lets you make calls through Wi-Fi instead.

0:21:580:22:02

So let's see you are living in a home where you don't get

0:22:020:22:05

great coverage from your service providers.

0:22:050:22:07

Many of them will let you download an app onto your phone and enable

0:22:070:22:11

Wi-Fi calling. That essentially uses your broadband connection to help

0:22:110:22:15

you receive phone calls, make phone calls and text messages,

0:22:150:22:18

as if you had really good coverage in your home.

0:22:180:22:21

Well, if all else fails and you remain unhappy with the coverage

0:22:230:22:26

provided by your mobile phone company but don't fancy going as far

0:22:260:22:30

as chaining yourself to the shop, you can make a complaint

0:22:300:22:34

under the Consumer Rights Act of 2015,

0:22:340:22:36

suggesting that as they haven't been able to provide the service you paid

0:22:360:22:40

for, you would like to terminate your contract without being liable

0:22:400:22:44

for any cancellation fee.

0:22:440:22:46

But David says in the first instance, you should always clarify

0:22:470:22:50

your provider's policy before you sign the contract.

0:22:500:22:54

At the point of purchase, be very, very clear with the shop,

0:22:540:22:58

if you're buying it in store, about what happens if when you

0:22:580:23:01

get your phone home you find you don't have any service.

0:23:010:23:04

Do you have the right to go back into the shop and cancel the

0:23:040:23:07

contract there and then saying,

0:23:070:23:09

"I've had the phone for two or three days," or a week, or however long,

0:23:090:23:12

"It's not working. I don't get coverage.

0:23:120:23:14

"I'm not going to continue with this contract." Be very clear

0:23:140:23:17

what the returns policy is in the case of poor coverage.

0:23:170:23:21

Meanwhile, back in Porthmadog,

0:23:210:23:23

Diane is now with a different phone network, and at long last,

0:23:230:23:27

she can get a reliable signal.

0:23:270:23:29

That's quite a good network for me now.

0:23:290:23:31

It's all right for what I need now at home and at work.

0:23:310:23:34

Scout, give me five!

0:23:350:23:37

Good boy!

0:23:370:23:39

Still to come on Rip-Off Britain -

0:23:450:23:46

how a simple trip to the shops can prove deeply traumatic for

0:23:460:23:50

anyone living with dementia.

0:23:500:23:52

There are so many places that people have been unkind,

0:23:520:23:56

and that's very difficult to come to terms with.

0:23:560:23:59

We're in Manchester at one of the biggest shopping centres in the UK

0:24:060:24:10

for our annual Rip-Off Britain pop-up shop.

0:24:100:24:13

It's our opportunity to meet you face-to-face and for our lovely team

0:24:130:24:17

of experts to help sort out all the consumer problems that have left you

0:24:170:24:21

feeling completely ripped off.

0:24:210:24:23

Well, I think we're all raring to go, aren't we, girls?

0:24:230:24:25

So, let's declare this pop-up shop open!

0:24:250:24:28

We've already heard on today's programme how stressful buying

0:24:380:24:41

a home can be, but for Russ George, who's come to see Gary Rycroft,

0:24:410:24:45

his Manchester apartment has become a living nightmare.

0:24:450:24:48

Russ, you have a catalogue of woes with your apartment.

0:24:480:24:52

Briefly, tell me what the problem is.

0:24:520:24:54

Briefly, I bought a penthouse apartment in 2012.

0:24:540:24:58

In 2013, having had leaks for 18 months, I found water has poured

0:24:580:25:03

into my apartment whilst I was away on holiday.

0:25:030:25:06

When we look at the root cause,

0:25:060:25:07

it comes from the original construction of the building.

0:25:070:25:10

So, the windows had an inch to a half a foot gap around them.

0:25:100:25:15

There are bits of the floor where construction workers have cut

0:25:150:25:19

through to take pipes up and then realised they don't need to.

0:25:190:25:22

We've got air gaps between the interior and exterior.

0:25:220:25:27

-You've got cracks?

-We've got cracks.

0:25:270:25:29

We've got a concrete top roof with concealed drains,

0:25:290:25:34

with no drain maintenance plan with the management company.

0:25:340:25:37

What sort of damage has this done?

0:25:370:25:39

Massive floods. It's totally destroyed the apartment.

0:25:390:25:41

It's left me effectively homeless.

0:25:410:25:43

You're not living in it?

0:25:430:25:45

I'm camping in it at the minute, because I have nowhere else to live.

