Questions of Cash: Hooked up to a 'phantom' Tiscali account for eight years


Q. TalkTalk informed me early last year of changes in the terms and conditions of my account. I was unaware of any such account! Upon enquiry, TalkTalk explained it had taken over Tiscali and I had "been made aware of this". I briefly had an internet account with Tiscali, which I cancelled in 2003. When I checked my bank statements, I found that direct debits had been collected from 2003 to 2011.

Apparently when TalkTalk took over Tiscali three years ago, I should have been given a new contract and account number and asked to register a telephone number and address. Instead, I was unaware of the takeover and received no TalkTalk "welcome pack". Consequently, the direct debits continued and I was unaware I had an active account. I have now established that I cancelled my Tiscali account on 4 January 2003 and this was processed by Tiscali on 9 October 2004, yet the direct debit payments continued to be collected.

TalkTalk promised on 4 August last year to conduct a further investigation, but there has been no progress. TalkTalk denies responsibility for any overpayment. I cannot contact it through its online helpdesk – you must produce an account number and registered phone number and I do not have either. I am now being pestered by Credit Account Recovery Solutions on behalf of TalkTalk, presumably claiming some unpaid bill – which I have never received. FJ, Dorchester

A. This column has probably had more complaints about Tiscali and TalkTalk over the years than about any other company. However, there have been major steps forward with TalkTalk's customer services and this is the first complaint against it we have received for a long time. TalkTalk has now investigated your complaint properly and accepts you are correct. A Tiscali spokesman says: "We're sorry that we did not cancel [the reader's] Tiscali dial-up account as requested. We have apologised and refunded all charges." You have received a cheque for £1,468.61 — about £200 more than you calculated you were owed. We have also asked TalkTalk to confirm that the debt collector has been instructed to close its account.

Q. Way back, BT quietly added a "cheque processing fee" to its quarterly bills for customers wishing to pay in this way. This seems unfair: the charge is £5.70 and it can't possibly cost this much to process a cheque. I know of no other business that has the nerve to resort to this. AP, Kent

A. A spokesman for BT responded: "We believe it is fair and reasonable for there to be a price differential between customers paying by direct debit and those who don't. BT maintains a differential because it costs more to process non-direct debit payments – in transaction costs and in the costs of chasing people who forget to pay. Our differential is £1.89 a month, whereas other companies charge more or refuse to accept customers who won't pay by direct debit. We have been very careful to ensure that customers on low income, who are on our social telephony tariff BT Basic, do not pay this fee. Other companies do not offer such safety nets."

The industry regulator, Ofcom, advised us that it has given guidance to BT and its competitors regarding these charges. A spokeswoman explained: "We expect these charges to be made clear to consumers and to be fair." It is also important to note that the Consumer Rights Directive, which must be implemented in the UK by the end of 2013, will specifically ban non-direct debit charges which exceed the trader's costs.

Q. Four-and-a-half years ago, I took out a telephone line service with Unicom. I am now changing address and will be making other telephone arrangements. Unicom is charging me £100 for an "early exit". It seems that I signed up for a deal which, unless I close it on the anniversary of the start date, allows Unicom to charge this fee for the non-use of the remainder of the year. I can appreciate a charge for an early exit in the first year, but after four-and-a-half years this seems excessive. Unicom has never forewarned me of the approach of the annual renewal of the contract. Surely this cannot be right? RB, Kent

A. A Unicom spokeswoman said: "[The reader] did indeed agree to enter into a telecommunication agreement with Unicom for an initial supply period of one year. The agreement provisioned for the automatic rollover of the agreement for subsequent periods of one year at a time, unless written notice was received three months prior to the anniversary date. If notice is received in accordance with the terms and conditions, the customer is free to transfer their services away on or after the anniversary date, with no charge becoming applicable."

In your case, you phoned Unicom on 18 June this year to request a cancellation from 31 July, when you were moving premises. You declined to move the phone service with you. Unicom then advised you that an exit fee would be charged. However, as a result of us contacting Unicom on your behalf, it has agreed to waive the charge on this occasion as a gesture of goodwill and recognising that you have been a valuable customer.

We looked at Ofcom's guidance on charges, and application of exit fees on an automatically renewed contract appears to us to be in breach of Ofcom's guidance regarding unfair terms. The guidance specifies that unfair terms may be challengeable in the courts. Ofcom tells us that from the beginning of this year, phone companies have been prohibited from entering new customers into automatically renewable contracts. Existing customers will be similarly safeguarded from the beginning of 2013.

A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

    £850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

    Business Analyst (Agile, SDLC, software)

    £45000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

    Finance Manager - Bank - Leeds - £300/day

    £250 - £300 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Finance Manager - Accountant - Bank...

    Compliance Officer - CF10, CF11, Compliance Oversight, AML, FX

    £100000 - £120000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: A leading fi...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn