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Pipex – Opal – Talk Talk Business (SIGH)

I’ve seen my fair share of court rooms over the years and frankly I can’t stand them.  In this post I am going to publicise an ongoing issue with Talk Talk in the hope someone senior within the company resolves the matter and saves us the hassle of County Court.

Pipex Dial and Pipex DSL

In the mid 90s I had my first internet connection, courtesy of Compuserve. At some point during 1997 I moved to Pipex, in order to take advantage of their 56k dial up service.

When I left home to attend Warwick University (2001), there was no real need to maintain the internet connection so I transferred it to my parents’ shop.

Pipex contacted my parents in 2004 to offer their new DSL service. After a quick chat they agreed to the upgrade and, as far as they were aware, everything was working perfectly.

What my parents didn’t realise was the fact Pipex were actually charging them for two separate accounts: the original dial-up and the new DSL account.

Opal

Last year I happened to see two letters from Opal regarding their acquisition of Pipex and was surprised to note two separate account numbers.

After the initial hurdle of finding a valid contact number for the new company, telephone support acknowledged the mistake and estimated it would take 28 days to close the duplicate account and refund all charges since the switch to DSL.

Two months later, Opal still hadn’t sorted anything so I set about cancelling the direct debit for the dial-up account and wrote a series of letters to their head office seeking a refund of charges since 2004.

Talk Talk Business

In April of this year I started receiving calls from Talk Talk Business about an overdue balance on my dial-up account. On each occasion the caller would agree to cancel the dial-up and call me back within 24 hours to arrange a refund for all payments since the switch to DSL. Obviously, no-one ever called back.

Earlier this month my Dad called me to say that his e-mails had stopped working. He’d tried to call Talk Talk Business but the number published on his latest bill wasn’t in service.

Before I contacted Talk Talk, I suspected my Dad’s e-mail had been linked to the original Pipex Dial and, with the cancellation of that direct debit and mounting “debt” on the account, they had been disabled. It turns out this is exactly what had happened, although it took five separate calls to Talk Talk to confirm this was the case.

With the problem established, I spoke to three further individuals within technical support. Finally, after seven whole days of calling, I spoke to someone who resolved the problem by activating the DSL e-mail (username@dsl.pipex.com) and set the original account (username@dial.pipex.com) as an alias.

On the basis it took an entire week to solve such a simple issue, I was ready to abandon the idea of obtaining a refund for the dial-up charges. That was until this morning, when Talk Talk responded to an e-mail I sent on 16th July.

As you can probably work out for yourself, the main purpose of my query was to establish why my Dad’s e-mails had stopped working. Their reply is as follows:

TalkTalk Business has introduced an online tool for tracking your communication with our business. Below is a summary of your request and our response.

We will assume your issue has been resolved if we do not hear from you within 120 hours.

Thank you for allowing us to be of service to you.

To access your question from our support site, click here.

========

Dear Adam

Thank you for contacting TalkTalk Business.

Having checked the notes on the Pipex system we have been unable to locate a request for cancellation in regards to this service. I have been advised by the Pipex team that if a cancellation was requested over the phone they would email the customer a template to complete and return so that the cancellation can be processed. If you have a copy of your original confirmation of cancellation then we would be able to backdate charges on the account.

If you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact us.

Kind regards,

Lyndsey Dickinson
TalkTalk Business Customer Care

I found this particularly annoying for the following reasons:

- the link to their online tool doesn’t work;
- they seek a response in 120 hours, after taking more 240 hours themselves;
- they fail to acknowledge the primary reason for my original message; and
- they have lost almost a year’s worth of correspondence.

Why do Talk Talk feel the need to make this so complicated? All they need to do is look at the date the DSL account was opened and refund all charges on the dial-up account from then onwards. It really isn’t rocket science!

Over to you Talk Talk

Like I said at the start of this post, I hope someone in Talk Talk can see sense and resolve this issue. Failing that I fear I’ll be seeing a Talk Talk representative in a stuffy courtroom this side of Christmas.

Update #1 – 28th July, 2011

Not a great start, sadly. I replied to Lyndsey Dickinson’s e-mail pointing out the seemingly obvious solution to the problem. Her response:

Dear Adam,

Thank you for contacting the TalkTalk Business Customer Services team.

