Screwed up or screwed over?
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at a series of anecdotes from our clients regarding extreme mobile phone bills and what caused them.
In our 3rd instalment of our Screwed Up or Screwed Over series, we look at the "independent" relationship between the networks and the agents, and demonstrate why you should be aware of it.
The ‘he said, she said’ networks vs. agents blame game is one of the finest examples of hair-pulling frustration available within the UK mobile phone network universe.
Within this strange interconnected microcosm of the telecoms industry, there is an entire network of so-called “independent” mobile phone agents that service thousands of smaller, mid-size and sometimes larger companies. It’s worthwhile noting that “independent” mobile phone agents are generally paid for out of commission they earn from having signed you up with a network. i.e. they act as an agent on behalf of the network, not for you.
This interdependent arrangement works perfectly well when the client feels that they are receiving a high-quality service from both the agent and the network. However, what happens when things go wrong? Who is your contract partner? Also, more pressingly, who do you need to complain to and what are your redress options?
The issue with this sort of unclear responsibility is that when there are problems, the networks have been known to steadfastly blame the agents and vice versa. It seems rarely, if ever, that someone puts their hand up and takes responsibility. More often, the finger is pointed every which way, occasionally even at the client themselves.
Example from Billmonitor
From time-to-time, Billmonitor gets sucked into this accountability Twilight Zone. Allow us to paint a picture with a particularly extreme case…
A client came to us with a complaint and a request for help: their contract had been renewed by their mobile phone agent without consent or even being informed. This client complained to the mobile phone agent, who had signed up the account with one of the main three networks. The mobile phone agent was not forthcoming, except to point out that the client was not actually paying the agent anything, and they should therefore complain to the network they were now signed up with. The network, in turn, said they were not responsible and were simply supporting the agent servicing the client. And so on, and so forth, back and forth between the two with no solution in a scenario that feels like it has gone on since time immemorial.
So, who is right? And who is getting screwed over?
We put this question directly to Ofcom and the crux of their response unfortunately, and unhelpfully, was that they do not deal with individual complaints. However, they did point out that this did seem to be a contract matter, and therefore not an issue for Ofcom as such, unless it is an industry wide issue, which they are not aware of. Remember, while all this is going on, the client is still signed up to a network they never consented to with no obvious way of getting out.
In terms of redress, there are limited options available. Our client eventually reached out to the ombudsman. However, this is a slow and painful process and while it may ultimately deliver the results you desire, it can be incredibly time consuming.
Our golden rule for good housekeeping: ensure that only certain people in your organisation have authority to sign new contracts (and ensure this is documented by the network) and ensure that any renewal is properly documented using a formal order form (and keep a copy of it on file). A good offense is most certainly better than a good defence when it comes to the telecoms topic of agents and networks.