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The following article was written by Andrew Clark, Deputy Business Editor of The Times Newspaper and was published on 21st October 2013
the times newspaper

Removers see red over the big blue tick

ngrs action

“We can’t afford to pay this — we’re looking at losing our home”

Its logo is intended as a badge of reassurance for people moving house, but the otherwise innocuous big blue tick has become a bitter bone of contention in a row that has pitched the trade body representing furniture removers against dozens of small businesses.

The National Guild of Removers & Storers, which represents 207 companies, has taken legal action against more than 30 former members in disputes that have left small operations with bills running into tens of thousands of pounds.

The Removals Action Group, a splinter organisation, has been established by disgruntled defendants and some are threatening to use their removal lorries to blockade the guild’s headquarters in Buckinghamshire.

Unusually for a trade association, the NGRS is incorporated as a for-profit enterprise. It is owned by Geoff Salt, who co-founded it in 1991 after previously running a business producing marketing materials. Mr Salt has a spent conviction, dating back to 1997, for false accounting — for which he was sentenced to community service.

At issue are allegations of so-called “passing off” and trademark infringement. The trade body has accused ex-members of continuing to use its name, or its blue tick, on websites and in marketing literature long after they stopped paying subscriptions, in breach of membership agreements.

Defendants insist that such references are often inadvertent, historic or on third-party referral websites, which are beyond their control.

Services provided by the guild include promotional literature, badges, a website for customer referrals and marketing DVDs. It inspects members’ operations annually and helped to set up an industry ombudsman’s scheme.

Simon Jones, a former member who runs ATR Removals, a two-van operation in Bracknell, ­Berkshire, decided that the service was poor value for his subscription of £1,000 a year. “The guild ­never benefited me,” he said. “It was a waste of money and a waste of time.” When he left the guild, he said that he left an inadvertent reference to the NGRS on his business’s website and has since been ordered to pay £18,000 in costs and compensation, which strained his resources. “I have two children to support and a mortgage to pay.”

Marubbi’s Removals, of Wrexham, has put itself up for sale after being pursued for more than £40,000 because mentions of guild membership were left on a third-party website, Reallymoving.com. “We can’t afford to pay this — we’re looking at losing our home,” said Anthony Statham, the owner of the small business, which was set up in 1952 and operates two vans in the Welsh town. “It’s brought us down to our knees.”

The Swindon-based A Luckes & Son has faced a demand for £55,000 concerning alleged infringements over several years. Such sums, many movers claim, are enough to threaten the future of local businesses.

Robert Buckland, the Conservative MP for South Swindon, said: “There are some serious concerns that have been raised here to which we’ve not had answers.”

Stephen Vickers, general secretary of the British Association of Removers, a larger trade body that represents big companies such as Pickfords, said that he had received multiple complaints about the guild’s legal tactics.

He added that he was concerned about the damage to the industry’s reputation: “The removals market is one of those markets that consumers often don’t have a great opinion of, anyway.”

The guild’s disputes with former members revolve around a contractual clause that makes businesses liable to the tune of £200 a week if they fail to eliminate all trace of a connection with the trade body. In a response to The Times, the guild stated that this approach had been upheld by the courts, which have awarded substantial damages in several cases.

Directors of the guild say they bring legal proceedings against former members only if there are persistent, rather than one-off, infringements on promotional literature.

The guild maintain that repeated unauthorised use of its name and logo have deprived the trade association of money and have estimated that over the duration of the unauthorised use, they have been deprived of fees in excess of £400,000.

The guild strongly rejected any suggestion that its actions were “inflated, disproportionate or otherwise inappropriate”.

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