0:25:450:25:49

With his insurers and the freeholder arguing about who was liable to

0:25:500:25:53

repair the damage, Russ just didn't know where to turn to next.

0:25:530:25:57

It's a very complicated legal situation, isn't it, Russ?

0:25:580:26:01

Because there's lots of different things going on here.

0:26:010:26:05

There's the initial purchase transaction.

0:26:050:26:08

-Yeah.

-And there are at least two issues there.

0:26:080:26:11

-One is your survey.

-Yeah.

0:26:110:26:14

And did that reveal anything, do you have a claim against your surveyor?

0:26:140:26:18

And in terms of the vendor, Russ,

0:26:180:26:21

when you sell any kind of property, you have to provide information

0:26:210:26:25

to the buyer and you have to make honest disclosure.

0:26:250:26:28

So if there had been floods in the past,

0:26:280:26:31

and if that wasn't disclosed to you,

0:26:310:26:33

then you could argue that was a misrepresentation.

0:26:330:26:36

Now that's three possible paths for Russ to explore,

0:26:360:26:39

but there may yet be another.

0:26:390:26:41

Presumably, there are other people in the building.

0:26:410:26:43

Are they having the same problems?

0:26:430:26:44

I know there are other neighbours who have been flooded.

0:26:440:26:47

Angela is going down the right route here.

0:26:470:26:49

So, if you had some kind of class action, if you all got together,

0:26:490:26:53

it will spread the risk of the litigation

0:26:530:26:55

in terms of strength in numbers.

0:26:550:26:58

You need to say to all the owners, "Unless we get this sorted,

0:26:580:27:02

"we're going to have flats here that we can't sell,

0:27:020:27:05

"that are going down in value, so come and join me and my crusade."

0:27:050:27:08

Well, it's already got to a point of no return.

0:27:080:27:12

I've got to get resolution.

0:27:120:27:15

Well, since coming to our pop-up shop, Russ has taken Gary's advice,

0:27:150:27:19

and along with fellow residents, they're looking into starting

0:27:190:27:22

a class action against the property developers.

0:27:220:27:25

Meanwhile, plenty of shoppers joined the queue for our Gripe Corner,

0:27:270:27:30

where you told us in no uncertain terms what really gets your goat.

0:27:300:27:34

We're the same age, we've got the exact same car, we're with the same

0:27:340:27:37

insurance company, and I pay twice as much as she does.

0:27:370:27:40

What really gets on my nerves is when you get the leaflets through

0:27:400:27:44

the door, half-price special offers, etc, etc, for new customers only.

0:27:440:27:49

And they don't give it to me when I've been with them 20 years.

0:27:490:27:52

I think we all know what a difference good customer service

0:27:560:27:59

makes, and by "good," I mean staff that are prepared to go

0:27:590:28:02

that extra mile to make things just a little bit easier for you,

0:28:020:28:05

and, of course, those who don't just see you as another sale.

0:28:050:28:09

Well, I'm sure I'm not the only one who would say that when you do get

0:28:090:28:11

that kind of treatment in a shop, it makes you want to go back

0:28:110:28:15

again and again. And that level of care and attention becomes

0:28:150:28:19

even more important when you're dealing with someone

0:28:190:28:22

who has dementia.

0:28:220:28:23

Over 800,000 people in the UK live with some form of the disease.

0:28:230:28:27

Now, that's an awful lot of customers who may need just that

0:28:270:28:30

little extra bit of help, but how likely are they to get it?

0:28:300:28:33

Well, I accompanied one woman who has been diagnosed with the disease

0:28:330:28:37

to find out and to ask whether customer service really is as good

0:28:370:28:41

as it could be for those who have the same condition.

0:28:410:28:44

Come. Come, come.

0:28:450:28:47

Joy and Tony Watson from Eccles in Salford have been married for

0:28:470:28:51

41 years, but it's during the last six years that their marriage vow

0:28:510:28:55

of "in sickness and in health" has really been put to the test.

0:28:550:28:59

I was diagnosed with early onset dementia when I was about 55,

0:28:590:29:04

but I did have symptoms way before then, when I was about 49.

0:29:040:29:09

It's a disease that hasn't left Joy housebound or confined to a chair,

0:29:110:29:16

but it does mean that she suffers from confusion,

0:29:160:29:19

anxiety, and panic in new or unfamiliar situations.

0:29:190:29:23

So simply going to the shops can be very challenging.

0:29:230:29:27

Stay.

0:29:270:29:29

'I have had some really horrible experiences.'

