By Tony Collins
Six weeks ago BBC’s Watchdog broadcast an advert for BT Vision, which offers broadband-based pay-TV packages. “With BT Vision you won’t miss a thing,” says the advert.
Chris Hollins, a presenter of Watchdog, then tells millions of viewers:
“Big promises. Tempting promises. But according to customers who contacted Watchdog they are empty promises.”
Can BT always be trusted to deliver on its promises? BT Vision is a completely different part of the company that bids for joint venture and outsourcing contracts with local authorities. At the same time BT is marketing its services to Cornwall Council and other local authorities partly on the basis of its unified corporate strength, as a FTSE 100 company.
Can BT’s culture and practice be separated from one division to the next?
Maragret Outschoorn told Watchdog of how she had been five months without a proper service. Sue Bennett, another BT Vision customer, had had problems for two and a half years, since 2010. She told the programme she had been on the phone to BT Vision nearly every week, sometimes for two or three hours.
“Like others who contacted us Sue fell foul of BT Vision’s habit of passing customers from one person to another for weeks on end without sorting out their problem,” said Hollins.
Joe McCaffrey said he spent about 13 hours on the phone over a period of 18 days and each time he had to re-trace the history of his problems.
Breaking up can be hard to do
“So what if a customer decides there are just too many problems to navigate through and they just want to leave BT Vision?” asked Hollins. “Can they achieve their goal? Kieran Potter couldn’t. He was told he’d have to pay a £200 cancellation fee first.
“I ended up having an argument with them for the best part of 13 months saying I want to cancel; I want to leave,” said Potter. “By the time I did get them to cancel me they still wanted me to pay £70 which was in July this year, which I refused. The only reason they did cancel was because I threatened to get in touch with Watchdog.”
Earlier this year Ofcom revealed that for every 1,000 customers BT Vision received four times as many complaints as its nearest rivals. “We continue to hear from customers who are told they will be charged to leave even though their service is plagued with problems,” said Hollins.
Cornwall Council will decide tomorrow whether to go ahead with a mega-deal in which IT and other services are outsourced to BT. Some council officers and BT favour the services being delivered by a joint venture company that is owned completely by BT. Underlying the assumptions being made by the council is that BT would fulfil its promises and, if not, could be found in breach of contract. Remedies in the contract would give the council the ability to obtain compensation or terminate and bring services back in-house. A 134-page report to Cornwall’s councillors is underpinned by a catalogue of BT promises and guarantees.
But how easy would it be in reality to ensure that BT meets its promises? And how easy would it be in practice for the council to leave BT if termination became necessary?
BT’s response to Watchdog
“BT would like to apologise to the customers featured in the report. Where issues have occurred with BT Vision, we have made efforts to help customers to enjoy the service at its best.”
“However, it is clear that in these particular cases, we have failed to deliver the excellent and timely customer service customers would expect from BT. Where these customers have asked to leave, we have waived charges for leaving contracts early. We are also in the process of agreeing compensation, where appropriate, for some of these customers…”
A deal with BT may be good for Cornwall Council and its taxpayers. The evidence we have seen so far looks one-sided though.
The council’s presentations to councillors appear to make the assumption that BT’s promises and guarantees are inviolable, that contractual remedies for any breaches would be easy to enforce, and termination would be straightforward. Could this be because of what TS Eliot called the inability of humankind to bear very much reality?