== Get group backing ==

Some of the calls I’ve had lately have been over breathtaking, heart-stopping bills. (Regular readers will recall the past few issues which followed Jonathan James’ wrangle with Powergen/Eon where he is still fighting bills for ’adjusted’ meter readings totalling £35,000-plus). Following that I was contacted by a retailer who had received demands from Cardpoint for £82,000 for loss of future business from ATM machines that were never even installed. It’s quite a saga but at the eleventh hour the threatened court action was dropped thanks to some powerful intervention from his symbol group.

The background to the story is that the retailer (now requesting anonymity) has two forecourt sites in the Home Counties, one of which includes a symbol store.

Three years ago he signed up for two Cardpoint cash machines. After 18 months one was attacked and removed. In 2007 the second suffered a similar fate.

In May 2007, a rep from Cardpoint approached again. The trader was asked to sign a ’proposal’ for new machines. Between May and October there were at least a dozen exchanges between the retailer and Cardpoint. Despite all this, nothing happened for months until the retailer got so fed up that he signed with another company. Cardpoint’s legal department materialised within a month saying the contract was binding. This was followed by a solicitor’s letter with a claim for £82,000 plus costs, based on 81 months loss of income for the two ATMs.

As the retailer puts it: "All it had cost them was about five hours of a rep’s time. It was the worst kind of corporate bullying and I had only 21 days to defend myself. I wrote back to the court with my defence but Cardpoint said it wished to proceed."

Then just before Easter he received another letter from Cardpoint’s solicitors offering to settle for £40,000 plus costs. There would be no further negotiations said the letter. "I’m used to dealing with oil companies and they are as hard as nails but they are straight. This is the worst company I’ve dealt with in 25 years," he adds and says he was prepared to spend £30,000 defending his actions.

As I wrote this column, a spokesman for PayZone, new owners of Cardpoint, told me he could not comment because of the legalities. The company was obviously going to pursue the matter. However PayZone has been appointed as a preferred supplier to the retailer’s symbol group and a phone call from head office to head office did the trick. My caller now describes himself as ’one very grateful retailer’.

== Top of the bill? ==

Meanwhile, more huge sums, this time owed in the opposite direction. By David Taylor (Garages) Group’s reckoning, it is owed £33,260 by ’digital signage solutions group’ Big Media for unpaid advertising revenue on the screens running the ads in five of its stores in South Wales.

The agreement was dated April 2006 and was for three years. Regular payments were meant to flow in following the securing of big name advertisers such as Nestlé, Cadbury and the Department for Transport, whose ads have been running on the screens.

"We were given lots of false promises," says Janine Sharpless, director. Two other forecourt retailers have also voiced concerns. Roger Shackleton signed up his Londis forecourt store in Pembrokeshire two years ago and isn’t getting the money he expected. Pat Morgan, at Manor Deilo Service Station in West Wales said that the ads were not changing as they were supposed to and she couldn’t get hold of the company.

But Darren Briggs, director of Big Media, says there should be no concerns. Recent moves by the company should ensure a better sales force and better deals. Briggs said that there were 220 Big Media screens in place with two advertising models, one local and one national. He admitted though that the big name advertisers, Nestlé and Cadbury’s had not paid for ads - they were there as prestige, to fill the space.

Briggs claimed the David Taylor group was owed only £8,000. The group is taking no chances though. "We served a statutory demand on the company on March 13 and they have 21 days to comply," says Janine. "If not, a winding up order will be made."

== Bad cops - good cops ==

And finally, here’s some good news. Tom and Rona Etzdorf, who run a Shell cluster of seven sites in East Anglia were plagued with drive-offs when Tom got in touch a year or so ago. Then they had no time for the police. But things are looking up (especially since Hazel Blears went, Tom couldn’t resist saying).

"We had a drive-off a few days ago during a night shift," says Tom. "The cashier took down the registration. We phoned the police with the information and a description of the driver. Within hours they caught him - he was drunk and his licence had been suspended. We had another call from the Ipswich police a few days later to commend our cashier and to say the man had got a month in prison. Credit where it’s due!"