Wednesday, June 24, 2009

BT and their broken promises

As anyone who follows me on twitter will be aware, I've been having a fucking nightmarepolite struggle with BT this week. Well, actually it's been going on for months but after I finally decided I'd have to face the stress it's started up again this week.

The problems started back in January when I moved into the flat. The phone line had been disconnected a few tenants back and so what should've been a simple process of getting a phone and broadband package set up became a mess. Initially I applied to talktalk as although they'd not been great for customer service, for approximately £20 a month for line rental, free calls to any landline and to multiple different countries so long as it was less than an hour per call, plus broadband...well, customer service is not the highest priority when the package is that good value. Unfortunately my landlord has never registered this property is flats rather than a house so TalkTalk were unable to tell which line was which and therefore unable to sort out activating the line. They advised me to speak to BT to sort out the line activation and then get back to TalkTalk to sort the package I wanted.

So, that's what I did. Except BT insisted they charged to activate the line. A charge of something like £70. Non refundable. I knew the BT sales team were talking rubbish, but after several weeks without internet access I was getting desperate. I was having to try and find places offering free wi-fi, which in itself is a problem in small town land. That's before you add in chaos of moving and trying to deal with all this with a disability that means it takes approximately 4 or 5 times the amount of time it takes other people to do things...if I can do them at all. So trailing round looking for wi-fi carrying a heavy laptop was leaving me spoon-less at a time I needed as many spoons as possible.

I tried a couple of times to sort out the line activation without a whopping charge, but in the end I was too tired and too stressed to deal with it so decided I'd have to do what BT advised, which was go with their phone/broadband package and avoid the line reactivation charges that way. As I say, I knew full well BT's sales team were trying it on, but I wasn't in a position to do anything about it. I was very, very foolishly reassured that the reason BT were charging double the price of my previous package and offering less for that price was because they provided outstanding customer service.

So, I signed up for BT's phone and broadband package, the most expensive one which includes the home hub and had no download limits etc at about £40 a month. Within a few days my first home hub arrived. Home hub was all shiny, black and pretty looking but like many pretty things, all it did was look pretty. It certainly didn't work. No matter how many times it was reinstalled, or how expert the IT skills of the person installing it, it simply wouldn't work. My laptop could pick up half a dozen other home hubs in the immediate area, but although it could see mine, it certainly couldn't access the internet with it. So, desperate for internet access I simply stuck an ethernet cable in and accessed the internet that way.

Whilst that solved the immediate problem of lack of access, it obviously didn't solve the non-working home hub problem. Eventually when I was a little more settled in the flat and could deal with the hours on the phone I knew it would take I phoned BT to try and sort it out.

The sales team couldn't deal with it of course, it had to go to technical support. BT's technical support is an offshore call centre, and to be generous the standard of spoken English varies wildly, as do the thickness of the accent's which can make the most grammatically correct English incomprehensible. Trying to explain to an overseas call centre operative exactly why you want to speak to someone based in the UK is difficult enough with a language barrier, and that's before refusal to deviate from the script comes in, or accusations of racism.

So, I spoke to the overseas tech support team. Multiple times. Every time I got to speak to someone either the connection would mysteriously disappear, or the operative would refuse to put me through to a manager. Asking to speak to someone in the UK felt like declaring oneself to be an active member of the BNP.

When I did get to speak to someone in tech support they'd insist on running through the same checklist over and over again. That someone in tech support had previously run through the exact same checklist did not count. There was one day I spent over three hours on the phone to the tech support team and ended up literally begging to be put through to the UK. A request which was repeatedly refused, lost or conveniently solved by hanging up on me. I don't consider myself a particularly highly strung person but by the end of all this I was a nervous wreck.

Eventually after multiple times running through the checklist I managed to get an overseas manager to agree to send me out a new home hub as mine was faulty. This they duly did and of course charged me a whopping £80 for the pleasure. As BT's billing and paperwork is so appallingly confusing I have no idea whether that money has been refunded. Tech support and complaints claim they cannot deal with that issue because it's a billing issue.

So, my second home hub arrived and I hoped that would be the end of that. I'd still be stuck in an extortionately overpriced contract, but at least all the services I was paying for would work. Stupid, foolish thought! The second home hub didn't work any better than the first. In fact it had the exact same fault the first one did. The computer could find the home hub but it couldn't connect to it, no matter what settings where changed.

