Thursday, 11 October 2012

Churchcastle Word Search - Get your refund now!

Word Search competition run in The Sun newspaper by Churchcastle Limited
Today Churchcastle was fined £800,000 by the regulator Phonepayplus for breaking the premium phone rate rules.

If you entered you can get your money back. Many phone calls cost £10 each.

Last December I wrote about Churchcastle's Word Search competitions. My 90 year old relative was bombarded with letters from Churchcastle claiming she was one phone call away from a very large cash prize after she entered a word search contest advertised in the Sun. I complained to the telephone regulator Phonepayplus in November 2011, but they told me the adverts complied with all their rules.

Today Phonepayplus has had a change of mind. They have announced a record £800,000 fine for Churchcastle's misleading competitions which scammed mainly pensioners who are over 80 years old. Apparently Phonepayplus recieved 15 complaints. My complaint wasn't counted, because they told me back then there was nothing wrong.

All complaints related to elderly consumers, the majority of whom were over 80 years old, and were made by concerned relatives. The complainants raised a number of concerns regarding the size, visibility and readability of the pricing information, “bill shock”, misleading promotions (including the poor quality of jewellery items) and the large volume of highly personalised direct mail marketing promotions. In addition, a number of complainants stated that in their opinion the Service took advantage of elderly people who were vulnerable because of their age. Executive monitoring of the Service supported the concerns raised by complainants.
The Executive raised the following potential breaches of the PhonepayPlus Code of Practice (12th Edition) (the “Code”).
• Rule 2.3.10 - Vulnerable groups
• Rule 2.2.5 - Pricing
• Rule 2.3.2 - Misleading
• Paragraph 4.2.4 - Conceal or falsify information 

Part of the Adjudication published by Phonepayplus today
It's a shame Phonepayplus didn't act faster. Last year Churchcastle, based in St Leonards On Sea, East Sussex, but which is ultimately owned by an American company Worldwind, reported profits of £3,000,000. Yes three million pounds! So a £800,000 fine is just a drop in the ocean for their owner.

When I heard news of the record fine on Radio 4's Today programme this morning I emailed the Chief Executive, Paul Whiteing, at Phonepayplus immediately. I complained that Phonepayplus didn't think there was anything wrong with these competitions when I contacted them 11 months ago. To his credit he emailed back straightaway to say they had looked more carefully at these competitions, and at the elderly readers they were targetted at.

Their Chief Executive went on to reassure me he would be writing to all the newspapers and magazines that carried Churchcastle's Word Search adverts so that readers who had entered could now claim a full refund.

 The Tribunal upheld the breaches. The Level 2 provider’s revenue in relation to the Service was within the range of Band 1 (£500,000+). The Tribunal considered the case to be very serious and issued a formal reprimand, a direction to remedy the breaches, a fine of £800,000 and a requirement that the Level 2 provider must refund all complainants who claim a refund, for the full amount spent by them on the Service, within 28 days of their claim, save where there is good cause to believe that such claims are not valid, and provide evidence to PhonepayPlus that such refunds have been made.

Phonepayplus has instructed Churchcastle to make full refunds

If you have a relative who entered these competitions they could well have spent over £100 as each call cost around £10. I suggest you contact Phonepayplus on 020 7940 7474 or write to Churchcastle at 6 Castleham Road, Ste Leonards on Sea, East Sussex TN38 9NR or phone them on 01424 797531 (this is not a premium rate telephone number).

If you manage to get a refund please let everyone know by posting your story in the comments section below.

Incidentally the Sun was very helpful last year when I complained to them. They instructed Churchcastle to refund my relative to the tune of £120.51. I phoned my relative this morning too tell her the good news - she is delighted other people may get back their pension money too.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

O2's Chief Executive is Ronan Dunne

For a company in the communications business - O2 seem to be pretty bad at it. Maybe that's why parent company Telefonica's profits in 2011 were down almost by half. They still made £4.6bn though. Here's how they do it. 

They help themselves to our money without our authority

My partner wanted to move her Broadband to a new address. O2 don't serve that telephone exchange so the price would jump from £14.95 to £28 a month. Although she was still in contract by a couple of months O2 said there would be no cancellation charge because of this.

So she was quite surprised a week or so later to receive a demand for £39.64 cancellation charge.

I phoned O2 and asked them to amend it. After much discussion a supervisor, Rory, promised they would re-issue the final bill for the correct amount. That was September 9th. 

Nothing happened. Does this sound promising? You're right. It doesn't. Something is going to go wrong. It will, but not quite yet.

So on 2nd October I call again. Sarah agrees the final bill should be just£ 5.81 - but we can't pay now because O2 have cancelled the direct debit. She promises to call back to take the payment tomorrow when her supervisor has amended the account.

I have a feeling of deja-vu.

3rd October - No call from Sarah at O2. But she promised I hear you say. I know, she promised, but she lied.

4th October - I call again. This time it's Gary. He promises either he or Sarah will call back later to take the payment of £5.81.

5th October - No call from O2. But they promised! I know. They lied.

5th October - O2 help themselves to £39.64 from my partner's bank account. Yes that's right they just stole £39.64.


6th October - Saturday night 7.30pm I phone O2 again. This time its Mark. He doesn't know the name of the Chief Executive of O2 (Ronan Dunne). I ask to speak to a manager. After much faffing about with nonsensical explanations that no one can help he puts me through to his boss Wayne.

Wayne knows Sarah's boss, Kerry, but only Kerry can put this mess right. Kerry's gone home.

I explain we don't have a contract with Kerry, our contract is with O2. And O2 is in breach of the Direct Debit Guarantee (they take your money without consent, they must give it back).

Apparently I can email in a complaint.

So here is my complaint. I've also tweeted this article to Ronan Dunne, the CEO at O2. No one I've spoken to at O2 knows his name. His twitter address is @ronandunneo2. If O2 have taken any money from you, or failed to call you back you might want to give him a shout. 

I've asked for a letter of apology, a full refund, and £25 compensation for the almost 2 hours I've spent correcting O2's mistake. 

With £4.6 billion in the bank O2 can afford it.

Update 20th November 2012 
After filing a formal complaint O2 finally confessed they were completely at fault. They said they would refund the money they stole, and offered £15 compensation. 

But then they failed to hand back the cash, and said my partner must send in her bank statements to prove they hadn't. She politely declined - would you trust O2 with your bank statements? 

Pushed to increase their offer of compensation to £25, O2 refused. Now we've referred them to the Ombudsman who will investigate. Apparently the Ombudsman Service will charge O2 £400 to tell them they must give back the money. 

This is a company who don't seem to care how heavily they trample on their customers, but with £4.6 billion profit last year O2 can afford it.