0:29:290:29:32

Some that I just haven't known how to cope with.

0:29:320:29:37

They've got me to the point of

0:29:390:29:42

just falling apart and being in tears.

0:29:420:29:45

Sometimes at the bank if I can't remember my PIN number

0:29:450:29:50

or at that supermarket, or at the petrol station, railway stations,

0:29:500:29:55

there's so many places that people have been unkind.

0:29:550:29:58

And that's very difficult to come to terms with.

0:29:580:30:02

Joy has Alzheimer's, a form of dementia which means that she

0:30:040:30:08

can get very confused and stressed

0:30:080:30:10

because her brain simply cannot process what is going on around her.

0:30:100:30:14

And though she does where a badge to make it clear that she is living

0:30:140:30:17

with Alzheimer's, she's found that unfortunately the staff in shops,

0:30:170:30:21

cafes, and other places that she visits may not spot it or even

0:30:210:30:25

realise that it means that she might sometimes need

0:30:250:30:28

a bit of extra assistance. And, of course,

0:30:280:30:30

it may be that there aren't any staff immediately on hand to help,

0:30:300:30:34

as was the case on a recent journey with one of the UK's biggest

0:30:340:30:38

rail companies, Virgin.

0:30:380:30:40

Having settled down into the journey, I was dozing a bit.

0:30:400:30:48

And to my surprise,

0:30:480:30:50

four gentlemen got on and they were very rowdy and very loud.

0:30:500:30:56

They were swearing and being very vulgar, so I felt very intimidated.

0:30:560:31:03

Now, whilst many of us may have just moved to another carriage,

0:31:030:31:07

Joy's illness meant that she became rooted with fear to her spot,

0:31:070:31:11

unable to attract the attention of train staff.

0:31:110:31:13

So, instead, she texted her husband, Tony.

0:31:130:31:16

When I initially got the text, the very first text,

0:31:180:31:21

to say that Joy was in trouble and she was frightened,

0:31:210:31:24

I felt really worried for her.

0:31:240:31:27

Tony then spent two hours trying to get through to someone who might be

0:31:270:31:31

able to assist Joy but was eventually told that there was

0:31:310:31:33

no way of speaking to someone on board the train,

0:31:330:31:36

due to the poor phone signal.

0:31:360:31:38

I find it difficult to explain how I felt when they said they couldn't

0:31:380:31:43

contact the train manager because of a poor signal.

0:31:430:31:46

I know that I could text Joy.

0:31:460:31:48

We were texting several times during that journey,

0:31:490:31:51

so I know that the phone signal was working.

0:31:510:31:55

So, why couldn't someone just pick up a phone and say to the manager,

0:31:550:31:58

"There is a problem in Coach A, the quiet coach.

0:31:580:32:00

"Can you please go down and help?"

0:32:000:32:03

By the time Joy arrived in Manchester,

0:32:030:32:05

she was deeply distressed.

0:32:050:32:07

When I got off of the train,

0:32:070:32:09

I was still in a state of panic and I just fell into Tony's arms and

0:32:090:32:14

just burst into tears.

0:32:140:32:17

I was just so relieved to be off that train.

0:32:170:32:19

But sadly for Joy, such difficulties are not uncommon.

0:32:210:32:24

She's determined to keep her independence,

0:32:240:32:27

but in order to do that,

0:32:270:32:28

passionately believes that companies such as Virgin should be doing more

0:32:280:32:32

to look out for customers with dementia.

0:32:320:32:35

When we put that to Virgin Trains,

0:32:350:32:37

it said it was sorry to hear of Joy's experience and while stressing

0:32:370:32:40

instances of anti-social behaviour are rare, it outlined a variety

0:32:400:32:44

of ways of dealing with such situations if the train manager

0:32:440:32:47

isn't immediately on hand,

0:32:470:32:49

including getting in touch with the company through social media,

0:32:490:32:52

or contacting the British Transport Police,

0:32:520:32:55

which you can do by texting 61016.

0:32:550:32:59

Virgin also told us that customers with dementia can use its

0:33:000:33:03

JourneyCare service to request any additional assistance,

0:33:030:33:07

whether that be help collecting tickets, boarding and disembarking,

0:33:070:33:11

or someone to speak to on board.

0:33:110:33:14

But though Joy welcomes initiatives like this,

0:33:140:33:16

she feels that in general, the help that she and others

0:33:160:33:19

with dementia may need, is still too often hard to find.