The overseas tech team were very upset I refused to allow them remote access to my computer, but grudgingly agreed to run through the checklist without remote access. Unsurprisingly there wasn't a fault with any of the settings, but no matter what they tinkered with the home hub didn't work without a cable. They still refused to put me through to a UK based tech team.

After that I decided the stress simply wasn't worth it. I got one of my techy friends to set up my old Belkin router which worked fine wirelessly. Although there was still a problem with the connection dropping out at busy times, it was fine to view web pages but if you want to stream on something like iplayer the connection isn't sufficient to get through even a 10 minute video without flickering in and out.

Earlier this week someone phoned from BT to set up the BT vision I am apparently paying for as part of the package. I am completely unable to tell from the bills BT send what I'm paying for as it all comes separately. I do know the direct debits I set up aren't working properly as BT took £70+ from my bank account recently to pay for the next three months line rental. I decided that stress or no stress I was being completely ripped off for a service that doesn't work properly and that I'd have to do something about it.

So I called BT and explained briefly that there was a problem with the second home hub and the connection. The first person I spoke to insisted on transferring me to the overseas tech team, and when I asked to speak to his manager for the second time he simply hung up on me! I called back and spoke to someone else who did their best to be helpful and did actually manage after about 40 minutes of negotiating to book the UK based tech team to call back within 24 hours. They didn't but it wasn't far off that. Fortunately after waiting in for 24 hours I was still at home to receive the call.

A very lovely and helpful lady called Lyn spoke to me. Unfortunately despite the tech team having run through the checklist countless previous times she had to do so again. Which is where we hit several stumbling blocks as my home hub isn't even plugged in. There's not much point as it doesn't work! Then we needed to test the line, which requires the front of the socket to be unscrewed and the cable put directly into a test socket. Fair enough, except being disabled I'm not really in a position to unscrew sockets. Lyn wanted to know whether I could arrange for someone to come and assist me with that, which, if BT had been able to provide me with an accurate time for the tech team to phone back could probably have been arranged. Problem is they can't provide any time and I can't get someone to come hang out in my flat for 24 hours hoping BT will call back.

The situation is now that I still have a home hub that doesn't work. I still don't know if the £80 I was charged for it, despite it being under warrantee has been refunded. I can't use any of the associated services I'm being charged twice the price every other company charges.

To be fair, Lyn did her best to help. She phoned the special needs team at BT after I pointed that sending an engineer out to a disabled person should be seen as a reasonable adjustment under the Disability Discrimination Act and not be charged for regardless of whose fault the fault is! The special needs team had no advice to offer except to send out a form to register me as a special needs customer. To do that it has to somehow go through the local authority. The same local authority who stopped providing care to people because it's too expensive. Lyn will be phoning me back either on saturday or sunday once I've received the form.

After all this the only thing I care about is how not to receive these services from BT. The special needs customer thing is utterly irrelevant to the problems I'm having. I don't see why I should have to pay to get out of a contract when BT haven't met their contractual obligations. I no longer want a 3rd home hub, I just want a reliable internet connection and phone line which I could have for less than half the price BT charge. Overall my experience of BT is that they are the most overpriced rip off on the market, which, considering the original sales pitch explaining prices are higher in return for excellent customer service, is frankly a steaming load of bull!

Update June 26th 2009:

"Just emailed Ian Livingston head of BT about all this Will he reply? #BTbroadbandisshit
Within an hour of my posting this tweet yesterday announcing I'd emailed Ian Livingston about these issues a very nice lady called Kate was on the phone trying to sort out all these issues. She was very down to earth and pragmatic as us Northern girls tend to be and managed to cut through all the bureaucratic nonsense which was the main feature of this problem. The socket does not need to be unscrewed as there is nothing wrong with the line and she has ordered me a new home hub which should arrive today. She also went through all the billing issues with me, made sure the previous charges for the second home hub hadn't been added to a bill and sorted out the £73 which had been debited in advance for my broadband rental by making sure the monthly direct debits were working properly.

Hopefully the home hub will arrive today, and, bendy fingers crossed it will also work as a wireless router, I'll let you all know!

My advice to BT is this: if you got Kate to train all your front line staff and as an organisation took her no nonsense approach to getting things done you'd improve BT's customer service profile overnight!


Ben S said...

Well that is better out than in... bunchabstrds...

Anyway, the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 gives you the right to recind (cancel) the contract if the supplier of the contract has failed to fulfill the contract (see here for more detail: It might also be useful to have a quick chat with Consumer Direct, although their advisers are scripted, so can't really give opinions on the strength of a case, or your local councils trading standards dept (if it still has one that deals with the public).