As previously advised without a written request for cancellation Pipex would not have cancelled your dial up account. If you could kindly forward a copy of either your original cancellation request or the confirmation from Pipex that your account would be cancelled, then I will be able to backdate any charges as necessary. As the notes we have from Pipex do not show any cancellation request either by letter or by telephone where they would have sent you a template to complete and return then I am unable to backdate any charges at this time.

If you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact us.

Kind regards,

Lyndsey Dickinson
TalkTalk Business Customer Services

My primary issue with Lyndsey’s reply is that she has still failed to acknowledge who is at fault here. In the process of upgrading dial-up to DSL, Pipex made an error which resulted in two live accounts as opposed to one. Once this was discovered I instructed telephone support to cancel the account and after a lack of action moved onto formal requests in writing.

Unless I am mistaken, there was no previous mention of the fact Pipex ignore written instructions and, if this is actually true, I’d love to know their rationale for such a policy. In any case, this is hardly relevant as the second account arose due to an error by Pipex.

I’m not holding out much hope for Lindsay to resolve this issue, however I remain optimistic for the time being.

Update #2 – 28th July, 2011

I’ve been tweeting Talk Talk for the past week and I was pleased to see a response from Helen Hudson-Butler asking for confirmation of my account details so she could investigate the matter. Late is very much better than never!

Based on previous experience of dealing with ISPs via Twitter, I am hopeful that Helen will get the matter sorted. Typically, customer support staff dealing with matters in the public domain are better trained than those who do not.

Update #3 – 28th July, 2011

I’m pleased to note the Twitter team have acted quickly. Although the subsequent e-mails have been prefixed with ‘Without Prejudice’ I can say that we are now moving in the right direction and a refund has been offered. There is a slight discrepancy in that Talk Talk are offering to refund the amount which is currently “outstanding” on the dial-up account further to my cancellation of the direct debit, rather than the amount I had paid up until that point. However, I am confident this will be resolved soon enough. Watch this space!

Update #4 – 2nd August, 2011

The case is now being handled by Jo Sontowski from the High Level Resolutions team, who maintains the correct refund has been offered. From what I can gather, Talk Talk’s records only date back to the time Opal took over Pipex.

I now need to scan a copy of the original ‘Welcome to Pipex DSL’ letter and send this to Jo Sontowski to confirm their records are incomplete. Once this is done I see no reason why the case cannot be closed.

Update #5 – 3nd August, 2011: The Talk Talk U-Turn

Yesterday’s e-mail from Jo Sontowski contained the following:

The amount that has been credited back to you is correct, as this is when the new dsl service went live (April 2010) which totals £226.62.

I am unable to credit back any further, as the dial up service will have been the only service that you had at the time, and was still being used.

To me, this implies that Talk Talk are willing to refund charges on the dial-up account from the time the DSL account was activated. This makes complete sense in the context of previous correspondence with Jo Sontowski:

Firstly I would like to sincerely apologise for the delayed response to your initial complaint. There have been a number of changes at the company and due to this recent activity we have not been able to deal with customer’s queries & complaints as efficiently as we would like to. I appreciate the further inconvenience this has caused you and I hope you will accept my apology on behalf of TalkTalk

I am extremely sorry for the evident problems that you have faced after your dial account with Pipex remained live. As you know; the dial-up service was the forerunner of broadband and as such is a different service altogether; however when customers decided to take up the offer of broadband, they should have been advised to cancel their dial up account to avoid being charged for two services, and, in all but a few cases, this did happen.

So here we have Talk Talk apologising for their mistakes and acknowledging there were a number of customers who were charged for dial-up and DSL as a result. This led me to believe that the case could be resolved if I were to provide proof of the date my DSL account was opened. Simple? No.  Today’s email contains the following:

As I have mentioned in my letter to you; dial up is a stand alone product and it is not a product that you can upgrade., it was your responsibility to cease the service when it was no longer required. We cannot cease a stand alone product unless the customer informs us of their intention to cancel. I am sorry, but I will not be refunding back any further than I already have done. The refund is a gesture of goodwill on our part.

