The Never-Ending BT Battle

In the small office I sometimes use, I have fairly typical requirements: one ordinary telephone line, plus ADSL Internet access. Not exactly rocket science, you would think. Unfortunately, once you get BT’s bureaucracy involved, even the simplest tasks become Herculean.

Initially, we had two very minor issues: we were on the basic tariff rather than the one we had requested (for businesses, BT offers ‘Business Plan’, where calls to landlines are capped at 10p for the first hour: quite a saving compared to the usual rate), and we wanted Caller ID and a few other features enabled. The extra features could be requested online, the tariff change required a phone call – and it all went downhill from there…

One small snag appeared in the online order: the confirmation message had the wrong address for “installation” of the features on our line (a street number, 1, had been inserted in our address). I called to query this, but was assured this didn’t matter: since the line was installed already and the features would be enabled from the exchange end without an engineer visiting, all that mattered was that the phone number was correct. So, I proceeded to deal with the tariff change request.

During that call, the operator suggested it would be cheaper to get a bundle, called “Featureline Compact”, since that gave all the features we wanted as standard. The only drawback – we thought – was that the new bundle required dialling 9 for all calls, since it’s designed as an alternative to operating your own internal exchange. Not a problem: I could program our own exchange to insert the prefix automatically anyway.

The one problem here is that changing to this bundle involved an internal BT procedure called a “cease and reprovide”: on paper, they end the old service then start providing a new one. In practice, this entails sending an engineer to the exchange to change the port settings, or moving from a standard port to one with Featureline support.

Instead, the line simply stopped working entirely. Upon calling BT Faults, we were told this was because we had requested that the line be “ceased”! Further investigation revealed that somehow, our “cease and reprovide” had somehow been split in half: only the “cease” request went through. Unfortunately, by this point it was too late to fix: our only option was apparently to request a new line installation.

A few days later, I was told that I had asked for DSL service to be cancelled as well. I hadn’t, of course – this was an automatic side-effect of the line being cancelled by mistake. Again, I was told it was too late to prevent the cancellation: I would have to request “new” service on the “new” line.

Next, two extremely large invoices (one for each service) arrived. Having only had the line a few months, we were well inside the one year minimum contract term – the cancellation meant paying the monthly fees for the rest of the year immediately.

There was light at the end of the tunnel, though: BT also contacted me to say they would be sending an engineer round – to the wrong address I mentioned earlier – the following Tuesday to install the “new” line. Quite why re-enabling an existing line required an engineer’s visit, I don’t know, but I would be spending Tuesday in another city in meetings all day anyway, so that wasn’t possible. I called and explained this, pointing out both the wrong address and the impossibility of their suggested date.

So, I returned to the office on Wednesday to find a note from the company next door (the owners of the incorrect address) that a BT engineer had visited, looking for “Mr or Mrs Sullivan”, despite having been told that this was the wrong address and that the date was not suitable.

Later that week, I was told BT had “found” a spare line which was listed as being at this incorrect address and activated it, rather than send another engineer out on another wild-goose chase. Fortunately, the line happened to be the right one, so we finally had a working phone line. (No Internet access yet: that would take another week to process.)

Throughout this process, I had been trying to contact BT Complaints in various ways. The online “chat” system was not working – around 11 o’clock one morning, it claimed to be closed since it is only open 8 am to 5 pm – and emails just produced multiple automatic acknowledgements and empty promises someone would call. (BT Faults were much more pro-active: one of my calls to them resulted in at least four different people returning the same call over the course of one morning!)

Finally, I stumbled across a reference to a secret, unlisted, high level complaints department for cases where the regular complaints department had failed. Clearly this fitted my case exactly. This number was answered quickly, by someone who actually had access to both the phone and Internet bills – during that same call, he was able to cancel all the extra penalty charges for early termination, the installation charges for the “new” service and the call charges we’d paid on the wrong tariff, and finally promise that someone from the local office would call back within two working days to see if the reconnection to the Internet could be expedited.

Two days later, I was indeed called back, then quickly reconnected.

Of course, there had to be one final snag: having a new account meant we were billed for the coming quarter’s Internet access – having already paid for service for half that period under the previous account. Not to mention being charged for an unsolicited “Internet security pack”. I called, and was quickly told both sums had been credited back, reducing the bill by rather more than 50%. However, two weeks later these credits had not shown up, so I tried email. Apparently there was no record of my previous call or the credits I was told had been applied, so I had to explain the situation again from square one.

Some weeks later, we received a “red” (final reminder) bill – for the original amount, with neither of the promised credits applied. A further long – and expensive, since these calls were to a premium rate 0845 number which pays the recipient per minute for incoming calls – call finally produced written confirmation of the credit for the unsolicited service. Apparently, though, it was not possible to credit this account for the period of service already paid on the previous one: instead, that would be refunded to the original (now closed) account, then the period would be paid for again through the new account instead.

We’re now waiting for the promised refund. Any bets whether it actually turns up, or goes the way of the first account credits? We’re also still not on the requested One Plan tariff (combining Internet and telephony on a single bill) – but given the months of bureaucracy and weeks without service the last request caused, I’m a little reluctant to try fixing that this time…

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