Should give TV licensing something to think about!
A woman who took a case for harassment against British Gas has won a settlement from the company. One legal expert said that the case should act as a warning to all firms to make sure their debt collection and complaint handling operations communicate. Lisa Ferguson took the energy giant to court over a string of threatening …
From what I read and what I hear from friends most people have been pursued by some corporation or other incorrectly at some time. Although this does seem like an extraordinary case of the company being incapable of dealing with a dispute.
I have a friend who is constantly pursued by finance companies because he shares the surname, first initial and date of birth with somebody who seems to love to rack up bad debt. He's even had "debt collection agents" turn up at his house AFTER informing the companies on numerous occasions that he is a completely different person. Also he has received phone calls claiming to be holding a parcel for him and found people snooping around his property.
I hope this case sets a precedent for being able to punish companies who pursue either the wrong people or unnecessarily hound customers over the companies own mistake. I will certainly be advising my friend to consider citing this case as an example and taking somebody to court over the matter he is suffering.
I can only hope that TV Licensing will realise that sending letters containing legal threats to those without televisions, threatening "home visits", and writing to households *after* being advised that there is no television there may well be construed in the same manner, as an act of harrassment.
I spent the best part of a YEAR trying to get a correct bill from British Gas. They started with a year's worth of estimated (pulled directly out of their arse) values, then when they had a correct reading they made up all the data in between.
Then i started receiving bills for at least seven different amounts each seemingly more random than the last. Absolute insanity.
"... British Gas's claims that in order to win a harassment case a person would need to demonstrate that the company had "actual knowledge" that its behaviour was harassment."
Isn't that what they call an "insanity defense?" Is there any chance that a public claim that they have no "actual knowledge" of what they are doing will come back to haunt them?
Great story. Hope she gets a good price for the television rights.
My girlfriend has been on the receiving end of such treatment from Sky now for the best part of 18 months. Guess what we're going to do?
When she moved in with me she cancelled her Sky subscription, but they failed to act on it and continued to charge her for another four months. Despite repeated letters and calls they continue to harass her for money she does not owe...with threats of legal action, bailiff visits etc.
The wife's being pursued for a disputed sum by one of the mobile companies. Their bahaviour has been utterly despicable, with four (yes four!) debt collection agencies chasing her.
To date, she's replied to 31 letters, her mistake being that she assumes there's someone (a) reasonable and (b) literate, at the other end of the process.
At least now she can refer to this and point out that this precedent suggests they may be criminally liable. Not that that will stop the cretins, of course.
I was with powergen in a rented house, I moved out and bought my own place. About 6 months down the line I got some letters from a debt collection agency, after about 3 of them and 3 phone calls, and faxing them the contract showing the date I moved out was before the period of the bill and also the landlords name and address they were still just chasing me.
I was still with powergen at the new house and one phone call to their complaints department explaining the situation and that if I heard anything other than an appology from the debt collection agency I would switch suppliers, sorted the matter out for me.
So well done PowerGen and bad on you BG.
I did blog about this 2 weeks ago, so well done for catching up :-):
In this case British Gas were quite wrong about the debt (this is a well known problem that has existed for some time in their system for removing customers from their database) but what if they had not been? A more interesting question (raised by Lord Justice Jacob's comments) is when does trying to collect a debt lawfully owed become harassment?
Not harassment because, basically, you should have just ignored us?! Does that apply even when they send the bailiffs round to take your belongings? I've had this nonsense with British Gas myself, and will NEVER, EVER use them again. It most definitely does constitute harassment. To Lisa: Well done. To British Gas: F*** you very much.
I wish I have the time and money to get this through with NTL a few years back. Their provisioning system decided that my modem is unregistered and put an ACL on its IP. As a result the Internet went south and they failed to fix it for 3 weeks so we ended up discussing the matter through debt collectors as they continued trying to charge me for a service which they could not deliver.
Should have probably used this to deal with them at the time. Bummer...
I hope someone uses this test case to sue the shit out of the TV licensing scum. As anyone in the UK knows, TVLA assume you're a criminal until you tell them otherwise by pointing out you don't have/use a TV ...and then 3 months later, they assume you're a criminal again and start harassing you AGAIN, ad infinitum.
They even publicise the fact that their letters are designed to be threatening and intimidating. To anyone who's not received one of these, my advice (speaking from experience) is to ignore it, and all the subsequent ones. And if anyone knocks at your door asking about whether you have a TV, tell them to piss off. There's nothing they can do about it.
