[Updates at the bottom...] Today, I'm pissed off. I'm really pissed off. British Telecom, lovingly known as BT, is the largest provider of all things fixed phone line in the UK. Like a bully nicking your lunch money, BT has gone into my bank account, using our Direct Debit authorisation as an excuse to debit £233 instead of £10 this month.
Below is my letter, addressed to the BT Chairman. I expect that copying the Telecoms Ombudsman, Ofcom and BT's own press room will get them off their butts, but if you know anyone in a position to help (since the BT call centre had no interest in our problem whatsoever), please feel free to do so. I'd really like to sort this out before Christmas.
BT, you're messing with the wrong girl!
FAO Sir Michael Rake, Chairman British Telecom Head Office BT Group plc BT Centre 81 Newgate Street London EC1A 7AJ
12 December, 2007
Dear Sir Michael Rake, REFERENCE: XX012345678 - Unauthorised Direct Debit from Customer
I'm writing to get resolution on an issue that was brought to our attention by our bank yesterday. On 20th November, BT took, without our permission, £233.59 by direct debit from our account instead of the usual £10.49.
The explanation given by BT customer service is that the funds were taken following OpenReach engineer visits to our property. This goes against any previous discussion we had with the Faults department and the engineers themselves.
Before each visit, we spoke to the Faults department and took very careful steps to ensure that it wasn't our equipment that was at fault, to get confirmation that the problem was on BT's side and avoid charges, should an engineer come by. Unplugging all equipment and removing the faceplate, we then asked BT to run the line test. Each time we did this, the Faults team ensured that we were not going to be charged because the system was flagging a fault on their network, "near our property".
This required a total of three engineer visits, and as many days off work on my part or my husband's which, needless to say, inconvenienced us immensely. The first engineer replaced the connections outside, making the line quality and our Internet connection abruptly get worse, introducing heavy static onto the line. The second engineer attempted to fix the heavy static by replacing the faceplate inside the property, to no avail. He claimed that the capacitor in the faceplate was faulty, but this turned out to be false.
Finally, the third engineer worked out that the crackling on the line was caused by the cable connections outside being corroded and could reproduce the crackling by simply moving the cable. He found water damage on the outside connections and stated that he was amazed the previous two engineers had not found that problem earlier.
He changed the connection outside to heavy duty silicon based connections and said that, as a precaution, he changed the cable from outside to the back of the faceplate. This significantly improved the line quality for both voice and internet connection quality.
Based on conversations with the Faults department, they reassured me every time that there would be no charge and that the line tests had proved as much. However, on November 20th, the direct debit of £233.59 was taken from our account, without warning, taking our account into overdraft. On investigation with your thoroughly uninterested customer service team, we discovered that the charge was for the engineer visits above.
We should not be covering the costs incurred by engineers’ incompetence and repeated attempts, especially when the work to rectify the problem was done outside of our property on the BT network.
I feel that BT has behaved unethically by charging us after guaranteeing over the phone that we would not be charged, and furthermore charging us without even notifying us! The £223 taken above our usual monthly bill should NOT have been added to the Direct Debit, as the agreed Direct Debit is for £10, not for BT to have a free for all at my expense.
According to the Direct Debit Guarantee provided by HSBC, "if the amounts to be paid or the payment dates change, HSBC Bank plc will notify you 10 working days in advance of your account being debited or otherwise agreed", and BT did not follow this legally binding guarantee.
BT Customer service has our mailing address, home phone number, both mobile numbers, and email addresses and unquestionably should have notified us ahead of time to allow us to flag up that no charge should be taken.
I expect the full amount for engineer visits to be refunded immediately, as you've taken my shopping fund for family and friends this Christmas. For my faith in BT to be restored in any way, I need a confirmation that I will be able to limit the amount which can be debited without prior notification.
Please respond promptly, sending a copy of all communications via email, to ensure I hear back from you as soon as possible and receive confirmation that the funds are returned to our account.
CC: BT Newsroom Otelo, Telecoms Ombudsman Ofcom
[Update 13 Dec @ 10:50am: The Ofcom Watch blog has already picked up on my complaint letter. I'm sure that BT's press room will be thrilled to see that the letter is reaching beyond my 26,000 monthly readers and onto other blogs within half an hour of being posted.
13 Dec @ 10:58am: The BT Newsroom has promptly responded to my email and said that the complaints department would be in touch soon. Must admit, impressed by speed of reply.
14 Dec: Less than surprised... I've not heard a peep from BT today. Is that going to stop me? Oh no it won't! "Oh yes it will!" Oh no it won't... Oh wait, I'm getting into panto mode here.
20 Dec: We hopefully have resolution. I've been promised yesterday that the funds would be in my account today and the full amount would be refunded. I'll believe it when I see it but here is my follow-up post.]