Essentially if you stop paying it is up to BT to pursue you for the money - ultimately only a court will be able to judge if they are legally able to pursue you for the terms of the contract.

How about, as a next step, a strongly worded email to Ian Livingston, current Chief Exec of BT Group :, saying that you are off to the papers with the details of your complaint unless he gets it sorted - the bloke who does the Money section in the Guardian is usually quite good at consumer services stuff (

Good luck - don't let the bastards grind you down, they rely on exhaustion and inertia to get them off the hook.

Oh, and love the blog - keep writing here because I don't do twitter!

Anonymous said...

No joke ...

email and explain all ....

You should get results ....

Dave the Dog said...

Good grief, I knew you were having problems but not that bad.
If there's anything I can do to help.........

Fire Byrd said...

When you've done talking to Ian Livingstone then talk to me about a reliable and totally UK based phone company, that won't rip you off.

Dark Side said...

What a truly awful experience you have had, it disgraceful, I think Trading Standards and Watchdog would be very interested in taking this case up. I am sure Watchdog have already done a feature about something along similar lines so would be placed to prove BT wrong again.

Good luck sweetie and stay calm if you can...xx

Achelois said...

Agree with all of the above. Contacting your local paper and asking for interview etc may help. Try Ouch blogging this for more umph.. Was thinking of trying BT but after reading in Times etc of so many similar stories decided agaisnt it. They have already had their knuckles wrapped over tying people into contracts they cannot get out of. The law theoretically should be on your side!Stmbling block may be you need their line for access. If you can get access try looking for forums for people who are having the same problem!
It stressed me out reading the saga god knows how it was for you. I agree I don't do twitter - keep on blogging!

Damon Lord said...

As a former employee of BT, I left because the corporate culture in BT was so inept, there was an attitude of "don't know, don't care" when customers had issues. We weren't allowed to call them problems in our department. Issues they were.

I left that job because I could not continue working in such a culture. The trainer was great, but it was so basic general, it could not be applied to the actual role. I honestly felt like I was the only one in the company who was even trying to help the customers. Nobody in BT knew what their particular role truly encompassed, apart from just get them off the line. If a customer decided to leave BT, the attitude was "no real loss, there's plenty more mugs BT is making money from."

So that's why I left. I know of one customer who went without broadband for 12 weeks before giving up with BT. The only time anyone really got anything done was by threatening to leave for another supplier, and then it was just a scripted apology.

By the way, BT won't have any records of me working there at any point. They mis-spelled my name and details, and despite months of daily requests for my own personal details to be amended, it was still never done. If they can't even sort out their own staff's names for logging in, what help will they be to the customer?

Let's Kill Saturday Night said...

My girlfriend has had the same problem with her home hub. She has to use the cable to connect to the internet which kind of defeats the purpose of it being wireless. Now and again it decides to stop working and she has to phone and speak to 5 different people for whom English is not their first language and eventually they figure out what setting to change. Utterly ridiculous.

Veronica said...

Uhm. Wow. Just, wow. What a load of crap they're putting you through!

frogpondsrock said...

Oh dear...

Stonehead said...

Yes, BT are truly crap. When our phone line failed, BT told us we shouldn't expect fast service as we live in the country. After three weeks without a phone line (and no mobile reception to speak of), we had to get Citizens Advice, our MP, and the press involved before BT would budge and fix the line.

And it was one of BT's Indian call centre operators who told us that "Insch is a measurement, not a place sir".

Sarah said...

Well, I'm not sure you go to talktalk. We did that, but their (sub-contininental)customer service was fairly useless. They will only speak to the named contract holder, which doesn't help at all when he's offshore on a rig.

I understand that the man who takes the call can't afford to get fired for (thinking for himself) deviating from his script, but it is very annoying.

We're using our own Belkin hub as well - talktalk's one just wouldn't work wirelessly.

mispiggy said...

May I recommend Zen? - excellent, proper tech support and customer service, faster broadband, cheaper than BT... really hope you can get out of your BT contract, as in my experience it doesn't get any better!

MarkB81 said...

Oh nooooooo I'm about to embark on the very same mission to get broadband into my new pad...eeeeek! Thank you for the heads up lol and for replying to my 2 for the price of 1 postings on your BBC blog :)

Mark aka radiomental