Let’s be honest now – this isn’t what you said. It’s quite clear that you had previously accepted the fact Pipex had misled customers resulting in some being charged for DSL and dial-up. Sadly, I was one of the ‘few’ effected by this. You can’t really try and blame me at this point.

In respect of Jo’s comment that she will “not be refunding back any further”, I can confirm that absolutely no refunds have been issued as at 15:00 on 3rd August, 2011.

Jo goes on to suggest that if I am not happy, I should put my concerns in writing. Ironic that less than a week ago her colleague, Lyndsey Dickinson, advised me that Talk Talk do not accept written correspondence.

It seems we’ve hit a brick wall with Jo Sontowski, despite the fact she has accepted Pipex’s mistakes and offered to refund back to the point at which DSL was activated. Unfortunately it seems she then got the huff upon realising her records are seven years out of date.

I’ll give the Twitter team one last try before I submit something via Money Claim Online. I’m now starting to see why Talk Talk perform so badly in OFCOM reports surrounding customer satisfaction (see here).

Update #6 – 3rd August, 2011: Bring out the big guns

Talk Talk have now sent a threatening e-mail, suggesting ‘further action’ will be taken if this blog post is not removed immediately. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

Further to contact from the Talk Talk twitter team, my complaint was escalated to the ‘High Level Resolutions team’ which led to the following:

- Talk Talk correctly identified my complaint;
- Talk Talk acknowledged their mistake which occurred when upgrading from dial-up to DSL;
- Talk Talk confirmed my case was not unique; and
- Talk Talk went on to offer a refund dating back to the installation of DSL.

Talk Talk’s records are inaccurate and they are more than 12 months out when it comes to the installation date. On the basis they offered a refund dating back to the point at which dial-up was upgraded to DSL, this didn’t seem like much of a problem. Surely, if I can provide proof of the installation date the correct refund can be applied?

You’d think so, although Jo Sontowski doesn’t agree. She’s now retracted (forgotten?) all previous comments and said I should like it or lump it. I’ve agreed to remove this post if the correct refund is applied – otherwise it’s staying right here.

Update #7 – 5th August, 2011: Firing Blanks

Another change of tone from Talk Talk. In their latest e-mail, there is no mention of the previously threatened legal action. However, they are now trying to claim that the dial-up account is still active on the basis that the original e-mail account is still in use.

To clarify the e-mail situation, the original account came with an @dial.pipex.com address, whilst the dsl uses the same prefix with @dsl.pipex.com.

At the time of upgrading, the @dial.pipex.com address should have been set as an alias to @dsl.pipex.com, however the opposite arrangement was applied. This became clear in July of this year after numerous conversations with Talk Talk technical support, further to a loss of e-mail service.

As mentioned much earlier in this entry, a helpful chap in the technical team resolved the issue, so the ‘dial’ address is now an alias to the main ‘dsl’ account.

While this mix-up is once again down to Pipex, it would seem Talk Talk are willing to try and use it as a way to wriggle out of their previous offer.

I’ve pointed out Talk Talk are clutching at straws and await another response.

Update #8 – 9th August, 2011: time to contact the Directors

A bit of a belated update this time as it’s now clear I’m going round in circles with Joanna Sontowski. Her latest e-mail came through on Friday and it is more confused than anything she has sent previously.

Joanna opens with clarification that I am due a refund from the time dial-up was upgraded to DSL:

In my letter to you dated 28/07/2011 I did say “and am happy to refund the invoices from the date that your broadband service went live”

She then goes on to say that the amount she has offered has nothing to do with the current DSL account. Instead, she now claims that the refund is the amount currently outstanding on the dial-up account – in other words, isn’t actually a refund.

Joanna continues to offer assurance that she can offer a refund of all charges on the dial-up account since the date it should have been closed (i.e. the date I upgraded to DSL). Despite this, she seems to think this is possible without actually making a refund. I think we’re at a dead end with this one!

The Talk Talk website provides the following information:

Tiscali UK Limited trading as TalkTalk
Registered in England & Wales No. 3408171
11 Evesham Street, London W11 4AR

As a Limited Company, the addresses of Tiscali’s directors are readily available online. I’m not 100% sure of the legalities when it comes to publishing these details so for the moment, I shall simply say I have the directors’ home addresses.

