BT Complaint Letter: A few words of advice

On December 11th, it was flagged up to me that our account had been debited by British Telecom for an unusually high amount. The cheeky bastards had helped themselves to £233 my money via Direct Debit, when the monthly amount I expected to be taken every month was a measly £10.49. The reason behind it was some unwarranted billing for work done outside our property some time ago.

I promptly wrote to the BT Chairman, their press room, Ofcom, Otelo and blogged my letter. Whether the knowledge that the issue was public made any difference to the pace at which BT dealt with it, I’ll never know. What I know is that the money is, two weeks later, back in my account after I was informally told over the phone that it would be back last week. Still not too bad.

What grates me is that there’s been no apology. I fought the charge and got a refund, but BT still seemed unapologetic about having taken the funds over an issue for which I wasn’t supposed to be charged.

This leaves me with a few words of advice to everyone who may not be keeping a close eye on their finances:

  • Speak to your bank about setting a limit on direct debits when you expect monthly payments to be regular. It’ll avoid random high charges like this.
  • Check your online banking once a week and sanity-check any spending that looks unexpected.
  • Setup “monthly bill” payment rather than “full bill” with each service where your cost may vary and where maintenance work may be slipped onto the bill.
  • Get everything you can in writing, or record phone conversations. I’m seriously considering recording conversations with customer service agents from now on to avoid “he said, she said” arguments where it’s my word against theirs. Anyone got suggestions on the best way to record all calls to/from a house line?

Complaint Letter follow-up: British Telecom (sort of) sees sense

A week ago, I shared my complaint letter to British Telecom with readers, and it seemed to have had an impact! Many of you seem to have had issues with either BT as well (some sound far worse off than me!) and others with Direct Debit in general.

On Tuesday morning, I turned my phone on to find a voicemail asking me to call back Linda Duggan at British Telecom. Speaking to Linda, she assured me the refund for the full engineer visit charge would be refunded today. (As an aside, no, the money isn’t in my account yet, so whoever said “they promised you’d have it in your account by Christmas… but Christmas of what year?” will probably turn out to be right.)

So the outcome is as follows: I got my money back after a bit of whinging, I got an explanation on how to change my direct debit from “Full bill” to “Monthly bill” but nothing resembling an apology for taking the money in the first place.

The first lesson we all get out of this is that we need to keep a very close eye on our finances because companies will unapologetically take excessive funds out of our accounts without so much as a notification. I discovered there was a difference between Full bill and Monthly bill payment, and will ensure, from now on, that only the authorised amount gets debited.

The other lesson is that you shouldn’t be afraid to be forward and take your complaint straight to the top. Faffing with call centres won’t get you anywhere, they are not interested in your problem. Go to the chairman, the press office, the customer relations officer, and follow-up on it regularly. Don’t let it slip, be prompt in dealing with it when you discover the problem and you’ll get resolution.

Complaint letter: BT stole my Christmas shopping money

[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.

Best regards,

Vero Pepperrell

CC: BT Newsroom
Otelo, Telecoms Ombudsman

[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.]

So I thought I'd talked myself out of getting an iPhone

The iPhone Pros and Cons list

When the iPhone came out in the US, I was drooling at the thought of getting one myself. When the UK contract deals were announced, and I started hearing about the difficulties people were having as far as upgrading to 1.1.1 while keeping their hacks, I got cold feet. I convinced myself that while I’m entirely unhappy with my N95’s performance, the iPhone wasn’t the solution to my phone woes.

I listened to friends reminding me that the iPhone was so much more limited than S60 phones, and that I’d miss the freedom if I took the plunge. I heeded their warnings and thought I’d make a personal short (very short) list of my drop-dead minimum requirements for a phone and try to take a level-headed look at the situation. Cost issues aside, the iPhone meets all my requirements.

  1. Faster camera than on my current phone: Well, that’s not hard to beat… To take the picture above and transfer it to my computer, the N95 took a couple of minutes. So much for catching that popstar driving by or a friend’s silly face at the pub. They’ll have finished their pint and gone home before the camera wakes up. Of course, the camera isn’t as high-quality, but then if I want quality, I’ll take the Canon 350D along instead!
  2. Better battery life than on my current phone: Again, an easy box to tick. My N95, with relatively heavy use, died in just over two hours last Friday. About 30-45 minutes were spent using the Jaiku application, a few emails were checked and a few phone calls made. But TWO HOURS? I need to be confident that I can go out on my own, and still have a way to ring home if something goes wrong.
  3. Jaiku works fine: This one could be debated, seeing as there is no iPhone variant of Jaiku available at the moment. However, the version works fine, albeit without the flashiness of iPhone-specific sites. [Note: I used Jaiku more as an example rather than a specific must-have. Social network sites in general need to work well for me]
  4. WordPress admin area works – comment moderation in particular: While my blog doesn’t get masses of comments, I like to know I can moderate them as needed. I’ve only had a limited opportunity to play with my WordPress admin section, but everything seems to be in working order. Doubt I’ll ever do much actual blogging from my phone, but moderating, correcting and updating entries does matter to me.
  5. Comfortably does email and hitchlessly syncs with iCal: No question there, box totally ticked.
  6. Painless upload of pics to Flickr: That’s one area where I have to admit the N95 does a fantastic job – if a bit slowly. The integrated Flickr uploader is one of my current phone’s best features, and I use it nearly daily. As I currently understand it, the iPhone would require me to email the photo over to Flickr, rather than do a web upload, but I can cope with that.

Conclusion: I want one. I really do.

I’m thankful that I don’t live in Canada anymore, as the contract with Rogers is a three year one, which is pants-on-head retarded and batshit insane, to put it simply. A three year contract is like… being married! And god knows I have no interest in marrying either Rogers, AT&T, or O2 in the UK for that matter.

So aside from the price issue – O2’s contracts aren’t exactly a bargain – the iPhone meets my requirements. I’m damn tempted to get one but I’m currently tied into a T-Mobile contract, so headaches ahead if I want to move my phone number over.

Ugh, it’s a hard life being such a gadget whore sometimes…

Tell me what you think of the mobile web

Do you work in mobile? Do you have questions about mobile phones? Do you have an opinion on mobile phones of today? (Who doesn’t!)

Tomorrow, I’ll be hosting the 94th Carnival of the Mobilists, a big roundup of news and posts in the week about the mobile world, over on Taptology, the Taptu blog.

I would love to get some fresh blood into the Carnival, so if you want to contribute, send a link to a post about mobile you’ve written recently to mobilists at gmail dot com before midnight PST tonight and I’ll include you in the roundup.

mobileCamp London

I’m spending the weekend in London for mobileCamp, a sort of ad-hoc gathering of people who work with mobile, or just outright love them. I’ve already posted a few pics on Flickr, and will add more throughout the weekend.

The first panel was on the topic of S60 Web Widgets, which was a bit on the geeky side for me, but this second one is on Digital Kids and Disruption is looking interesting. More later once I find somewhere to plug my laptop in!

Cozy beanbags, interesting presentations