0:33:190:33:23

And that is something that I find especially disturbing,

0:33:230:33:26

because not only have I had personal experience of coping with dementia

0:33:260:33:30

with my late mother when she was diagnosed with it,

0:33:300:33:33

but I'm also the co-chair of a Prime Ministerial Committee that was

0:33:330:33:37

specifically set up to make communities up and down the country

0:33:370:33:41

more dementia friendly. And it's through that role that Joy and I

0:33:410:33:45

have met before when she won an award for the work that she's done

0:33:450:33:48

improving dementia awareness in her home town of Eccles.

0:33:480:33:52

As part of that, she keeps a close check on the sort of services she

0:33:520:33:55

gets while shopping or out and about and she's keen to give me a sense

0:33:550:33:59

of the difficulties that even now she can regularly come across.

0:33:590:34:04

So what sort of problems have you had,

0:34:040:34:06

particularly when you're shopping?

0:34:060:34:08

I get very frustrated if I can't pack my bags or if the person

0:34:080:34:14

doesn't offer to help me pack my bags, and then it just escalates.

0:34:140:34:19

I get uptight and then I drop my money.

0:34:190:34:23

And it just goes a slippery slope from there on in.

0:34:230:34:27

To demonstrate exactly what she means,

0:34:280:34:31

Joy wants to show me what can happen when she tries to do things that,

0:34:310:34:34

in the past, would not have caused her any problems.

0:34:340:34:37

First, she's going shopping in a neighbouring town, where things

0:34:370:34:40

aren't so familiar, and I'm giving her a list of what to get.

0:34:400:34:43

I want you to buy a loaf of bread.

0:34:440:34:46

-OK.

-Some milk.

0:34:460:34:49

-OK.

-Some eggs.

0:34:490:34:51

And some butter. So bread and butter, egg and milk.

0:34:510:34:55

-OK.

-Yeah? You're shaking a bit now.

0:34:550:34:57

-A bit nervous?

-A bit, yeah.

0:34:570:34:58

-Yeah, it's a new place.

-All right.

-Go for it.

-OK, off you go.

0:34:580:35:02

-OK.

-We'll see you when you come out. All right?

0:35:020:35:05

'As Joy heads off to the supermarket,

0:35:050:35:07

'it's the start of an anxious wait for husband Tony,

0:35:070:35:10

'who's also his wife's carer.

0:35:100:35:12

'He knows how quickly she can become distressed.'

0:35:120:35:15

I think she'll be OK.

0:35:150:35:17

It very much depends on the staff at the checkout.

0:35:170:35:20

Some supermarkets, they work on speed and they just chuck the stuff

0:35:200:35:24

down faster than Joy can cope with.

0:35:240:35:26

Here she comes. '15 minutes later, and Joy is back.'

0:35:270:35:31

Well, you've got a smile on your face, anyway!

0:35:310:35:34

If I am completely honest, it was a bit of a nightmare.

0:35:350:35:38

-Was it? Why?

-Well, there were lots of things...

0:35:380:35:42

I think the biggest thing was obstacles.

0:35:420:35:45

What's one of them things with...?

0:35:450:35:47

Forklift. That it was poking out.

0:35:470:35:49

-Yeah.

-And then there was a jolly...

0:35:490:35:53

cage blocking most of one of the aisles.

0:35:530:35:55

-So I just sort of didn't know quite how to negotiate that.

-Yeah.

0:35:550:35:59

'The obstacles that Joy had to navigate clearly unsettled her

0:36:000:36:04

'and that made concentrating on her shopping list even trickier.

0:36:040:36:07

'She only managed to buy two of the four items on her list.'

0:36:070:36:11

And how did you get on at the checkout?

0:36:120:36:14

Did they notice your badge?

0:36:140:36:15

Yes. And she took a lot longer.

0:36:150:36:18

She did put the receipt, which really confuses me.

0:36:200:36:23

She put the receipt and then the money on top of the receipt.

0:36:230:36:26

And then I sort of think, "Ah, I don't know how to..."

0:36:260:36:28

-But...

-You're all right?

-Yeah. I managed.

0:36:300:36:32

And the good thing, the positive thing,

0:36:320:36:35

the mat going into the store isn't black.

0:36:350:36:39

How good is that?

0:36:390:36:40

What difference does that make, then?

0:36:400:36:42

If I negotiate a store with a black mat, to me,

0:36:420:36:46

it looks like a black hole.

0:36:460:36:48

Now, who would have imagined that the mat by a shop's front door

0:36:490:36:53

could cause someone with dementia of this kind of problem?

