Questions of Cash: March 2015

Q.  I connected to a conference call through my home BT phone line.  I hung up at the end of the call, but the line connection did not close.  The next day I realised and phoned BT to tell them – but BT took five days to close the connection.  I have now been charged £134.34 for the first day, £124.20 each for the second and third days, £124.36, for the fourth day and £129.76 each for the fifth day and sixth days.  As a result, BT took £865.95 from our account!  BT has accepted it was at fault and promised a refund within five working days.  It is now over the five days and anyway the refund should have been made immediately, not that we should have been charged anyway. What is more, I never seemed to receive my online bill and so I had no idea about the charge until my partner noticed that BT had taken £865.95 from our account.  CW, London.

A   Following our intervention, BT has refunded the charges for the call not being closed properly.  A spokesman for BT says: “We have apologised to [the reader] for the problem and the delay in refunding him. He was charged £776.62 in error and we have arranged to credit this back to his bank account.”  We assume the balance of the charge, £89.33, relates to properly levied charges for your phone account.  But BT disputes that you did not receive an online bill.  Its spokesman says: “Every customer with online billing receives an email the day the bill is produced to advise them their bill is available to view if they log in to My BT.”  However, you insist “I have no trace of the email — BT’s call operative was actually unaware of whether customers get emails until I prompted her.”  However, there is a broader and more worrying issue.  We have had a noticeable increase in complaints about BT in recent weeks and this shows no signs of abating – BT clearly needs to address its customer service difficulties.

Q.  In March 2002 I took out a consolidation loan with Firstplus which I believe is now owned by Barclays Bank PLC. As part of the consolidation Firstplus sent a cheque to First National Bank (now GE Money Home Lending Limited) for the sum of £17,191.59 in full settlement of an unsecured loan.  But GE Money claims that no lump sum was paid to settle the account. However, First National corresponded with Firstplus regarding security documents and the removal of a legal charge over my property following settlement of the loan. My loan was unsecured and amounted to £6,653 in 2002. There was an extremely high settlement figure of over £17,000, but I was told that this is often the case with early redemption.  This appears to be a calamitous case of mistaken identity.  The Financial Ombudsman Service tells me that it cannot consider complaints about events which occurred prior to 6 April 2007.  I am now at a complete loss to know what to do to recover the lost money.  MY, Edinburgh.

A  It can be very difficult to uncover details of events that go back as far as this.  We have spent several months investigating the matter, with the help of Barclays Bank and GE Money, but we cannot be certain that we have been able to gather all the information.  As far as we can determine, you took out two loans – one secured on your property, the other unsecured.  This seems to explain why the charge on your property was released and the large discrepancy that you report between the amount borrowed and the cost of discharging the loan.  A spokesman for Barclays Bank says: “We know that in 2002, [the reader] informed Firstplus, part of Barclays, that she wanted to consolidate a loan with First National. [The reader] was advised to arrange for First National to provide a settlement figure. The settlement figure [was]f £17,191.59. Firstplus sent a cheque for £17,191.59 to First National quoting the details provided. The cheque was cashed in March 2002.”  GE Money says it is confident that its loan was correctly issued, though you continue to express scepticism about this.  However, you have paid the balance of the account as you are unable to prove that the debt is not valid and your credit rating was damaged because it was outstanding. Although we have not been able to clear up the confusion entirely, you kindly comment “All I can say is you’ve made more progress with GE in a short time than I’ve made in years.”

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