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Saturday, 9 March 2013

Will BT plumb banks' depths of loathing?

On 25 January, I rang BT to say that I was moving and would no longer be a BT customer. I was told that I owed big fees for cancelling my services near to the start of a new contract. I explained that I had not started a new contract; what had actually happened is that BT had mistakenly disconnected my phone line in September, and immediately re-connected it when I complained - that is not 'starting a new contract'. They offered me six months' free broadband (or something like that) in lieu of proper compensation and I said No  to that, and I then I think they actioned it anyway - if that supposedly entailed the start of a new contract, then I never wanted it, never agreed to it, and obviously should not be charged a fee for now cancelling a service that was only given to me in the first place as compensation for a previous error - think about it! The attempt at compensation is now costing me money. 

So the guy on 25 Jan agreed with me that I owe no cancellation fees. I confirm in February that this is the case, although, typically, it turned out that BT had made no record of what had been agreed on 25 Jan, so I had to go through it all again. The guy I spoke to in Feb promised me written confirmation of the call and even gave me a reference number for the call (which I then mislaid), but, of course, no written confirmation ever came. After several weeks in which BT's website had said that my next bill was due in April, a new bill went up on 5 March (is that April?) including cancellation charges totalling £175, and with me apparently owing them £144 that must be paid by 11 March - take off the £175, and I believe that they owe me money, rather than vice versa. 

In an online chat, BT agreed on Monday to listen to the recording of my last phone call and come back to me within 36-48 hours. That did not happen, of course. Complaints about that led to my receiving an email last night saying:
Hello Harris, 
Thanks you for contacting Live Chat support about the line rental charge. 
I have listened to the call dated 04/02/2013 and I found my colleague said they there is notes on the account you would not incur cancellation charge I have spoke to the refund team removed the cancellation charge. you can keep this email as confirmation.
By BT's standards, that email is clearly telling me (Harris, which is how they choose to address me - thanks for that) that the cancellation charge (or charges) is to be removed from my bill. Of course, my bill (due to be paid by Monday - will this fiasco affect my credit rating if I don't now pay these non-existent charges?) still shows the charges as being owed, so the cancellation charge has not been removed. It is anyway, two cancellation charges, not one. A further live chat simply led to a person at BT saying "I see that there is a £144 bill outstanding..."; I explained the situation, and he went to look at my file, told me that the system was not working and kept me waiting with no response for several minutes, so I ended the chat, and he then rang me up and (if I heard him correctly), asked to speak to Harris Matthews; he certainly said: "Is that Matthews?" I asked to speak to someone in the UK (if I lived in India and got through to a UK call centre, I'd ask to speak to someone in India); he said that he was doing that, and I understood that he was ringing someone in the UK, explaining the situation to them, and then putting me through, but No, he was instead simply putting me in the queue to speak to someone at the call centre and start again from scratch, so after a few minutes of listening to music, I gave up.

In August or September, I used BT's automated system on the phone to say that I would pay my bill by 30 September. I did this because I was starting a new job on 10 September, in which I was due to be paid on the 24th of each month. Despite my having done this, BT disconnected my phone without warning on 28 September because I hadn't paid the bill (the bill that I had agreed to pay by 30 September, and which was therefore not yet late when they disconnected me). When I rang them on 29 Sep, they apologised and said that they often have problems with that automated system - in which case, why keep it going? 

Of course, BT has since denied that they said any such thing, so I advise them to listen to recordings of my calls to them on 29 September 2012. Given the amount of time and aggravation that this disconnection had caused me, I refused BT's offer of £25 standard compensation for a disconnection, and also refused the offer of not paying for broadband for six months, which I was told was worth £94 - I said that I would just like the £94, not £94 taken off my notional future bills. Actually, I was so angry that I asked for £200. A circular series of conversations then ensued, in which BT denied that much of what their staff had said to me on 29 September had ever been said, and then refused to escalate it any further, instead telling me to contact the ombudsman, sparking the farce that I previously detailed here (after which the ombudsman did ring me while I was at work to ask if I wanted to re-submit my complaint, but I haven't since made time to do that).

I do not owe these charges and have been emailed to say that the charges have been removed, and yet they are still there on a bill that I am now expected to pay on Monday. If BT wants to become as hated as much as banks were hated during the crash and MPs were hated during the expenses scandal, then they are going the right way about it. I am fed up to the back teeth of having to mess around and devote time to this stuff. And for every person like me who writes about it, how many others are there who are unable to make their complaints public in this way? The situation for BT's customers has become intolerable and Ian Livingston needs to take responsibility, apologise and sort it out.

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