An example was made of Medeleine Lees who received a call telling her that her contract with Orange was about to run out, and that she could upgrade her phone and switch to a more suitable price plan. She agreed. But her bills rose sharply, and she realised that – in spite of having explained her needs clearly – the new tariff included too many minutes of call time and not enough text messages. So she called Orange.
"Orange told me that my agreement wasn’t with them, but with a third party – which was news to me. They said I needed to speak to the other company. The third party advised me that they couldn’t terminate the contract unless I paid for a full 24 months – although every bill I’ve received lists my contract term as 18 months. Then, to complete the circle of blame, they told me it was up to Orange to resolve the issue."
The paper says "affiliate dealers" are to blame and points out that "more than 400,000 contracts a month – that’s almost five million a year – are sold by about 4,000 of these dealers, including the major players such as Phones4u and Carphone Warehouse, and independent high-street retailers."
However, so as not to tar all dealers with the same brush, the true culprits are revealed: "Right at the bottom of the heap are companies with no high-street presence. And it’s from this sector that many of the complaints arise. Based either online or in call centres, these companies are behind many of the unsolicited offers made by calls and text messages."
Here’s what The Independent are telling their readers, so dealers can be prepared for a grilling:
- If you receive a text message offering you a mobile phone upgrade, ignore it.
- If you receive a cold call, be sceptical. If the deal sounds good, ask which company is calling, get a telephone number and a name, and call back.
- If you are using a high-street middleman, remember that the sales staff will often be given incentives to push a particular network, and that the assistants’ advice might be best for their business, not for you. Shop around and negotiate.
- In all cases, ask explicitly about contract length and cancellation terms. There’s often a time during the contract after which you can downgrade to a lower tariff; check when that is, too.
- Ask about extra costs, such as itemised billing. Remember that middlemen may also be on commission to sell insurance.
- Question anything that’s supposed to be free.
- When asked what you currently pay per month, don’t reveal the full value of your bills; tell them the monthly contract value, before any extra charges. Otherwise, if you tell them your bill is £40 a month, they might put you on a £40-per-month contract, and you could have to pay all the extra charges on top of that.