THE FULL STORY: Mobility boss with ties to multiple ill-reputed firms handed six-year disqualification
Craig James Paterson, former Managing Director of Churchills Homecare and a number of other liquidated mobility companies, has been given a six-year disqualification sentence by the courts after continuing to accept payments of £66,000 from customers despite the business being insolvent. THIIS has revealed the full extent of the serial mobility director’s history in the industry.
The end of Churchills Mobility
The company, which supplied and installed home lifts and other mobility products into domestic properties across the UK, was incorporated in October 2013 and traded from offices in Macclesfield. Paterson, from Alderley Edge in Cheshire, was managing director of the company and was later joined as a director by Belinda Johanne Rogers in October 2014.
The direct sales mobility organisation began to incur losses and by December 2015, the company had ceased trading before entering into Creditor’s Voluntary Liquidation in the same month.
Independent liquidators Ideal Corporate Solutions were appointed to wind-up the company before reporting to the Insolvency Service that Churchills Homecare had continued to accept advanced payments from customers after Paterson should have known the company was insolvent.
After further enquiries, investigators found that between 4th and 23rd December 2015, the time when Churchills Homecare stopped trading before entering into liquidation, Paterson secured close to £66,000 from 13 new customers even though the company was insolvent.
At the same time, Paterson ensured the company repaid a loan worth £125,000 to himself that he had previously made to the company, partly funded by the £66,000 of ill-gotten customer money.
Rob Clarke, Chief Investigator for the Insolvency Service, said: “Directors who favour themselves over the interests of their creditors when their company is in financial difficulty, as well as removing company funds for their own personal benefit leaving customers high and dry, are in clear breach of their directorship responsibilities.”
Additionally, in the liquidator’s report for Churchills Homecare, it was shown that the company’s remaining stock had been sold back to Paterson by recovery and realisation of distressed assets & debt firm Cerberus – appointed by Ideal Corporate Solutions – for £15,000, noting that the swift sale of stock would be the best course for maximising the assets’ value.
On the 9th January 2019 in the High Court in Manchester, HHJ Hodge QC made a Disqualification Order against Paterson for a period of six years for continuing to accept payments whilst the company was insolvent and for repaying a loan back to himself with the customer payments.
Belinda Rogers previously provided a disqualification undertaking to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on 11th May 2018 after she did not dispute that she had failed in her duties as a director to prevent Craig Paterson accepting customers’ payments.
Effective from 30th January 2019, Paterson is banned from directly or indirectly becoming involved, without the permission of the court, in the promotion, formation or management of a company, whilst Rogers’ ban lasts for two years and was effective from 1st June 2018.
“This ban should serve as a warning to other directors tempted to help themselves before others that we have the necessary powers to investigate what has happened and seek to stop you from running a company for a significant amount of time,” added Rob Clarke.
The birth of British Homelifts
Since 1991, Paterson has been a director of more than 10 dissolved or liquidated businesses, including Paterson Security Services, Hi-Security, Churchill’s Stairlifts, Stairlift Rentals, Vendshield and Churchills HomeCare.
No strangers to the mobility industry, Paterson’s and Rogers’ recent disqualification is not the first time the pair’s activities have been in headlines for potentially dubious trading behaviour.
Rogers ceased being director of Churchill’s Homecare in December 2015, with the company liquidated on the 6th January 2016. Almost immediately afterwards, she became the director of a new company in the mobility industry, British Homelifts, which was incorporated on 3rd May 2016.
Despite not being on paper as a director of the new homelift company, Paterson had put up the money for the business, with a source close to the company telling THIIS in March 2018 that he was heavily involved in its operations.
With under two years of trading under its belt, British Homelifts entered liquidation in February 2018, owing its creditors, including 42 customers, over £475,000. Amongst the creditors was Paterson, who was owed over £80,000.
Concerning trading reports
Reporting on the liquidation at the time, THIIS highlighted a number of potentially unscrupulous behaviours from the Cheshire-based mobility firm, including spurious online Google reviews.
Whilst a number of Google reviews painted the homelift in a good light, comments were often polarised, with a significant number of negative reviews from customers as well.
Further investigation into the positive reviews led to their authenticity being called into question, with a high percentage of reviews coming from various accounts placing almost identical positive reviews of British Homelifts from all across the globe.
These reviews stood in stark contrast to the numerous negative customer reviews warning of poor customer service, delayed installations and problems receiving refunds & servicing.
A report by The Lancaster Guardian in December 2017 featured a British Homelifts’ customer that had been left without a lift for three-months, despite paying a £8,000 deposit for a reconditioned unit.
THIIS also spoke with Mark Mayman in March 2018, a British Homelifts’ customer with muscular dystrophy, who made the decision to purchase a homelift from the company in May 2017.
He told THIIS that he agreed to pay £15,000 for what he was informed would be a made-to-measure homelift with a power door and fast, 10-day installation service, including a part exchange of his old stairlift.
However, Mark described the installation taking more than three weeks, the homelift being the wrong size once it was it was installed, and ongoing issues following the installation.
Describing his experience with the company as “shambolic”, Mark stated that the three-year servicing contract provided by British Homelifts was now no longer worth the paper it was printed on following the company’s liquidation.
A long-standing history of dubious behaviour
Before Churchills HomeCare, Paterson was also the director of Churchill’s Stairlifts PLC, a major mobility provider that also traded under names including The Mobility Company, which entered liquidation in 2006.
A report by Which? in 2002 identified some of the company’s practices to be questionable, including its guaranteed buy-back offer and the price of its second-hand lifts.
In 2002, a spokesman for the company responded to the Which? report that changes needed to be made.
“Whilst not all the facts have been represented in the [Which?] report, Churchill’s Stairlifts recognises it has made mistakes in the past, and welcomes constructive criticism to allow opportunity to improve service to customers in what comes at a very difficult and emotional time of their lives.”
Following the report, Which? underlined the issue of elderly and vulnerable customers being taken advantage of and losing large sums of money after being sold unsuitable products or after attempting to cancel or send back orders. The consumer watchdog called for “stronger self-regulation of the mobility goods industry.”
Speaking then about the independent consumer group’s call, Ray Hodgkinson MBE, the then acting Director General of the British Healthcare Trades Association, commented that the organisation deplored unethical activity in the industry and advised customers to take time to purchase from BHTA members.
Industry Trade Association responds to recent disqualification
Following the announcement of the disqualification of Paterson as a director, Andrew Stevenson, interim Director General of the BHTA, echoed the comments made by his predecessor over 16 years ago.
Speaking with THIIS, Andrew commented: “We welcome the announcement of Craig Paterson’s disqualification to act as a company director for the next six years, protecting the industry’s vulnerable and elderly consumers.
“The case serves as a reminder for consumers to buy from BHTA members and to look out for the BHTA badge, confirming they have signed up and adhere to our Trading Standards-accredited Code of Practice.
“With the introduction of Personal Health Budgets and a growing self-funding market, working with trustworthy and reputable companies in our industry is now more important than ever.”