0:36:530:36:56

Which, of course, is exactly why Joy is so keen for others to understand

0:36:560:37:00

the kinds of issues that can arise.

0:37:000:37:03

And she's not finished yet.

0:37:030:37:05

Next, she wants to try something a little more complicated,

0:37:050:37:08

so I'm sending her to a different shop

0:37:080:37:10

to exchange an item of clothing.

0:37:100:37:12

How do you feel? Are you comfortable to take it back and ask them

0:37:120:37:15

-to change it?

-Yeah, I think I will.

0:37:150:37:16

All right. Have you got the receipt, Tony?

0:37:160:37:18

-I have the receipt.

-Right. 'Joy's symptoms are so subtle,

0:37:180:37:22

'they can go unnoticed or be misunderstood and are often

0:37:220:37:25

'a question of confidence and fear of the unknown,

0:37:250:37:28

'rather than a complete loss of memory.'

0:37:280:37:30

She seems quite nervous about asking people for help and directions,

0:37:300:37:34

-doesn't she?

-She's always afraid of rejection.

0:37:340:37:36

Always afraid that someone is going to say, "No,"

0:37:360:37:39

or give her strange looks.

0:37:390:37:40

Because you look at Joy and you can't see that she has Alzheimer's.

0:37:400:37:45

No, it's one of those invisible...

0:37:450:37:47

That's it, yeah.

0:37:470:37:49

So people will often say to her, "You're OK. You're healthy.

0:37:490:37:54

"Why do you need my help?"

0:37:540:37:56

And that does make her nervous.

0:37:560:37:57

'But it's not long before a very relieved Joy emerges

0:37:570:38:00

'from the clothes shop.'

0:38:000:38:02

I managed to change it, yeah.

0:38:020:38:05

I felt a bit rushed.

0:38:050:38:06

Really? But were they helpful and understanding?

0:38:060:38:09

Yeah, they were helpful. They just rushed me a bit.

0:38:090:38:11

Sort of, "Oh, well, go and find another one."

0:38:110:38:15

And I said, "Well, I don't know where to find another one."

0:38:150:38:18

But I think that was up until the point she'd read my badge.

0:38:180:38:23

And then when she read my badge, the whole demeanour changed.

0:38:230:38:27

She said, "Would you like me to come and find it with you?"

0:38:270:38:32

But it proves what a difference it makes when people understand,

0:38:320:38:35

-doesn't it?

-It certainly does, yeah.

0:38:350:38:37

And that is a message that this cafe in Eccles has definitely taken

0:38:390:38:43

on board. After Joy passed on her concerns, it made some changes,

0:38:430:38:47

and now proudly displays a sign saying it's dementia friendly.

0:38:470:38:51

So, I asked the owner what that actually means.

0:38:510:38:53

What have you done particularly to make your cafe dementia friendly,

0:38:540:38:58

-Gordon?

-We've tried to make the signs easy to read.

0:38:580:39:00

We've got a menu on each table now, and just trying to make it so it's

0:39:000:39:04

really simple for people to see what we do sell.

0:39:040:39:08

Clearer signs,

0:39:080:39:09

easy to read menus, and wide spaces have all helped create a feeling

0:39:090:39:13

of calm. Too much noise or din can lead to anxiety and confusion.

0:39:130:39:19

Well, Gordon's clearly made an effort to make this place

0:39:190:39:23

dementia friendly. Do you find that it is?

0:39:230:39:26

Yes. Yeah.

0:39:260:39:28

And I bring a lot of my friends here,

0:39:280:39:31

who are living with dementia, and they just love it.

0:39:310:39:34

Joy has campaigned tirelessly for many of her local businesses to

0:39:360:39:40

-become dementia friendly...

-Just going to bring this across, Joy.

0:39:400:39:44

..and a mobile phone app has been developed for the wider area

0:39:440:39:47

of Salford to take that further.

0:39:470:39:48

Tony, what's that app you've got there?

0:39:490:39:51

It's called the Salford Way.

0:39:510:39:53

If someone, say someone living with dementia or their carers or family

0:39:530:39:56

members wants to find somewhere that is dementia friendly,

0:39:560:39:59

this app can show them, whether it's a restaurant, a supermarket,

0:39:590:40:04

a garage business or anything of that nature.

0:40:040:40:06

So you can be guaranteed of getting decent service as someone with

0:40:060:40:09

-dementia and a carer once you get there?

-That's right, yes.