My God, she had to spend £10,000 of her own money to this case to court? No wonder companies like BG can do what ever they please, your average Joe simply dosnt have the resources to challenge them. My family had a similar indecent with O2 after they messed up our billing. No matter how many letters we wrote asking them to clarify the situation we kept on receiving red letters threatening legal action. It was only after the bailiffs actually knocked on the door and we explained to them what was happening did it all stop.
<quote>"[British Gas] also made the point that the correspondence was computer generated and so, for some reason which I do not really follow, Ms Ferguson should not have taken it as seriously as if it had come from an individual,"</quote>
So from British Gas point of view, it's customers shouldn't take the invoice seriously since it was automated? Most correspondence now-a-days is automated and made to look like a person have written it with the intention of having a person read it. This include legal action threats, where a template is used then the blanks are filled-in by a person or pulled from a database.
"[British Gas] also made the point that the correspondence was computer generated and so, for some reason which I do not really follow, Ms Ferguson should not have taken it as seriously as if it had come from an individual,"
Pretty sure all the ludicrously high bills I get from them are computer generated, think I'm going to stop taking them seriously............
There have been countless cases over the years of organisations relying on the excuse of their systems and processes being at afult for waging a relentless war of intimidation on individuals, then offering a mealy-mouthed apology only to do it all again on some other unsuspecting soul.
Whether this ruling will stop such cases happening again is very unlikely. But this case will certainly give a person a much bigger stick to wave in front of offending organisations in the future.
Up yours, Bastard Gas.
They did exactly the same thing to me - sent me a string of nasty letters and even bailiffs for a previous tennants' bill. I called them several times, each time being reassured by some useless, foreign call centre drone, barely able to form a coherent sentence, that the letters would stop. Instead they put my name on the previous tennants' bill, in effect creating 2 accounts under my name for the same address. And then sent round the bailiffs when I refused to pay.
Good on you Lisa Ferguson! May there be many more people who take a leaf from your book and bring this robbing behemoth of a corporation to its knees.
How many people have to suffer in silence because they can't stump up £10,000 to follow through court?
The same applies to many areas of our law and is why consumer rights are so willfully ignored by so many companies.
I'm involved with a used car dealership and on the verge of court, only because my case is so strong am I considering such action, at £180 per hour I can't pay a solicitor (even though I have a full time job)
Should be that I could complain to trading standards or the department of transport, neither of whom have shwon the slightest interest beyond quoting my rights at me, rights which are useless without any will to enforce them.
... that even if BG had been unaware of the conduct of its servants or employees prior to the court caase, it should try to throw the case out rather than accepting blame honestly and dealing with it.
It doesn't happen often, but in this particular case the judge has actually set the CORRECT precedent.
I had threatening letters from Demon's debt collection company over 2 years after I left them, a friend had similar, the letters continued despite me forwarding an email from Demon customer service saying I had no outstanding account with them....several months and threat letters stopped when I sent a registered letter saying to take me to court, whether it was this or the fact that it would have been the most expensive £11.50 to collect I have no idea
No matter how you dress this up, BG were in the wrong. A former customer advised a human being (not a computer) that they had changed provider and the human being (again, NOT a computer) assured the (ex)customer that all had been resolved. But it hadn't. BG has a broken process which is the result of people, not computers, and should admit their incompetence.
Also, their claim that computers sent the letters is utter drivel. Did the computer actually WRITE the letter? No. It was written by a person and stored on a computer. If I leave a dozen threatening voicemails on somebody's answer machine I can't get off scott-free because the MACHINE actually spoke to the recipient. Total rot!
Finally a positive result for common sense!
Without detracting at all from the courage of the complainant I note the following [MY CAPS]:
Lord Justice Jacob praised Ferguson for taking a stand against the company at GREAT PERSONAL FINANCIAL RISK. "It is one of the GLORIES of this country that every now and then one of its citizens is prepared to take a stand against the big battalions of government or industry ... were she ultimately to lose she would probably have to pay British Gas's CONSIDERABLE costs."
Surely it is one of the huge iniquities of this country that in taking any organisation - or even well funded person - to court you take on an unlimited and uninsurable liability. This largely constrains such actions to those in society who have nothing to lose and those who have a large surfeit of capital. The 'middle class' are effectively forbidden recourse in law.
