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article imageRikki, don’t use that number

By Alexander Baron     May 4, 2011 in Business
A review of a recent BBC television programme presented by Dominic Littlewood concerning the treatment meted out to a customer by a phone company.
Yesterday, the BBC’s Dominic Littlewood raised an issue that should be of concern to all mobile phone users. His consumer watchdog programme Don’t Get Done, Get Dom is currently available on BBC iplayer; if you can’t view it in your own jurisdiction, watch out for it on YouTube. This particular edition is series 5, episode 6, and covers inter alia a dispute with the telephone service provider Onetel. Littlewood, the pugnacious self-appointed champion of consumers' rights, takes up complaints from concerned, worried or simply bamboozled consumers, and chases them up with companies who have all too often forgotten that the customer comes first even if he isn’t always right.
The person on the receiving end of corporate non-concern this time was a techno-savvy seventy-five year old man who had been a Onetel customer for seven or eight years, and had received a monthly phone bill of between £20 and £40. Until he changed to a smart phone. Then in May last year he received a bill for £2,823.93. As he had made only twelve phone calls in that period he was left bemused, until he logged into his account and found that he was being charged a large regular amount for a wireless application he never used. The reason for this appears to have been a technical glitch that both he and more importantly the company had overlooked, but when he tried to take this up with them he received the sort of stonewalling that large companies too often mete out to us little people. And he was being charged interest on the outstanding bill.
For eight months, his phone calls fell on deaf ears, and the company ignored his correspondence, including letters sent by registered mail, at least one of which was addressed to the CEO. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, all that changed when Dom entered the fray. Among other things, it was quickly established that the account holder had a credit limit of £250, so clearly he should not have been billed for anything above that. One word from Dom and the interest and all further administrative charges were frozen; clearly somebody at Onetel realised the old adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity is not always true.
Shortly, Onetel wrote off not only the bill in excess of £250 but told Littlewood they would be launching an investigation to prevent this sort of thing from happening to other users. Later, they wrote off the £250 as well. As Littlewood’s programme has around a million regular viewers, this is almost certainly money well spent.
In spite of this happy ending, the complaint investigated and rectified by Dominic Littlewood is typical rather than exceptional, and Onetel is far from the worst offender.
In the UK there are a number of statutory bodies that deal with consumer problems and complaints, including OfCom for the telecommunications industry, the Office of Fair Trading, local trading standards offices, and in cases of outright fraud, the police. At the end of the day though, a company that is perceived by the general public to be ripping off its customers will suffer a far more Draconian penalty in the marketplace than any government regulator can enforce. Sadly, it takes exposés of this nature to make them appreciate that fact.
More about Onetel, Dominnic Littlewood, Mobile phones, Rip offs, stonewalling
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