Finance

ASK TONY: Virgin billed us £240 because it couldn’t connect to our new home… now they’ve set a debt collection agency on us

I have been a customer of Virgin Media for many years, but when we moved house in May 2014, it was unable to supply our new address.

Virgin said we would be charged a £240 disconnection fee, even though it was not our fault.

We couldn’t afford this, but it set a debt collection agency on us and we were forced to pay initially £10 a month, then £5 a month, when our only income is the State pension. We paid each month without fail and now owe £25.

Then we received a letter saying our April payment had not been received. I checked with my bank and was assured the payment had been made.

The debt collection company is very intimidating and this is not the first time I have had to ring up.

Mrs P. H., Swindon.

Outrageous: Virgin charged two loyal customers a £240 disconnection fee because they were not able to connect to their new home

Most debt collectors are merely the monkeys operating on behalf of an organ grinder, in this case Virgin Media.

It reassessed your case and decided to write off the entire debt. This means it will not be asking for the remaining £20.17 and, in addition, will be reimbursing £219.83.

You won’t be hearing from the debt collector again.

However, I was intrigued by your circumstances, so checked the frequently asked questions section on Virgin’s website.

It says that ‘if you’re still within the minimum term of your contract, the only thing you can do is cancel it and pay the termination fee — which may be quite costly’.

To me that doesn’t seem at all fair. If someone knows they are about to move house and signs a broadband and TV contract, charging a termination fee might be justifiable.

But in some cases people have no idea that a move may be on the cards, and it isn’t their fault if Virgin does not offer a service in the new area.

You had been waiting for a council bungalow to become available, so really had no choice over when you moved home.

This really is no way to treat loyal customers and certainly wouldn’t inspire me to return to Virgin if I moved again. And yours isn’t the only letter I’ve received about moving to an area Virgin does not supply.

It seems telecoms watchdog Ofcom is investigating these exit fees. I’ve asked Virgin Media for further comments on their disconnection charges, but so far have received no clarification.

I was an accountant for a firm that went into liquidation in February 2013. The building has been empty since and I made a request to npower in June 2015 that the electricity supply be disconnected.

In March 2016, npower started sending bills to me in my name. I have written to explain I am retired and not responsible for the bills and that I was merely doing some tidying up.

In June last year, I went to the ombudsman, but this avenue seems to have gone quiet.

S. S., Middlesex.

I’ve been going backwards and forwards with npower on your case for months and must now throw my arms up and admit I’m none the wiser.

It is clear that npower was sending you bills when you were not responsible and that these were, in some cases, massive. But its story and yours differ significantly in many aspects.

I am certain that on December 16 last year, npower sent a statement saying you owed £1,953.38. This was almost two months after the ombudsman requested the account be put on hold while it came to a decision.

However, this bill was minuscule compared with the £11,700 npower demanded on October 3.

Even after it knew that Ombudsman Services was investigating, npower wrote to you suggesting that you set up a direct debit for £121 per month.

So without a doubt, npower made a mess of this account.

Earlier this year, the ombudsman made a ruling in your favour and acknowledged the ‘distress and concern’ you have suffered.

Npower was told to remove your name from the account and instead contact the insolvency practitioners that dealt with the liquidation. It was also told to apologise to you.

But, bizarrely, you were awarded only £50. I thought this wholly inadequate given that you were faced with demands for more than £10,000, threats of court action, your pleas that the bill was not yours were ignored, bills continued to be sent even after Ombudsman Services had intervened and that npower appeared to have made little attempt to establish the true level of debt.

But mystery persists because a third party continues to insist to npower that you are the company secretary and the landlord.

You have also given npower conflicting information, saying at one stage that the property had been empty since 2007 and more recently that it has been empty only since 2015. One fact that is clear is that the outstanding bill is £776.24 — and nothing like the thousands of pounds requested.

Meanwhile, you have rejected the resolution proposed by the ombudsman. Npower says it is still trying to ascertain the correct details and I am at my wits’ end.

I am publishing this as a reminder to readers that I can help you only if you are prepared to help yourselves — and that means providing full, factual information and being willing to compromise to reach a solution.

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