My ex wife received, over 8 years, a six figure sum from the Legal Services Commission, to bring a succession of child residence and financial cases against me. She will never have to pay it back, and despite the fact she lost every case, I have to shoulder the enormous debt that I accumulated in contesting these cases. Naturally, solicitors given access to unlimited funding, either through the LSC or by virtue of the resources of their client, attempt to win their cases by outspending their opponents. This seems to me to run absolutely counter to the requirements of justice in this regard.
Superb - and about time too.
Big companies need to stop being so arrogant and to take responsibility for their actions. There is no excuse for treating people badly. People before business I say.
This also puts a nail in the coffin of the 'pretend to care while screwing you' style of "Customer Service".
Bill apparently unpaid. 'Debt' passed onto debt collector. Debt collector just writes letters to try and scare you into paying.
Debt collectors are just private companies with no special powers. They merely write letters.
They are just a way to avoid British Gas taking anyone to court.
Fair enough if you don't owe anything and can get some compensation. But practically, just ignore the junkmail.
Private parking companies use the same tactics, but the difference being that there is no debt in the first place.
"more interesting question (raised by Lord Justice Jacob's comments) is when does trying to collect a debt lawfully owed become harassment?"
Basicly, never... However action on a debt under an IVA, CVA, bankrupcy or court order is limited, but can inclued deductions from your wages, bank account, a charging order on your property or ballifs.
Also, for people talking about ballifs coming round, if they have a court order against you they are ballifs and you have little excuse as there has already been alot of action. If there has been no action they are "debt colection agents" and have no powers beyond handing you a letter and asking nicely if you will pay.
BG switched me back from the .alt supplier I'd jumped to as soon as I had the chance, despite my clearly saying to the cold-call sales droid "No, I will never be a BG customer ever again, do NOT make me your customer". I refused to pay, they passed it to a bunch of knuckle-walking debt collectors. I repeatedly called and explained, was assured they wouldn't be contacted again, then get another red-lettered letter threatening legal action six months later. This went on literally for years. In the end they claimed to have recordings of the sales call, "Great!" I said, "Produce a recording of me asking to be your customer and I'll pay every penny". Lies, lies, and more lies mixed with threats. I'm sure these sort of tactics screwed a lot of money from people who didn't owe it in the first place. $BG eq 'scumbags of the first order'.
Re' the TVLA, I wrote to them about four years ago after receiving just a single extremely threatening and offensive letter, explaining that I hadn't owned a TV in well over a decade and never intended owning one again, and that if they sent me another extremely offensive letter in any way similar to the one I had just received I would have them charged with breach of Section 5 of the Public Order Act on the grounds that they were causing me 'harassment, distress or alarm'. I'm not even sure that Act is still in force. It worked though. I got an apology and have heard nothing since. If they want to play bully, let's play it properly.
Of course, the next move is to throw your telly through their office window...
Mine's the new coat that I bought rather than wasting my dosh to watch shite like Big Brother.
Is it H3G (aka 3) by any chance? My missus has just reached settlement via the ombudsman after 5 years' difficulties. 3 even amitted no debt existed, then resurrected it and sold it to a collection agency. Our MP's view "there's lots of bad service out there, nothing I can do to help".
@ various TVLA posters (and at risk of drawing flames):
Their letters have got more human recently. As was the lady I spoke to recently. Can't tell about the follow up yet - watch this space.
And yes, I have several years' experience of being accused of criminal behaviour by them. Can't wait until the day when possessing a radio receiver won't indicate possible spies for the kaiser...
Fitness who set debt collectors onto me. I rang them up and had the call recording software
going. I explained the amount was not due etc etc. I asked him what they were planning to
do. He said "we will come around and see you" . I said is that a threat. He said "yes".
I then told him I had taped the conversation and he went strangely silent ,lol. End of
debt and debt collection.
I'm not surprised by this. The SAP system that runs billing and CRM for BG Business was ill designed, built by idiots from Wipro, and tested and run by muppets in Leicester.
I understand that the BG residential "Jupiter" system is still not right after 6 years and after throwing £450m at it.
Centrica as a whole has a culture of slopey shoulders and corporate backstabbing so I'm not surprised that they (a) tried to wriggle out of this, and (b) that no-one took responsibility to resolve this in a professional manner.
You probably won't read this Lisa - but very well done. The BG machine is interested in one thing and one thing only - charging you as much as possible for the least amount of service.
I know I was in the thick of it for 3 years.
