Beware phone bill shock - Churchcastle now running Word Search contests under the name 'Wynnington Wynners'
I've previously written about Churchcastle - they run word search competitions often with a £10,000 prize. These contests appeal to elderly players who like hunting for words but don't have eyesight good enough to read the small print.
When they've found the hidden word entrants must phone a premium rate phone line to enter. Finding the hidden word is easy, spotting the hidden phone charges is less obvious.
Each phone call costs just over £10. Yes, £10. The phone number is 0906 6350368. These are among the most expensive call types allowed by the phone regulator. The cost per minute is £3.60 + your network operator's service charge. Calls last around 3 minutes.
My elderly relative was caught with the Churchcastle bug. She was among thousands of people convinced they had won a big prize, lured into making further expensive phone calls to claim it. She hadn't won anything. The Regulator for premium rate phone services (then called Phone Pay Plus, now called the PSA Authority) ruled they had broken the rules as the contests were misleading. Churchcastle was fined £800,000.
But now Churchcastle are back in business running word search contests under the brand 'Wynnington Wynners'. These puzzles appear to run in newspapers, online and on TV. Not much has changed. After spotting the hidden word in a grid contestants must make a 3 minute phone call costing over £10 to submit their answer.
THIS CONTEST COSTS £10 to enter online
The fun doesn't stop there though. After entering the contest and leaving their name and address entrants are sent more puzzles in the post. These are often entered in the same prize fund pool. So that means unwittingly players are making another entry for the same £10,000 prize - not a different prize. All the Wynnington organised contests typically run for 2 - 3 months. All the entries go into one pot and there is 1 winner.
Unfortunately my partner's 96 year old mum has entered. We spotted it on her phone bill. She phoned twice, one call followed immediately by another in late April. The first call lasted 2 minutes 51 seconds and cost £10.32. The second entry took 3 minutes and 1 second and cost £10.92 - those extra 10 seconds cost 60p more to enter the same contest.
The Regulator has strict rules about the use of premium rate phone calls. The cost must be clear, vulnerable people (e.g. children, elderly, ill) must not be targeted. The Authority has the power to levy large fines and stop services if companies break those rules.
You can check numbers on their website here. The PSA Authority lists contact numbers for customer service in the search results. The rules state these must be standard cost numbers.
I phoned Wynnington to ask them to consider refunding the cost of at least the second call - as it was clearly made because my partner's 96 year old mum didn't think her call had entered correctly. She had no idea it cost £10 for each entry. When I asked her about whether she'd entered she said 'oh yes, I found the word'. When I asked if she knew it cost £10 to enter she gasped, 'oh no, really?'.
Wynnington answered the phone quickly. The operator was helpful and immediately offered to remove her name and address from further mailings - but this could take a few days, so she may receive further contests in the post. He said he would refer the refund request if I emailed or posted evidence of the call cost (the phone bill). My partner sent this by email. We haven't heard anything yet, but its was only a few days ago.
When I complained about Churchcastle to the Sun (who ran their puzzles) in 2012 the reader services dept instructed them to refund the £120 my partner's mum spent entering their contests. That was the contest Phone Pay Plus later levied the £800,000 fine for - and instructed Churchcastle to pay back anyone who asked. When I complained to Phone Pay Plus they declined to investigate - my complaint was too early, after mine the flood gates opened and they acted.
It may be that the PSA Authority is already monitoring Wynnington. Google searches for my original articles about Churchcastle here and here are receiving more requests than ever.
If you, or a friend or relative has been caught out, unaware it costs £10 to enter, or that it is unclear entries for the £10,000 prize are pooled together with entries for other contests then you can complain to the PSA Authority. You should also complain to Wynnington on their customer care line 0179 730 9000 (standard call costs apply) or write to them at Flat 23, Shackleton Court, 2 Maritime Quay, London E14 3QF.
According to Companies House Wynnington Limited is a subsiduary of Churchcastle Limited and was registered in October 2012 (the same month Churchcastle was fined). The listed Director of Wynnington is Werner Straub, born 1941 with a contact address in Switzerland. Werner Straub and Thomas Alfred Backer are listed as the 2 current Directors of Churchcastle. Proof that Wynnington and Churchcastle Word Search contests are run by the same company.