Tuesday, 16 August 2011

And you're not gonna reach my telephone

Kate Griffin writes:

We bought our first house in summer 2009. I’m a freelancer who does a lot of work from home, so I wanted to get the internet working before our move date. But you can’t shop around for internet providers until you’ve got the landline up and running, so I wanted to get the landline sorted well ahead of time. The first step was to ring BT and ask them to remove the “stop” on the line placed there when the previous owner cancelled her TalkTalk account.

18th August: I rang BT and asked them to remove the stop on the line. The guy I spoke to asked when we were planning to move, and when I said mid-September, he worked very hard to discourage me from getting the line up and running straight away. He said that the stop on the line would only take two working days to remove, so I should ring up the week before moving and get it sorted then.

We argued for a bit: I said that in the past, it’s taken weeks to sort out the removal of a stop on the line, so I wanted to get it sorted well in advance. I also didn’t see why I should have to put “ring BT” back on my to-do list and go through the palaver of ringing them again – why couldn’t they just do what I was asking? But he was very persuasive and I was ill, recovering from a virus. He confirmed that a working line was already in place at the new property, so I reluctantly agreed to ring back nearer the time.

9th September: I rang BT again to arrange unstopping the line. Suddenly the story changed: the person I spoke to said that there was no line at the property after all, and that we would need a new line to be installed. This would incur a £112 installation fee and it might take a couple of weeks to get a date for installation.

I hit the roof, furious that I’d been tricked into delaying getting this sorted. The nice lady I spoke to agreed to waive the £112 installation fee to compensate for the inconvenience. She also gave me an installation date of September 16th, sooner than I’d expected.

I would need to be there on the day to let the engineer in. Could they give me a time? No, but the engineer would arrive “between 1pm and 6pm”. So I would potentially have to wait for five hours in an empty house? Yes, but if I handed over my mobile number they’d do their best to text me with a more accurate time. In the meantime, I received a letter confirming that they would waive the installation fee.

16th September: I left home at about noon and caught the bus to the new house. At this point there wasn’t any furniture and most of the downstairs was uncarpeted, so it wasn’t a fun place to spend lots of time, especially with nothing to do. I did a bit of cleaning, then sat on the bedroom floor reading a book of ghost stories.

16th September, 3pm: I’d been waiting for two hours and wondering when I’d get the promised text message giving me a more accurate time. I was getting hungry because I’d forgotten to bring any food with me, so I dashed out to the local shop and then spent half an hour worrying that I’d missed the engineer during the five minutes I was gone.

16th September, 4pm: I’d been waiting for three hours. I tried to ring BT on my mobile (no landline, remember?). The recorded message warned me that the cost of doing this would be extortionate. Lovely! When landline problems are the main reason for people to ring you, making your phone number expensive to ring on a mobile is a kick in the teeth to your customers.

16th September, 6:30pm: I’d been waiting for five and a half hours, leaping up at the sound of every vehicle I heard, and nothing. I got a lift home from my husband.

16th September, evening: I got home, rang BT and asked why the hell they hadn’t sent an engineer round on the agreed day. The answer? Apparently we already had a line in the house, so he didn’t need to visit the house to install anything. He just flicked a switch at the exchange to get the landline working.

I asked why they couldn’t have just told me that, to save me spending an entire day sitting in an empty house and missing out on paid work. I got apologies, but no satisfactory answer. I asked if they were planning to compensate me for lost earnings. No, of course not.

That might have been the end of it, but a week or so later we received a bill from BT. A bill including a charge of £122.50 for installing the line.

That’s right. £122.50 for installing the line, even though

a) they’d promised to waive the fee for installing the line;
b) they didn’t actually install any line.

Shortly after the bill arrived, someone from one of BT’s Indian call centres rang me in response to the complaint letter I’d already written. I’d asked for compensation for my wasted time, as I’d turned down paid work to sit in that empty house. What did he offer? You guessed it! He offered to waive the already-waived fee for the non-existent work.

No, I explained through gritted teeth, you have already waived the fee. I have a letter in my hand confirming that I wouldn’t be charged for the work, and given that the work never took place, you’re on doubly shaky ground trying to charge me for it in the first place. It is not a generous gesture to go through the motions of waiving it again.

