BT apologises to Cavendish after cutting off phone lines

Cavendish Press managing director Jon Harris has won an apology and almost £500 in compensation from British Telecom after the Manchester-based news agency was left without phone lines for up to eight days.

Harris fought a year-long battle with the communications giant after BT cut off his firm’s landline phone lines without warning in August last year and then failed to get the system fully working again after he queried four duplicate bills.

He also complained to the Communications Ombudsman after BT tried to placate him with three months free line rental, claiming it had been ”unable to locate any records of any contact relating to billing issues prior to disconnection”.’

In a written judgement, Ombudsman investigations officer Akalia MaClaurin said BT was guilty of a ”shortfall in customer service” and ruled it should increase its goodwill gesture.

In her letter to Harris, MaClaurin added: ”I have found no evidence that BT followed its own Code of Practice when it cut your services off.

”I have found nothing to suggest you received a reminder with a final payment date and nothing to suggest you received either an automated call from BT requesting payment or a text message.

”In addition I have seen nothing that would suggest you services were restricted prior to being cut off.

”I cannot understand why it acted so swiftly in disconnecting your services and why it did not follow its procedures. BT has made no comment on this in its file.

”I am of the opinion that it did not act fairly or reasonably in cutting you off so swiftly without even a final demand letter or restricting your services.

”Had it done either of these things you would have had an opportunity to be in contact with the correct department in BT to resolve your billing queries and I do not think it would have been necessary to disconnect your services.”

She ordered BT to refund a £91.84 payment Cavendish was wrongly forced to pay to get the phone lines working again, plus three months free line rental worth £299.62 and £100 as a ”goodwill gesture in the recognition of the shortfall in customer service.”

The Ombudsman had originally ordered BT to pay £250 as a good will gesture last March but the BT won a £150 cut in the award after it demanded a review which took a further four months.

Harris said he feared the disconnection may have cost Cavendish Press ”many thousands of pounds” in lost business.

He said: ”BT is supposed to be in the communications business but its communications skills in this sorry episode have been nothing short of a disgrace.

”At the time of the disconnection we were being inundated with emails from customers wondering why our phone lines weren’t working and some even thought we’d gone out of business.

”When it actually happened on advice from BT itself we tried to ring our point of contact who set up our business agreement in the first place but unbeknown to us – and apparently them – he’d left the company several weeks before.

”His voice mail and email were still active, no one had been appointed in his place and that left us at the mercy of the Indian call centre – where most of the customer services assistants hadn’t got a clue what we were talking about.

”It took BT three days to put a divert in place meaning we could field customer calls on one mobile phone but it was hardly satisfactory. The phone lines had been fitted by a sub contractor to BT and they kept arguing whose problem it was.

”The amount of business we have lost due to this disconnection is incalculable not least because of the number of mobile phone calls which had to be made to BT and such like – and whilst I doubt 500 quid will cover it, I’ll be framing the apology letter from BT and put it on my wall.”

In its letter to Harris, Evonne Caslin of BT Ombudsman Investigations said: ”Please accept my apologies on behalf of BT for the customer service shortfalls.”

The Communications Ombudsman is funded by companies whose complaints it handles through a combination of subscription and case fees.

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