Citizens Advice Scotland have shown today that many Scots are being ‘ripped-off in their own homes’ by telephone and internet providers.
CAS Chief Executive Lucy McTernan said,
“The telecommunications network has changed massively over the last few years. 15 years ago most households used a simple landline telephone, and were billed for that straightforward service. Today, mobile and internet services have revolutionised the industry, and consumers have a much wider choice then ever before.
“That in itself is a good thing. Unfortunately, our evidence shows that the pace of change and the way the industry works has left many people vulnerable to exploitation. Most people don’t have a clear understanding of the technical details of how these new telecommunication services work, and this has left the door open to irresponsible providers who would seek to take advantage.
“As a result, CAB advisers across Scotland are reporting significant numbers of complaints from customers who have been ripped off in various ways.”
Today’s CAS report, which can be downloaded from the bottom of this page, details the main areas of concern as follows:-
Mobile Phones: We’ve seen many cases of ‘mis-selling,’ e.g. terms and conditions which are unclear and confusing, leading customers to enter into contracts which force them to pay more than they expect, and for longer.
Landlines: CAB advisers have reported a significant number of cases of incorrect billing, and the transfer of contracts from one supplier to another without the client’s consent (and often directly against their instructions)
Internet Services: Many customers sign up for a basic package but are then connected to expensive additional services they have not asked for and do not use. High prices and poor services are also leading to concerns (this is backed up by a report by uSwitch only last Friday, showing a dramatic fall in customer satisfaction with broadband providers).
Lucy McTernan continues,
“The issue here is transparency. In most of the cases we see, no law has actually been broken. What is happening is that the providers are exploiting the fact that most customers don’t know much about the way these services work, so they are hoodwinking them by making the contracts as bewildering as possible.
“Anyone who has bought a mobile phone contract or internet service recently will identify with this. The terms and conditions often seem deliberately designed to confuse and mislead, and to conceal additional costs. Unfortunately, once the customer has signed the contract, there’s little they can do - even when they find that they are paying over the odds for a service that they don’t need and which they don’t think they asked for.
“So we are calling today for the industry to get its house in order. Terms and conditions should be made transparent at the point of sale. The regulations that exist at the moment are too vague, and should be toughened up and made more specific, with penalties keenly enforced where necessary to punish those providers who seek to take advantage of people unfairly.
“Sadly many of the people who are caught out by these sort of scams are those who are most vulnerable and least able to afford it. e.g. pensioners and those on low incomes, or those who rely on their phone service as a lifeline to communicate with family and friends, and the outside world in general.
“So many people are really struggling to cope with the continuing impact of the recession. The last thing they need is to be ripped off in their own homes.”
Notes to editors - click to expand/collapse
Interviews with CAS staff can also be arranged: please contact Tony Hutson on 0131 550 1010.
CLIENT ‘CASE STUDIES’
A number of case studies are detailed below. These are anonymous, but together they represent an accurate sample of the sort of issues that constitute the evidence base for our report. We do not currently have any case studies who are prepared to be interviewed.
- A Glasgow CAB reports of a client who was sold a Broadband contract by a door-stop seller for a well-known telecommunications supplier. The client has Aspergers Syndrome and is unable to work. His only income is benefits and he could not possibly afford this. He was billed £177.85 for 2 months of the contract and connection charge.
- An Edinburgh CAB reports of 20 year old client who entered into a mobile phone contract with a minimum term of 18 months. She phoned the company 3 months later to cancel the contract as she could not afford to keep up the direct debit payments. She received a demand letter 3 months after this phone call for £265.91. The client called the company to say that the contract had been cancelled in December. They agreed that she had phoned then to cancel her DD but said they had no record of her cancelling the contract and that she could not cancel while there were charges outstanding.
- A Glasgow CAB reports of a client who was being aggressively harassed by her telephone company for payments that she had already made. The company states the client did not pay her July and August bill, although the client has sent them copies of these bills and a letter from her bank confirming payment.
- A Lanarkshire CAB reports of client who was approached on her doorstep by two women asking if she would like to change telecommunications providers. The client was unsure and asked for information to be sent so she could look over it. She received nothing, but two months later the client’s phone was cut off. She contacted her current provider and was told that her phone had been taken over by the other company. The client knew nothing about this: there were no communication between her and the company and she had not signed anything.
- A Borders CAB reports of a client who signed a contract for a smartphone. She has since received a bill of £76. She has only ever used the free texts and minutes and does not know where these charges have come from. She is outwith the 14 day cooling-off period and the contract length is 18 month. She cannot afford to continue to pay this amount but the cancellation charges are also very high and she cannot afford those either.
- A Perthshire CAB reports of a client who was phoned by a telecommunications company who wanted to take over her services. The client clearly stated that she was satisfied with her current provider, but a few weeks later she received a letter from her current provider saying that they were sorry to lose her custom. The client was eventually reinstated with her original provider but recently received a bill from the other company.
- An Edinburgh CAB report of a client who took out a mobile phone contract for her son which included internet access for an extra fee of £5.99 per month. Her son was in the US at the time of the volcanic ash flight disruption, and his phone became blocked. The client phoned the company to unblock her son’s phone to allow communication during the crisis. She was told that the contract had arrears of just under £2,000 which were almost entirely for internet use while abroad.
- A Perthshire CAB reports of a 74 year old client who received a bill from a telecommunications provider she had never heard of. The company also sent her equipment for Broadband which she has no use for. The client had had no prior contact with this company and did not wish to change provider. The client contacted the company to sort out their mistake. The client thought that the issue was resolved but has now received a disconnection bill.