The man I spoke to clearly didn’t believe me. Although I had a letter proving the fee had been waived, there was nothing on his system to confirm this and as far as he was concerned, I still owed the money. As for the little matter of the work never having been carried out, well, that was irrelevant as far as he was concerned. I still owed them £122.50 and they were being very generous in letting me get away with not paying it.

We argued back and forth for some time and he kept repeating that there was no way I could receive any compensation over and above the very generous offer to waive the installation fee. I said I would be referring my complaint to Ofcom. Suddenly he felt the need to consult his line manager. After the brief chat with his line manager, he offered me three months’ free line rental, on the understanding that I would accept that as compensation and not take the matter further.

I agreed, because by this point I was sick of the whole thing. My case will no doubt be recorded by BT as one where the complaint was resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. It didn’t go to Ofcom, so for the purposes of their self-reporting, I’m a happy customer.

My comment: 

I had a very similar experience with BT when moving house in 2007.  I have moved house three times since then and it's been OK, but my heart palpitates and my hands get sweaty when it's time to sort out the telephone line because of this one experience.

At the time, one of the friendly engineers from BT (the people they send around, eventually, are usually lovely) told me that the problem was that BT is split into departments internally and they don't communicate with each other.  As you can see, this results in some pretty horrendous experiences and an awful lot of time wasted and salary lost.  There's no need for it.

edit2add:  I am having a nightmare of a time trying to add a reply to the first comment underneath.  I post this blog under one name; I am on google+ under another name as they require real names.  Both names are linked to the same googlemail account.  Whenever I try to post a comment, logged into blogger, I am required to say under which ID (facebook, open ID, etc) I wish to post - I choose 'google account' and it tells me that I am not logged in.  When I try to find someone to report this too, I am shuffled off into irrelevant faqs (last update for an issue similar to mine: May - and they say they are trying to fix it 'very soon').   The google+ 'report issues' isn't working, either.

Perhaps this is a sign of blogger and google + being about to go to the wall.  Anyway.  This will shortly become another consumer rant.


  1. I've had bad experiences with BT, too. With me it was to do with whether a pole was tall enough because I was on a main road. They had to get a guy around to put a sitcker on the pole (it said "A1024", nothing else) before the other guy would connect the phone. Note that the line was already actually there, across the road at the height it remained, and already "plumbed in". But apparently, I couldn't get a connection until this damn sticker was on the pole (which naturally took forever and cost me money). I was tempted, at the time, to print some stickers that said A1024 on them and just put them on every damn pole in Cambridge, just to bugger up their system. Amusingly, they seem to have a guy who goes around and replaces the sticker with a new one each year. The pole hasn't changed still, it's still a danger to whatever oversize traffic doesn't actually use that road.

    BT seems to resemble the film Brazil: there must be a whole fleet of people going around renewing A1024 stickers on an annual basis.

    The other aspect of BT seems to be their contempt for their customers and their contracts. Regularly they lie to me about the terms of my contract and try to sell me deals which are worse value-for-money to me.

    Their call centre staff are also quite creative with hanging up if they don't like where a conversation is going.

    Unfortunately we don't have LLU or cable, so any alternative to BT would just be superficial and I'd just have to deal with them via some useless intermediary.

    Bunch of shysters.

  2. Oh, BT.

    When we moved we changed supplier away from BT as we wanted to get cable at our new place so hey, why not use the Virgin phone line as well? BT reacted by persistently refusing to put a stop on our old line at the flat when we moved out "because an order has been placed with another supplier". J had to get Virgin them to threaten them with tradig standards befire they complied with a simple request to turn off the phone line for a flat I was moving out of.

    BT are scum and I would frankly do without a landline before considering them again.

  3. I would make a complaint to Ofcom anyway to put a marker down about their shyster practices. Trading Standards aren't allowed to tell you how many complaints a firm or supplier has had made against them anyway, whereas Ofcom has to maintain that and release the data, however obscurely.

    You can also write a letter to the CEO of BT, by name; it will go to his Peon-In-Charge-of-Complaints person but you can remind him that PR can be his friend or his enemy, and his useless staff are undermining his PR budget and adding value to his rivals.

  4. I've been in exactly the same place as you, I got so hacked off with them and complained so many times we eventually had 18 months of free telephone calls and broadband... I still left them for Post Office Broadband and Home phone

  5. Hello Digamy. If you want to write up what happened, I'd be very happy to skim / edit it and publish it for you.