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LIES AND DEBTS : THE WHATCOTT LEGACY
25 February 2017
Politicians aside, there can surely be no-one who has done more to damage assessors and the energy assessment industry than Christopher Whatcott (right), who finally found himself before a court this week for sentencing, having earlier admitted three charges of Unfair Commercial Practice, though sadly none of them related to the many assessors who say they are still owed money by him, and whose many requests for payment were cynically disregarded by a man who seems to have little regard for others in his ruthless pursuit of profit.
It’s hard to say which has been most damaging to our industry – his disregard for the assessors he has ruthlessly exploited to support his many dubious online businesses, or the corrosive lies which have pervaded his operations. By no means all of us lost money in his nefarious businesses – but we all paid through the damage he did to our industry in the eyes of members of the public who just went online because they needed an EPC, and could not imagine that they would fall victim to his sort of cynical exploitation.
Some of that damage may have been repaired by assessors themselves, but that’s with no thanks to Mr Whatcott. Over the years I have been covering his career it was impossible at times not to be touched by assessors owed hundreds of pounds by Whatcott websites – money that they desperately needed – who nevertheless paid lodgement fees out of their own pockets so that customers who had paid the website in good faith could get their EPCs. That is the sort of professionalism that cynical chancers like Chris Whatcott couldn’t begin to understand.
The website which chiefly brought Christopher Whatcott before St Albans Crown Court for trial was First Choice EPC . com, which EAM first reported on in September 2014 – see Rogue Panels Boss ‘Back in Business’ Not that Mr Whatcott was keen to advertise his involvement with the site. When I first contacted him he insisted that the site was nothing to do with him!
Since journalists don’t have the investigatory powers of police or Trading Standards I had to use hosting and business information to try to connect the site to him, but official confirmation was supplied when he appeared before Watford Magistrates Court in December 2015 – see Panels Boss in Court – facing charges some of which were related to First Choice EPC. Further confirmation was supplied when prosecutor Andrew Johnson told St Albans Crown Court at the start of his trial of three of Mr Whatcott’s panel sites: “All of these sites were alter egos of Mr Whatcott. At all times he was in control of them” – see EPC Panels Trial Opens
The lies about the ownership of this website were not the first that Mr Whatcott has been accused of, nor was it the first time that one of his sites had left a trail of assessors claiming to be owed money.
Mr Whatcott’s first known foray into online EPCs came around 2009, following the failure of a lettings agency he owned, when he went into the Home Information Pack business with two online businesses, Hip Save and Hip-Serve, which also of course supplied EPCs. Both these businesses were run through companies which have since been dissolved. Unlike online EPC businesses, which are completely unregulated, HIPs providers were regulated by the Property Codes Compliance Board, but both Mr Whatcott’s HIPs businesses were deregulated for failing to meet required standards, and he continued to trade on EPCs.
In 2010 he was running an online business called Express-EPC, under a company of that name which was set up on 13 July of that year, but was dissolved on 21 February 2012. In October 2010, the Estate Agent Today website was reporting that “Furious DEAs say they have not been paid for months by Chris Whatcott, director of Express EPCs”, and that they were threatening to march on his offices – see EPC Boss Denies Panels Link The website also reported that insurance cover had been withdrawn by Quidos, over the site’s infamous ‘reverse auction’ system of trying to force assessors to bid against each other to win work for the lowest possible price.
In March 2011 Mr Whatcott was declared bankrupt at Luton County Court – see Chris Whatcott Declared Bankrupt – but controversy continued over panel sites including Next Day EPC and Pay On The Day, where false addresses were a feature and in one case the discredited ‘reverse auction’ system was used. Assessors suspected the sites were run by Mr Whatcott using false names – to access an index to these and other articles click here Both sites left substantial unpaid invoices behind them, according to assessors. In June 2012 an independent investigation produced evidence to show that the sites, and others which had caused controversy, were linked to Mr Whatcott – see New Claims Against EPC Panels Boss Whatcott
After his discharge from bankruptcy he stayed out of the EPC business for two years, but on his return in 2014 he linked lies about the ownership of the First Choice EPC website and debts to some assessors to a cynical new approach to the site’s clients, attempting to levy illegal fees and dubious charges which led in days to aggressive demands for around £450. It is this, rather than his cynical treatment of assessors, that has finally brought Christopher Whatcott to court and to, amongst other things, a 10 year disqualification as a company director. We can only hope that this might persuade him to get out of the EPC business for good, but his legacy will be years of lies and debts which have left some assessors seriously out of pocket, and have inevitably damaged the reputation of our industry.
Feature : How We Reported First Choice EPC