I’m sure they will be delighted to have some insight into the kind of customer service that gives Talk Talk such a bad reputation. Obviously, Joanna’s name will feature heavily in my letter to the directors!

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  • Sarj

    You’re not alone in your dispute with Talk Talk. Just search the web for ‘Talk Talk problems’ and you’ll find hundreds (maybe thousands) of people in a similar situation.

    I know you haven’t (can’t?) post the full e-mail dialogue with Talk Talk but it looks very much like they have offered you exactly what was required but now aren’t prepared to follow through.

    It seems ridiculous that they are now threatening legal action, which could cost them thousands of points, rather than just refunding you what is due (which I assume is less?)

    Sarj

    • http://ceo.smartergroup.biz/adam-arnold-smartergroup-ceo/ AdamArnold

      Sarj,

      Thanks for your comment.

      A quick search brought me to this article on Bitter Wallet:

      http://www.bitterwallet.com/talktalk-come-top-of-the-rubbish-heap-in-new-poll

      The article begins:

      “It takes a special kind of effort for almost a quarter of your customers to be dissatisfied with your level of service, so it’s hats off to TalkTalk, who have been awarded that dubious honour in a poll of landline and broadband consumers.”

      And the first comment reads:

      “I’m guessing that the October 2010 date would be directly related to the Talk Talk migration of Tiscali customers onto their network, which resulted in Tiscali customers losing internet connectivity and phone lines for periods of up to 3 months and then still not even having webmail. I was with Tiscali for 3 years without a peep, I left as soon as Talk Talk bought them becuase the network was up and down like a gang of professional footballers on a drunk girl in a hotel room. When I spoke to them to cancel the bloke on the other other just sounded resigned to the fact that people were leaving in droves. Still, it didn’t stop them from randomly taking money out from my account until I noticed, stopped the DD and shouted at them, they put it down to a “billing error”, so it appears no systems at Talk Talk work properly, not even the finance systems.”

      Digging deeper into the search results the comments are pretty much the same – Talk Talk take quite a bashing.

      On that note, I’m really quite surprised by their threats of legal action if I fail to remove this post. It’s pretty tame compared to what else is out there!

      Adam

  • http://www.consultantstohelp.co.uk Paul Alves

    Hi Adam,
    As I was reading the above it reminded me my experience some internet suppliers. Sadly you are among the few thousand people affected!You can read more here: http://www.broadbandchoices.co.uk/talktalk-fined-gbp-3m-by-ofcom-180811.html
    It seems that they were fined £3million by Ofcom and forced to pay out their customers. The good news is that you can still push the issue further up by building your case. You should gather main facts with dates, people and services you contacted, mail, emails reponses,and request some help/orientation from ofcom.org.uk and other internet associations! Hope this helps
    Paul

    • http://ceo.smartergroup.biz/adam-arnold-smartergroup-ceo/ AdamArnold

      Hi Paul,

      Thank you for your comment.

      You have reminded me I still need to post a follow up to this entry.

      I am pleased to note Talk Talk did – eventually – resolve the matter. The full amount owed was paid to me via BACS transfer plus a small additional payment as a gesture of goodwill.

      Adam

  • http://www.consultantstohelp.co.uk Paul Alves

    Oopps, here’s the link for Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme :http://www.cisas.org.uk/

    Paul

  • Kevin

    Astonishing and informative. I’m currently researching Talk Talk Business for competence and level of service. The tone of your post conveys sentiments that we’re all too familiar with these days; not an ounce of common-sense between the pillar and the post!

    The choices at my exchange are BT Wholesale, Sky Broadband, and Talk Talk – “would Sir like to be hung, drawn, or quartered?”.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Kevin,

      Thank you for your post.

      The most frustrating aspect for me was that the ‘high level resolutions team’ immediately realised the problem and said they would rectify it, only to do a COMPLETE u-turn when I pointed out a small error in their calculation.

      Eventually – with lots of tweeting and this blog post – they did do the correct thing and refunded the overcharges for the full period.

      For the time being my Dad continues to use Talk Talk as the account balance is correct AND they have reduced the monthly charge to something more realistic!

      It’s just a shame that outcome required so much screaming and shouting. Smaller companies would never get away with such poor levels of customer service.

      Adam