This thread has exposed how common spivery is. The following (very long, apologies in advance) is a copy of a letter I sent to the the Sunday Times; never got a response though.
At the risk of sounding like Princess Leia, but feeling just as beleaguered, help me, Ms Wright, you’re my only hope. I was reading your column last Sunday and noticed that you managed to intervene to help the person who had been mis-sold loan protection insurance. I find myself in a similar if rather more complicated situation. I apologize in advance for the length of this missive.
In late July 2007 we were visited by a salesman form a telecom company, Affordable Digital Solutions. They offered to provide the following:
1. Broadband capable of accepting e-mails to our existing .aol address.
3. An MP3 player.
5. 1000 minutes of free calls each month.
We were sold the system on the premise that we would have one monthly payment of £99.00+VAT and would receive no other bills; he looked at our usage and it was clear that we have never gone over 1000 minutes in one month. At this point we were asked for a cheque for the first three months payments and this was given to John Marshall in the amount of £348.97 made payable to ADSL.
The first indication that we had been seriously misled came on the day the system was installed, 04.07.07. On completion of his work the engineer presented us with a maintenance agreement which would cost £199.99 per year over the term of the contract with the first year free, but only if we signed said agreement which was apparently with a leasing company called Tower Leasing Ltd. and not ADSL. This we refused to do as no mention of this was ever made when we were sold the product. We then discovered that there was no voicemail included with the system as we had been promised, no mp3 player and no broadband connection. Following a telephone conversation with ADSL we reluctantly agreed to the installation of an answerphone as a temporary solution to the lack of voicemail and they promised to arrange for the mp3 player to be sent.
It was at this point that we discovered that we would not be getting broadband as they would have not been able to maintain our current internet address in spite of the fact that we were given assurances by the sales rep that this would indeed be the case. ADSL suggested paying our aol monthly charge as they were not providing the service we had been sold. I have written to them regarding this and enclosing our monthly bill but this has not been paid.
We signed for receipt of the equipment but with caveats stating our dissatisfaction with the end product.
Voicemail was finally installed on 25.07.07 and an mp3 player arrived on the 31.08.07 (the latter item too little too late)
The next surprise came when we received a letter from Tower Leasing explaining that they had assigned the lease to Siemens Financial Services Ltd. This would not have been a problem but when we received correspondence from Siemens we were astonished not only that we were apparently being charged for the first three installments again, but that there was to be an additional arrangement fee of £95.00 (again never mentioned by the sales rep). Also we were now told that we have to maintain insurance at a further cost of £12.79 per month; we were already covered on our office insurance. At this stage I contacted Malcolm Workman at Siemens although he never responded to my call. I spoke to someone else at Siemens who said that as the cheque for the first three months payments was payable to ADSL they were not prepared to help us and that I should take the matter up with ADSL.
The final surprise was an extremely confusing invoice from ADSL, showing charges for calls. When we queried this with them we were told that calls to mobiles were excluded from the agreement (once again not mentioned by the sales rep).
We have repeatedly tried to sort this out by both telephone and e-mail with ADSL (who repeatedly stated that there would be no charges on top of the £99 +VAT and then kept invoicing us monthly with additional charges) and Siemens and neither of them seems prepared address the situation. Finally, in frustration we cancelled all our direct debits with both of them and tried to cancel the service. ADSL cancelled our attempt to move to BT and then cut us off without warning for an unpaid bill of about £65 which they had promised we would never receive. That week we lost a large contract which we had been awarded which I believe was no coincidence, as having a disconnected phone is obviously not good for business. At this point we decided to wind down the partnership and work out of my home.
We feel that from the moment we agreed to lease the system we have been treated appallingly from the obvious mis-selling, lying and concealment of the true cost per month that was part of the sales pitch to the desultory efforts ADSL and Siemens have made to resolve the problem. We have on several occasions told them to come and remove the equipment if matters cannot be resolved to our satisfaction. As they had not fulfilled their part of the contract and we had totally lost faith in them as our service provider, we asked them to remove the telephone system immediately and cancel the contract.
I complained to CISAS about ADSL and they found against us without addressing any of the points I had tried to make regarding unfair contracts, although we have rejected their decision. I then complained to the Financial Ombudsman Service and have just received a very confusing letter from them saying that as CISAS have already investigated, they do not have to.
We consulted a solicitor who agreed that we had been treated shamefully but advised us that the cost of litigation would be disproportionate to the amount in dispute and we should try to negotiate a settlement. This we have tried to do to no avail.
He also advised us to pay off the money ADSL were claiming we owed them (we were being billed monthly for a service we no longer had and kept trying to cancel) in full and final settlement. This we did; they cashed the cheque and then re-activated an old cancelled direct debit and started to take money from our business account each month.
I realize we have been naive in signing the contract with Siemens/Tower Leasing/ADSL, but would like some acknowledgement of the fact that we were lied to by the salesman from ADSL in order to persuade us to do this. We were told that the £99.00 + VAT was for the phone service, the phones were presented as a sort of free add-on. I had no trouble believing this as I had just bought two perfectly serviceable handsets for my home for £30.00. It may be obvious to someone with legal training that we were signing a lease agreement for equipment, but it certainly was not to me. I would never have agreed to sign had I been told that I was agreeing to pay over £7000.00 for equipment worth a few hundred pounds at most, that the contract was not cancelable and would last for six years. Nobody in their right mind would.
As there is no way we can pay this money in a lump sum (we offered to pay the total for the length of time the phones were on our premises), and their only counter-offer was £6000.00 immediately or £581.00 a month for 12 months I think this is going to end up in court where presumably I run the risk of incurring costs as well. I am in a state of total despair and feel that I am being hounded by a huge company with vast resources over an unfair debt.
I thought there was legislation in place to prevent consumers being treated like this, but no one so far has responded to any of the points I have made regarding unfair contracts. I am just re-sent photocopies of the contract. I realize you may not be able to help me but I do feel at the very least others should be warned to be very careful what they sign.
I have kept all the documentary evidence if you need it should you feel you can help and again apologies for the length of this e-mail.