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Questions Of Cash: Tiscali get their wires crossed in phone line blunder

Q. Two years ago, I bought a flat for my son. We wanted to use Tiscali as an internet provider, but could only do this if we had a BT line installed. BT installed the line and sent me the bills. Then, in March, BT wrote to me regretting that I was leaving them. My son and I knew nothing about this. We spoke to BT, which said the instruction had come from another provider, but the staff did not know which. I was asked, for the legal record, whether I wished to leave BT and I said no. In April, the phone line was cut off. I spoke to BT, which told me to speak to the new provider – but I didn't have a new provider! I transferred to another BT operative, who said she could set up my number again. A couple of days later, my son rang his number to be told that it was a Tiscali answering service. I phoned Tiscali and the operative said there were two addresses attached to the phone number: one was ours, the other belonged to someone else entirely. She said there had clearly been a billing error, but that I would need to speak to the accounts department to resolve this. When I spoke to them, I was told the Data Protection Act prevented any information being given to me as my name was not on the account. I asked to speak to a supervisor, but this was also refused on data protection grounds. I spoke to BT again, which said my number could be recovered the following month. But the next day BT phoned to say it could not give us the line back as Tiscali refused to release the number as it was not attached to my name. KR, Surrey.

A. We have had numerous complaints about Tiscali, but this is one of the worst and has probably been the most difficult to resolve. We were repeatedly promised that progress was being made, or that a solution found, when this was untrue. The background to this problem is that Tiscali's systems confused your account with that of another customer – sadly another reader recently had a similar experience. "In the process of upgrading a current Tiscali customer who used to live at the same address with the same telephone number, our systems upgraded the wrong number and, in effect, seized it back," explained a spokeswoman. Tiscali has now arranged with BT to release the number back to you. Tiscali has also agreed to pay for all costs, including mobile phone calls, that you incurred in pursuing your complaint. It is also sending you £100 as compensation and an apology for its failures. Tiscali describes its customer service in this case as having been "unacceptable": we agree.

Q. My 87-year-old mother-in-law moved rooms within a care home, which required her phone line to move. In October, I requested the line to be moved across the corridor. As a line already existed, I was told by Pipex, which supplied the phone service, that this would take about 10 days and cost over £35. I asked if it could be done more urgently, as the phone is my mother-in-law's connection with her family. When I phoned to check on progress I was told that the order had been cancelled – as the address of the new line was the same as the existing account. I was then told that the reconnection would involve a visit from a BT engineer, a charge of over £80 and a wait of a further 10 days. Next my mother-in-law had a letter saying that the costs would be £38.50 to transfer the line, plus another £116 for a Pipex engineer to upgrade the line. By now my mother-in-law was becoming upset, so I arranged to handle matters on her behalf. I then made several calls to Pipex, where the staff could not help me, so I cancelled the contract. I went on holiday for three weeks and when I returned, I found that my mother-in-law had received a series of threatening letters because she had not paid a bill and had been charged an extra £25 because of the lack of payment. My calculation is that Pipex in fact owes my mother-in-law £3.70 for prepaid rental. JN, Southsea.

A. Pipex is now part of Tiscali. Eventually, Tiscali has resolved this. It promised your mother-in-law a payment of £20 as an apology back in October for messing things up. But it carried on messing things up and failed to make the £20 payment. It has now closed the account and paid her £50. Tiscali was recently acquired by the Carphone Warehouse, which used to have similarly poor standards of customer service. As we have not had any complaints against Carphone Warehouse recently, we assume it has greatly improved its service. We hope it can perform the same trick with Tiscali.

Q. My friend took out a Sky subscription two years ago, after I recommended her as part of Sky's "refer a friend" offer. Under the terms of the deal, I was entitled to get M&S vouchers for the recommendation. My friend did everything correctly to get these vouchers, but I am still waiting. JH, Watford.

A. You are not alone in this problem. Sky says there were problems with its IT system, following an upgrade. A spokeswoman says: "Unfortunately this meant a small number of customers did not receive their vouchers within an acceptable time-frame." It has now sent your vouchers and promises that it has changed its processes "to help ensure that future offers are delivered on time". Sky has also given you a credit of one-month's free viewing as a goodwill gesture to recognise your "patience and tenacity" in making sure you get what you are entitled to.

Questions of Cash cannot give individual advice. But if you have a financial dilemma, we'll do our best to help. Please email us at: questionsofcash@independent.co.uk