Monday, October 05, 2009

It's Worth Complaining?

(Would you buy a used car from this man?)

I'm writing this with Abba's Money, Money, Money as my backdrop. About a year ago I moved house renting my old one. The tenants wanted to take over my cable and broadband package with Virgin Media (no link given). No problem.

No problem for me: big problem for Virgin. They would do it but wanted £20 to change the names. I reluctantly agreed and told them where to send the paperwork. This where it starts going awry. Virgin had problems recording my new address. It only has two syllables and is four letters long for goodness sake. Eventually some documents arrived and I completed them.

At this point I presumed all had gone through straightforwardly. The tenant was having the money taken from her bank account for her bill.

After six months the tenants quit. Virgin sent me a bill. I ignored it. Virgin called me: I owed them money for my account.

"I don't have an account with you."

"Yes you do."

"I transferred it."

"No you didn't. The transfer failed. We told you."

"No you didn't."

Look I know this is an enthralling conversation and you'd like to read more but I am stopping it here as a favour to your blood pressure.

It seems my tenant's birthday was recorded incorrectly so the agreement wasn't transferred and I was still liable. And, oh yes, Virgin had written to me with this information. Which address no one knew as I never received it.

The tenant agreed to pay the outstanding bill. And I closed my Virgin account...I thought I had...

A few weeks later a call from Virgin. They wanted their equipment. No problem, it's waiting for you. Go and collect it.

"When will you be in so we can call?"

"I don't live there. You'll have to knock on the door and ask the new tenant."

"Are you moving house? We can arrange transfer of your service."

"I don't have an account with you."

Sorry, I don't want your pulse to race again with excitement. After speaking to a different department about picking up the equipment, I was assured all was done. Finito....

A couple of weeks later a letter from Virgin demands £100 for unpaid bill. I ignored it.

Virgin call. Yes I owe them the money; no I don' get the picture.

I write a letter of complaint. For the next three weeks Virgin's customer service responds to my complaint by telling me I owe them this money. I say no. Then they offer me a cut price deal. Instead of £100 they'll accept £50.

I'm a little ticked off by this time and make a counter offer of zero pounds. Customer service shouts at me that they will go after me with everything they've got. I say I will complain to the independent ADR service to which Virgin belongs, CISAS. No, says customer service. You can't. Whoa, there, Mr Customer Service man, I don't think you're allowed to say that.

I complain to the Communication and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS--a kind of ombudsman) and Virgin swings into overdrive. (Sorry about the cliches but sometimes nothing else will do.) I get letters from Virgin dated three weeks before the last call demanding payments and dismissing my complaint. Then they bring a debt collection agency into action.

My complaint to CISAS grows in size as I add Virgin's and the debt agency's letters to the complaint submission. I'm thinking bring it on. For £100 you are prepared to spend this kind of money (=how much of your resources do you want to waste?)

A week later I get a call from the debt collection agency who tells me I have no grounds for complaint, that I have a rolling contract with Virgin that I can't break except on specific dates in the year. I better pay.

"The complaint exists and is now with CISAS so you should put your proceedings on hold."

"No I won't. The law says you owe the money and you should pay. I see from my notes of your conversations with customer service you are in breach of their contract."

"Well, then, let me have a copy of the contract and those conversations and I will see if I agree with you."


More information off to CISAS. Then a quick internet search on the debt company who subscribe to the Credit Services Association which actually has a code of practice. This is a bit like lions subscribing to a butcher's service to cut up their freshly-killed carcasses. But the code does say when asked give information.

A quick email to the agency pointing out what they should do in accord with their own code of practice and to lay off until CISAS has had its say.

A quiet moment of reflection as I await Virgin's response to my CISAS complaint. CISAS ask the complainant to state the remedies they'd like. I said I wanted an apology, all the charges to disappear, and then, as an afterthought, I'd like £250 in compensation. The first two were important.

Virgin called--just as I was about to enter the dentist's surgery. Brilliant timing. We connected later. I was able to discern a slight change of tone from ballistic belligerence to cosy compliance and contrition.

"We're sorry that customer service hasn't treated your complaint well."

Depends whether customer service's role is to listent to customer complaints or complain about customers. I think it's the latter in which they were doing well.

Valerie of Virgin Media (I could see the glow behind her...) assured me that things were not good in customer service land and that they were sorry! I'm hard of hearing so I asked for that to be repeated. Wonderful, glorious: someone said "sorry".

(If you ever need to know more read David Engel's "Oven Bird's Song".)

She only had one quibble with my complaint to CISAS: £250 was a bit high so would I accept £100. Since it was an afterthought and the other points had been accepted, sure I'll take it.

She wrote me a sweet letter--still to the wrong address--saying I owed no money, no remarks on credit files anywhere, the debt collectors would be told to go where the sun don't shine, and here's a cheque.

Obviously Virgin Media doesn't want rack up black stars with CISAS so settlement is paramount. But how much money did Virgin Media waste on this matter? It must have run into thousands of pounds in salary time, etc.

I'm sure someone in their organization is saying "lessons will be learned". Of course they won't: they never are.


geeklawyer said...

Are you making a book on when the next letter arrives? I'll put £5 on whatever it is that it arrives in 3 months.

John Flood said...

I think I should open one.

I would have said three myself, so I will go for four months on the basis that they will want to lull me into a false sense of confidence.

Richard P said...

Sounds comparible with my epic battle with Orange, when I left their broadband service.

I finally left, after a protracted battle to drag their service transfer codes out of them. A couple of months later, I chucked away their now useless (not to mention broken – it was three years’ old) router, which only worked with their services.

A month after that, they sent me a chucklesome letter, which ended with a cheery bill for £100 if I didn't return their equipment. (You can buy a brand new router for just £25.)

A series of increasingly irate letters to customer services followed. Where was the mention of this £100 charge in their T&Cs, I asked? Why was the need to return my equipment not mentioned at the disconnection stage, rather than three months later?

They returned some badly drafted T&Cs, which didn't include their right to demand such a payment. I again asked for clarity in relation to their right to demand such money, mentioning that the £100 charge sounded like an (unlawful and unenforceable) penalty charge to me. So a numpty wrote back again, saying that they would recover my penalty charge in the next few days.

At which point I pointed out that perhaps they should consult their in-house lawyer before writing another stupid letter. Because I happen to know their name, I suggested they should consult Orange’s general counsel.

Magically, the £100 demand was dropped a few days later.

LilWizz said...

I had a similar problem with BT. Got stuck in their contract and was paying for a broadband that, well, frankly was never there. After a long battle managed to get all charges refunded and they never came back for the equipment.

John Flood said...

Geeklawyer was right! I got a letter from Virgin demanding £2.11. Then I got a most apologetic call saying that my refund (see above) generated a VAT bill (How the hell...?) They were deleting it. Gawd help us!