Keeping up with the copy cats

12th May 1995 at 01:00
Many school copiers have been leased rather than bought, with the sensible aim of spreading the cost over a number of years, but there have been three basic difficulties for many customers.

The first arises from a "cost per copy" element in the agreement. Here, a normal-looking monthly rental is topped up with a sum based on the number of copies the machine makes.

Cost per copy appears sensible the more you use it, the more maintenance it needs. However, the cost-per-copy clause usually has a monthly minimum: a school closed in August pays for hundreds of non-existent copies. Often there's an annual increase. Customers frequently miss this.

The second leasing problem is to do with the length of contract. Copiers do not last for ever, nor do customer requirements. So if you have a long lease say over five years there is a fair chance that after three or four years, the sales staff will convince you to upgrade to a new and better machine. Before you know where you are, your unfinished contract is rolled into a new and more expensive one and you start again at the beginning of another five years.

The third difficulty arises when customers do not realise the degree of separation which can exist between the supplier and the leasing company. So no matter what problems you have with the machine or its supplier, the leasing company is concerned only with your legal document agreeing to pay them money.

Last year, the tide started to turn. The Office of Fair Trading warned the industry to put its house in order, and since then a number of new developments together mean that a careful customer can be sure of being sensibly treated.

For example, early this year the Finance and Leasing Association issued guidelines welcomed by the OFT, and in line with its own recommendations. Further tightened up in March, these guidelines instruct member firms to:n limit the use of cost-per-copy contracts to big company customers. (so schools should not sign up for cost per copy contracts);n use check lists which give customers clear and full information;n a top lease limit of five years.

Additionally, FLA guidance sets down a number of rules about how contracts are written in a standard format, and requiring, in particular, that many specified key points are placed together ". . . on the page which the customer signs".

The reputable firms welcome all this, and have moved quickly to modify their practice where necessary.

It follows that schools should not deal with companies which have not signed up to guidelines issued by the FLA, the Photocopier Suppliers Association and the Federation of Electronics Industries .

Now, in tune with this move to improve leasing practice, leading supplier Rank Xerox has its own improved contract for schools. The main feature of "Options for Schools" is its flexibility schools can pay for a machine in a number of deferred ways over up to two years, or they can lease over three, four or five years.

Rank Xerox 0800 787787

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