The firm behind the Yellow Pages could be hit with legal action over claims it sold services to small businesses using ‘false claims and high-pressure sales techniques’.
Yell is accused of pressurising companies and sole traders into buying services they did not need and trapping them in expensive contracts they ‘can’t escape’.
Disgruntled customers have also complained of hard-nosed tactics when they withheld their payments in protest, including threats that debt collectors would be sent round.
Iconic: Norman Lumsden as JR Hartley in a famous Yellow Pages TV ad. Yell.com has been accused of selling services using ‘false claims and high-pressure sales techniques’
Business owners are now threatening legal action against Yell, demanding millions of pounds in compensation.
The Yell Action Group’s proposed claim has been backed by 650 claimants so far. A Facebook group run by campaigners for businesses to voice complaints about Yell has gained more than 3,100 members, however, with more expected to join.
They say that their claims are backed up by company staff who have turned whistleblower, recordings of phone conversations with sales agents, expert opinions and ‘3,000 witness statements from mis-sold customers’.
Yell firmly rejects the allegations and says it will ‘robustly’ defend itself in any legal battle.
‘It did nothing for us other than drain our finances’
Yell hell: Husband and wife Andy and Sally Meakin paid Yell nearly £200 per month for various services
Husband and wife Andy and Sally Meakin paid Yell nearly £200 per month for various services but now say they feel ‘foolish’.
They are among the business owners in the Yell Action Group preparing a legal claim.
The couple, from Barton-upon-Humber near Hull, had expanded their furniture store, A&S Home Furnishings, and wanted to publicise its new location.
They signed up to Yell in July 2019. They say a sales rep promised the phone would be ‘red hot’ after they agreed to pay for website design, prominent listings in its directory and reputation management.
However, Mr Meakin, 42, now says they were pressured into buying on the spot and regret the decision. They found errors on their website, including the wrong phone number and city, and say these took months for Yell to fix.
The reputation management service turned out to be automated computer software.
Complaints they made would go unanswered for weeks, they claim.
‘All it did was drain our finances but did nothing for our business,’ Mr Meakin added.
Yell last night said it did not comment on individual customers.
But Danny Richman, the Yell Action Group’s chairman, said: ‘Thousands of Yell.com customers were lied to by Yell and mis-sold advertising products on the basis of false claims and high-pressure sales techniques.
‘We are a group of volunteers who have seen small businesses suffer as result of Yell’s practices and now we want justice.’
The move comes after the Mail revealed last year that there were a growing number complaints about Yell from its small business customers.
The Yellow Pages was first published in 1966 and later appeared in several famous television adverts.
In one the fictional JR Hartley, played by actor Norman Lumsden, is looking for a rare copy of a book on fly fishing –before going on to reveal that he was the author.
Others featured the actor James Nesbitt extricating himself from disasters, including one where he seeks a hairdresser after cutting his niece’s hair badly.
But the last edition of the iconic directory was published in January 2019 after 53 years. Yell has now switched to being fully digital and offers services such as online directories, website design, search engine optimisation, advertising and ‘reputation management’.
Disgruntled customers have also complained of hard-nosed tactics when they withheld their payments in protest, including threats that debt collectors would be sent round
It relies on free listings of nearly 3m business and tens of thousands of paying firms to make money.
Accounts show it reported revenues of £164million but made a loss of £81million in the year to March 31, after its customer numbers fell from 118,300 to 104,700 during the period.
Yell said this was because ‘the benefit of print-to-digital migration ended and some previously transitioned customers, and certain national customers, cancelled their digital spend when final print directories were published’.
The highest-paid director at Yell was paid £512,000.
In August last year former Centrica executive Claire Miles was appointed as Yell’s new boss, after predecessor Richard Hanscott left during the previous March.
However, small businesses making the claims against Yell assert that the company has in many cases failed to deliver the results that its sales agent have promised.
They also claim they were pressured into signing 12-month contracts that are difficult to get out of and in some cases cost hundreds of pounds per month.
The Yell Action Group believes its total compensation claim could eventually be worth more than £10million.
However, last night Yell accused the group of being led by a ‘competitor’, referring to its chairman Danny Richman, who is a digital business consultant.
A Yell spokesman said: ‘Yell is aware of a campaign against its business by a competitor. We have received a solicitor’s letter in relation to this.
‘We continue to believe these allegations are not properly substantiated.
‘If any claims are brought against Yell, we will robustly defend our position.’