‘I’m very sorry for what’s happened’ - Customers slam ‘disgusting’ closure of furniture store as owner shuts up shop

A furniture business boss has been slammed for shutting up shop after taking down payments but not the delivering the goods.

Tuesday, 5th March 2019, 5:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 5th March 2019, 7:07 am
The FDS Furniture store in Fawcett Steet, Sunderland

Brian Baker, 68, has come under fire for closing three FDS Furniture Discount Stores, in Fowler Street, South Shields, Fawcett Street, Sunderland, and an outlet in Blaydon, Gateshead.

Mr Baker admits a number of customers have paid for goods they are unlikely to get – and he cannot guarantee they will get their money back.

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The company director claims he was forced to make the business, which employed 13 people, insolvent after being hit with a £73,000 VAT bond demand from the taxman in February.

Mr Baker said HM Revenue and Customs sought the cash after he fell two-and-a-half months behind on paying his monthly VAT bill of around £5,000 – and that closure has cost him £95,000 of his own money.

Customer Joanne Sawyers, of Gosforth Avenue, South Shields, who paid £1,100 in four instalments for a settee she was expecting delivered two weeks ago, has branded the closure as “disgusting” and is demanding he repay the money or produce the product.

She has sought advice from consumer watchdogs.

The FDS Furniture store in Fowler Street, South Shields

Miss Sawyer said: “He can’t just go around taking people’s money and then closing his shop down. I’m furious. When I gave him my last payment in January, he made no mention of his business being in any trouble.

“I’ve been to the shop to try speak to him but the shutters are down and no-one is answering the shop phone.

“I have two friends who have also ordered furniture from him and they are both very worried that they will lose their money and not get what they paid for.”

Mr Baker claims the taxman’s demand was an out-of-the-blue bombshell that he had no way of foreseeing or paying.

The married dad, who lives in South Tyneside, admitted he did not know how many customers were affected.

Mr Baker said: “Just two people in South Tyneside had paid in cash and are awaiting their orders, I don’t know how many paid that way at the other shops.

“The vast majority of people paid on credit or debit cards and will get their money back. That’s what I believe.

“Some have already had their money back. We care about our customers.

“The taxman came about five weeks ago with an envelope for me, demanding a £73,000 bond to secure against VAT payments. I just don’t have that kind of money.

“I saw an insolvency practitioner and was asked if I could pay that money. When I said I couldn’t, they advised I close the business and become insolvent.

“I’m very sorry for what’s happened. I’ve been in the furniture business for 50 years and have a very good reputation and am respected. I’ve never gone insolvent before.”

South Tyneside’s Trading Standards said it was aware FDS’s closure and advised any customer with concerns to contact Citizens Advice’s consumer helpline.