0:40:090:40:12

What's more, if someone living with dementia is out and about and simply

0:40:140:40:17

forgets which cafe or shop they want to go to, the app can help

0:40:170:40:21

remind them, as well as point them in the direction of new places where

0:40:210:40:24

they can be sure they'll get the sort of service

0:40:240:40:27

that will make them feel welcome.

0:40:270:40:28

And not only that, the more dementia friendly a bank, a hairdresser's,

0:40:300:40:35

a cafe, a theatre, a shop, whatever is,

0:40:350:40:38

the more likely it is that those customers, be they someone

0:40:380:40:41

with dementia and their carers, are likely to come back.

0:40:410:40:45

Think about it - that means you're talking potentially about, what,

0:40:450:40:48

million and a half customers?

0:40:480:40:50

So it has to be good business sense to adjust your customer

0:40:500:40:54

relations and support so that you are there

0:40:540:40:57

for people who have dementia.

0:40:570:40:58

Some very big names are making an effort in this area.

0:41:010:41:04

For example, a Sainsbury's store in Gosforth in the north-east has

0:41:040:41:08

introduced slow shopping hours every Tuesday afternoon,

0:41:080:41:12

and the East of England Co-op has embarked on a training programme

0:41:120:41:15

so that all of its staff are dementia friends.

0:41:150:41:18

But Joy thinks there is much more to be done to help people living with

0:41:180:41:21

the condition, not just through simple changes like these,

0:41:210:41:25

but also to protect and avoid them being ripped off in other ways.

0:41:250:41:29

I want to continue to be able to visit my bank, visit the hair salon,

0:41:290:41:36

just do the things that I've always enjoyed doing,

0:41:360:41:39

I want to continue to do that.

0:41:390:41:41

That helps me to stay as independent as I can, for as long as I can.

0:41:410:41:46

If you've got a story that you'd like us to investigate,

0:41:560:41:58

then do get in touch with us via our Facebook page,

0:41:580:42:01

BBC Rip Off Britain, or our website, bbc.co.uk/ripoffbritain,

0:42:010:42:08

or you can always e-mail us...

0:42:080:42:09

But you'd prefer to send us a letter, then our address is...

0:42:120:42:17

Well, I don't know about you, but I was fascinated to hear why it is

0:42:280:42:31

that so often I simply can't get a phone signal.

0:42:310:42:35

I have to say, it is so frustrating, and I really do think that

0:42:350:42:38

mobile companies could do a lot, lot better. But then, I suppose,

0:42:380:42:42

the same could be said for customer service in general.

0:42:420:42:45

Yes. I personally love that recorded voice that tells me my call is

0:42:450:42:49

so important to them(!) I find it really reassures me, don't you(?)

0:42:490:42:53

But wasn't it inspiring to see the way Joy, despite her Alzheimer's,

0:42:530:42:57

is doing more than her bit to improve things?

0:42:570:43:00

Clearly she was finding some of the situations she went into

0:43:000:43:03

incredibly difficult, but she was determined to prove the point

0:43:030:43:06

-in order to help other people.

-Yes, she really is a remarkable woman.

0:43:060:43:10

And I think we should never forget that what's good customer service

0:43:100:43:13

for people with Alzheimer's and dementia is pretty good for the

0:43:130:43:16

rest of us, too. So if you know of someone who, for whatever reason,

0:43:160:43:20

is something of a consumer champion,

0:43:200:43:22

then please do let us know who they are.

0:43:220:43:24

We have got plenty more programmes coming up over the next few months,

0:43:240:43:28

so we'd love to see if we can include them in those programmes.

0:43:280:43:32

But in the meantime, thanks for all the stories and suggestions you've

0:43:320:43:35

already sent us, and we will be back to follow up even more of them

0:43:350:43:38

very soon. But until then, from all of us, bye-bye.

0:43:380:43:41

-Bye-bye.

-Goodbye.

0:43:410:43:43

Julia Somerville, Gloria Hunniford and Angela Rippon hear viewers' extreme reactions to customer service, exposing big questions around some of our most vital businesses along the way. As one woman takes extreme action after her frustration with her patchy mobile phone signal reaches boiling point, how does Britain's mobile coverage compare with services elsewhere - and what is being done to make it better? Another woman reaches the end of her tether after spending a year arguing over the faults in her new build house. With the team constantly receiving similar complaints, are Britain's new homes just not being built properly? Plus, how a simple trip to the shops can prove deeply traumatic for anyone living with dementia and simple ways their experience could be improved are revealed.