British Gas are a waste of space, I too will never use them again EVER after a right royal cock up over and over in the past.
As for blaming automated systems, what was so automated about a person taking a complaint by phone AND another by letter? Nothing. What was automated about these people ACTING on these correspeondences and closing acounts/bills/issues so the automated system stopped sending nags? Nothing. Let's face it BG are like Sky and just after our money and have no sense of customer service.
"Bulldog DSL were sending me bills and threats of courts for 2 years for a phone line that NEVER EVEN EXISTED!!
Shame I never thought of suing the B******Ds for the stress."
Likewise, took me 20 months to get them off my back after they totally and utterly failed to install broadband at our place. 6 months of them taking the money from my account before I managed to stop them (and get it back) and then over a year of "you're not paying for your connection! You owe us money!" letters. And when I finally started sending them letters via registered post and threatening to go to OFCOM I was asked if there was a problem and would I like to cancel my account?
Could happily have gone to their headquarters with an axe and murdered the lot of them.
<quote>"[British Gas] also made the point that the correspondence was computer generated and so, for some reason which I do not really follow, Ms Ferguson should not have taken it as seriously as if it had come from an individual,"</quote>
So the correspondence is serious enough to warrant debt collectors and threatening legal action by BG, but the 'customer' shouldn't take it too seriously at all....
Nice one. As perfect a definition of Catch-22 as I've ever come across.
She won a settlement, the court has decided on the matter.
Not out of court, _in_ the court.
The damages amounted to 10,000, 5000 was the damage done by the harassment and 5000 was the costs of bringing the case.
BG's attempted 20K is taking the piss, it's about time a cap was introduced on legal costs in court, forcing them to relate to the damage claimed by both parties.
Just to add to the 'me too' stories but with a new set of muppets. We had mail forwarding set up for 6 months after leaving our rented house and buying one about 2 miles away.
About 18 months later, we had bailiffs at the door of our new house demanding 18 months worth of council tax. No previous letters from the council, they had all been sent to the old house.
Fortunately, I was working near the council offices and walked down to the complaints area. This was about 4:45. After being seen, the lady behind the counter agreed there was no debt and tried to call the collections department who had all gone home so there was no-one to call off the bailiffs.
I took out my book and refused to move until I had received a call from the bailiffs themselves to say they were leaving. I got the call at about 5:30pm with just one manager and the cleaning staff left in the building!
I don't watch TV, but I do own one (use it for DVDs which as a technicality is fine :) )
Got the first letter after I cancelled the licence, got a second letter despite calling them and telling them of the situation.. 3rd time, called them and asked to speak to a supervisor, told them the names of who I had talked to previously, problems went away for a few months, but alas the letter came back.. this time ignored.. never heard a peep since!
BG have been just as bad, but if you call them, make a song and dance about it, they'll give you credit. Good example is a bill arriving along with a copy of the "You haven't paid us yet" letter on the same day!
I've got 400 owed _TO_ME_ by Barclays. Case on hold cos of OFT bank charge test case. Got all the letters they ever sent (all from when it was "to cover our costs" rather than a "fee" for the "service") Debt collector letters still coming, even after informing them repeatedly that I am owed money, that its disputed, and on hold at a the bloody court.
Now they gonna get pwned! Pwned long, and pwned hard. (aka A Jolly Good Rogering...)
My father in law died. We returned his TV licence for a proata refund ,which duly arrived.
His house was sold and a new owned moved in.
we then had a rude demand from TVL demanding the renewal of my father on law's licence.
We wrote back to say he had moved to the c/o the local church where hewas buried, and that they should write to him there.
Also we said that if they didnt believe this they should send round one of their fancy detector vans to his old address and check it out.
We heard nothing more.
Im now eligable for a free TV licence. Im just awaiting a renewal demand letter with which Im looking to having fun with!!!.
On a more serious note, BG had the cheek to demand payment for gas supplied to my daughter's flat for 2 yrs BEFORE she moved in.
The man I dealt with actually gave me his place of work address as I offered to come and see him in person to sort it out. I told him I looked forward to seeing him in court.
I then suggested that if as an agent of BG he didnt stop their harrassment he would bring misfortune unto himself.
It got things done at last.
