Bitter Pill for Mail Order Customer Who Lost; Personal Finance
Byline: JUDITH GUBBAY
ANITA Vulliamy is one of 30,000 customers whose cash vanished when mail order company Body Matters Health & Fitness went into liquidation.
Now, to her amazement, she has found that one of the firm's trade names, Nature's Choice, is still taking orders.
Anita, of Hove, East Sussex, ordered [pounds sterling]11 of goods from Nature's Choice, based in Alford, Lincolnshire, on July 16. Nothing arrived, and after six phone calls to Nature's Choice elicited only a message that it had moved, she wrote to me, saying: 'It seems that it has stolen my postal order and will never send my order.' At first, I assumed her case was another in a stream of complaints about mail order delays that I had passed on to the Advertising Standards Authority.
Many were caused by a computer fault at McIntyre & King, a clearing house receiving orders sent to Harrington Dock, Liverpool. But the ASA still received complaints after Body Matters Health & Fitness switched to trading from its own address.
On July 23 the ASA issued an alert about protests it had received over orders not being fulfilled and failures to send refunds.
And last Wednesday it published a critical report on Body Matters after investigating 100 complaints.
But five days earlier the company had gone into liquidation after it ceased trading. It had sold assets, including the name Nature's Choice, to another firm called Vitamin Express Ltd. Robin Brown, director of Body Matters, is the director of Vitamin Express and it is staffed by former Body Matters employees.
Anita discovered that Nature's Choice was still trading last week when she saw an advertisement for it in an insert in a three-week-old newspaper.
She rang the credit card hotline quoted in the advert and was redirected to an 0990 number - and a recorded message invited her to place an order.
'How can this be?' Anita asks me. 'This is part of a company that has gone out of business.' The sad truth is that there seems to be little to stop someone setting up a new firm using the trade name of a company that has gone out of business.
Body Matters also traded under the names Slimming Direct and Designer Sports, and little, if any, of the money sent by their customers is likely to be returned, either. It has been lost in Body Matters' overdrawn bank account. Any assets found by liquidator Paul Finnity of Cork Gully, the insolvency arm of accountant Coopers & Lybrand, will first be divided among those regarded as having a bigger claim on the company.
Banks, the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise are first in the queue, and there is little chance that much will be left for unsecured creditors such as Anita. Finnity is also investigating the transfer of the Nature's Choice name, mailing list and stock to Vitamin Express.
The codes of practice and protection schemes in the mail order industry - see our report, right - do not cover Anita, because she ordered from a leaflet carried in a magazine.
Her only course is to stake her claim as a creditor by writing to Finnity at Cork Gully, Cumberland House, 35 Park Row, Nottingham NG1 6FY.
Luckily for some of Body Matters' disappointed customers, it was a member of the National Newspapers' Mail Order Protection Scheme until August 19, when member newspapers were warned not to accept its adverts.
Under the scheme, consumers are guaranteed a refund if a mail order company goes bust within three months of its adverts appearing in a MOPS publication.
So if Anita had ordered from an advert in The Mail on Sunday, or from a leaflet in it, she would have had her [pounds sterling]11 returned by writing to our advertising manager.
The last Nature's Choice advertisement carried in this newspaper was in March.
More firms rapped by watchdog OTHER mail order firms trading from the same address as Body Matters have come under fire. …