Last June my father received a promotional phone call from 3, a mobile phone operator in the UK. The offer appeared to be for a free upgrade (which we believed might have been in apology for previous bad service) for the two phones we have for them, and the operator making the call implied that that was what this was. However, when the phones were delivered on the 19th it was obvious that they were not intended as an upgrade but as two new phones wkith two new lines, line rentals and all.
On the phone my father had given permission to 3 to open Direct Debits for these phones, and it turned out what he thought was that for some reason the accounts needed transferring from the old phones to the new ones.
So the next day he sent them back, Royal Mail Special Delivery, dated, signed for, and most importantly of all, unopened. He sent a covering letter in which he pointed out the 3 small print in which it was stated that - and I paraphrase - "by activating the phones you acknowledge you are accepting the terms and conditions of the contract", and so that by never opening the packaging, leaving the phones totally resaleable, he had not accepted their contract. At the same time he sent a letter to his bank cancelling the Direct Debit.
The next correspondence we get is an automatic letter from 3 saying that the Direct Debits have been set up. That we get this after the letter to the bank ordering them not to open them is telling; it's not like anyone but the 3 central mailing server was paying any kind of attention.
My father writes to them pointing out he never accepted the contract, with photocopies of the special delivery receipt, dated the day after we got them.
An automatic response comes back from another person's office; to deactivate the phones a deactivation code is needed within 14 days of purchase. Despite it being a long time after the delivery and return of the phones, the letter appears to state that it's possible to deactivate them yet - as if they've only been "activated" in the last 14 days. He points out in another letter that they were never activated at all - a sentiment which is vindicated when he writes to the division responsible for this and never, not to this day, gets a reply. It's now about late August.
The next letter he gets is an automatic debt notice; he hasn't paid for this last few months' worth of line rental. He replies to this new person pointing out that since he never accepted the contracts, they should never have been activated, which 3's own "deactivation division", whatever it is called, seems to realise. He's rung them up, too, by this point, and they've told him to get a deactivation code, and he's rung the deactivation people, who've told him they can't give him one since it's more than 14 days from purchase.
The next letter he gets is another automatic debt letter from the same person. This is the only time he gets any two letters from the same office during this entire farce. He replies again with the same points; he never accepted any contract, and is not liable for any payments.
The next letter threatens the use of a debt collection agency, and is from someone else at 3's finance department. He writes to the new person, telling them to talk to the "customer service" people to whom he's now sent the details of his return of the phones several times now - but explaining the situation too, for good measure.
The next letter is another threat. New address. He replies angrily, same as before, and points out there's an ombudsman to sort this sort of thing out, and yes, he will be sending everything to them immediately. So it's the end of December, and now OTELO - the Office of Telecommunications Ombudsman (I think) - is involved. It's mid-January.
The next is from a debt collections agency, informing him they've put a notice of unpaid debt on his credit card record, effectively ruining his credit. End of January.
Before he can reply (computer troubles for a few days), he gets the first phone call from them, and my mother and I attempt to point out to him that we can't explain our story to these people, since they have absolutely no jurisdiction over the legitimacy of the claim; it's only their responsibility to collect the money. Not for the first time yet, court is mentioned. At this point he tells them he won't be writing to them or to 3 anymore until he's been advised by the Ombudsman. They say if he sends the evidence of his returning the phones to them they'll make the case to 3. He asks for this in writing on the phone, and is assured that he will get it, but no correspondence is received after he sends the special delivery receipt to the agency.
So the phone calls continue, at first once every two weeks or so, and then, later, every few days, until the middle of March, when 3 ring. Let me preface this with... I read c_s, and I know what it's like to get shit from a customer for no good reason, but this had been a long time in coming, and, in fairness, he did only explode when he'd fully explained the situation and the company's total ignorance of his letters to them and then... then the guy on the other end said "Well, sir, you need a deactivation code before I can do anything..." He doesn't toally understand the sheer powerlessness of the first-level technician in a call centre - but more of that later.
The next call is much the same; he fruitlessly explains that the phones were never activated, a subject which the person on the other end doesn't touch with a barge-pole, insisting only that he needs a deactivation code. When he points out that 3 wouldn't give him one, he is told "Well, sir, I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do for you if the phones haven't been deactivated."
At the end of March, a lovely and immeasurably tolerant girl calls from a 3 call centre. Until now nobody has tried to explain to my father why he is apparently in debt, and neither does this girl, who, for the first half-hour of the call, only recites the company line over and over before, on a pretence, she goes to speak to her supervisor. As she's on hold I point out to my dad that after this the call will be being listened to by someone who, maybe, just maybe, can do something more than this poor girl can. Shortly after she comes back, something unusual happens. She says he can't have written to (Person X), because they're exactly the right person to talk to about this sort of thing. And he sent the phones to the wrong address. He should have sent them to (Company Y), which is a subsidiary of 3, on the same industrial estate. This is not - and he reads it out to her down the phone - this is not what their literature says, but it's what's "coming up on her screen". Okay, so we're getting somewhere to explaining the fuck-up, perhaps, but then she disappears to ask her sup if she can see a copy of the correspondence between him and the company. Bizarrely, she seems to get it, because she reads what has been written and genuinely seems astonished to find out what has happened. She promises that she will forward it all to the customer service department, and they will shut the account immediately.
Two weeks later, and my mother and myself are doing everything we can to encourage him to go to Watchdog with this. He promises us he will as soon as all the Easter fuss - my sister, her hubby and their young daughters, my brother and my girlfriend all coming and going - dies down.
Four days ago we got an automatic letter informing us they've closed those accounts and refunded anything they took from us.
I'm changing my contract the instant this one expires. I might choose a company with better organisation and customer care than 3 - does Enron have a phone division?