Nice to see a crap billing system take a hit. I remember many years ago dealing with an insurance broker (large 2-letter outfit) who had (a) sent me a letter confirming that I didn't owe them anything after we'd had a misunderstanding on something and (b) kept sending me letters telling me to pay them some money. The same lot had done something similar to my sister a few months earlier, and it caused her a lot of stress before they finally acknowledged it all as a mistake, so I was interested to see what would happen this time. We got to the "pay up within seven days or we'll take you to court" stage, so I wrote back with a "go on then". A nice apologetic letter turned up next, someone had finally taken the time to check everything properly and realised they'd screwed up.
As for the TVLA, go get 'em! I just used to file their stuff in the bin when I didn't have a TV, although I did leave an old computer monitor in the space where a TV might go, just in case an inspector wanted to fight through the rose bushes and peek in the window. Sadly none of them ever called round when I was at home.
When I split with my partner, I received a notice that I owed council tax payments against her house. I had been paying the CT via direct debit for a number of years however when we parted I shut down all the direct debits for her house and took time to notify each one that I no longer lived at her address. Nevertheless My local council took me to court even though they knew I no longer lived there, they said I had to prove that I had paid elsewhere ( I had moved into my parents house in another council area and hence did not need to pay as two adults were already registered). Luckily by the time it went to court I had moved again and did have proof of CT payment otherwise their system would have charged me twice. Throughout the dialogue with the original council's tax collector, the agent was aggressive and unwilling to listen but kept repeating that he would see me in court. The process for CCJ is far to open to abuse, the courts are supposed to required that the person being charged is notified of the debt, however no proof is ever required from the people bringing the case, in this instance a normal letter to the wrong address was sufficient. I only found out about mine by accident, if I had not caught it in time then I would have lost my credit rating just as I was about to get a mortgage.
The postal service in this country is no longer reliable enough to be take as proof of anything, but it is the normal for CCJ's to send unregistered letters and this is all the proof of notification the courts require.
Firstly, regarding TVLA threatening behaviour, if you don't have a TV you should just throw the letter in the bin. They have no right to enter your house, and can only issue a fine if they can prove you have a TV, which usually requires documented evidence of you buying one and/or a successful TEMPEST emission being picked up by the detector vans.
I still remember a particularly funny occasion when I was in the military. I ran the telecomms for a large base and we received a bill for £18 for sex chat lines. When I inquired about this bill I found out the company in question run a service where you phone them up and they bill back the owner of the line in question the bill for the chat line. The phone we were being billed for was a public payphone. I told them that we weren't going to pay, and they tried to spin out some line about a verbal contract meaning we would have to pay. I explained that any verbal contract would be with the person who used the phone, not with us, and formally put the bill in dispute in writing. We then got various final demands before they handed things on to a debt collector (along with a £70 charge for debt collection services). When the debt collector wrote demanding £88 I phoned them up, explained the situation, and quite happily told them that they were welcome to come around with baseball bats, because I worked behind wire protected with guys with guns. We won!
Some 7 years ago my gas account with British Gas was stolen by another supplier in the name of a person who I have never had any contact with and am not even sure existed. The first that I knew of this was when BG sent me a letter saying 'sorry you are leaving us'. It turned out that BG had failed to contact me within the period under which, according to some very flawed legal rule, they had the right to stop the switch. A BG person then even went as far as telling me that they would lose their Licence if they complained after the deadline. A letter to the BG Chairman produced quick remedial action in that case.
John said-> "Surely it is one of the huge iniquities of this country that in taking any organisation - or even well funded person - to court you take on an unlimited and uninsurable liability. This largely constrains such actions to those in society who have nothing to lose and those who have a large surfeit of capital. The 'middle class' are effectively forbidden recourse in law."
To quote Marge Simpson: "People like us can't afford justice."
Are in my mind the most dumb and error prone.
They issued a CCJ against me without actually informing me that they were taking me to court. I only found out about when I checked my credit rating about 6 months later when applying to rent a new house.
I wouldn't have minded so much had I been delinquent in my repayments. Luckily though, their telephone recording system provided proof that months before they issued the CCJ I had telephoned them and agreed my repayments schedule, and that I had been servicing that debt, and that issuing a CCJ was a big f**k up on their part.
The wankers then had the cheek to try to pass the cost of removing the incorrect CCJ on to me. I still have the letters of apology.
I now hear that this sorry bunch of imbaciles has let millions of pounds of UK taxpayers money walk out of the country along with the foreign students who borrowed it and who have ZERO intention of paying it back!!!
Apparently they have the addresses of the students parents so could pursue them - but WON'T (i.e. not CAN'T... but WON'T) because of potential data protection issues.