Get it in black and white!

June 13, 2023


Upon reading the case of Steve Harris in ‘Jobs & Money’ in The Guardian this week (21/05/05), it reminded me of how important it always is to get financial agreements and contract agreements in writing. Poor Steve Harris (in every sense of the word) had become entangled in a sensitive and complex spiral of events with the Inland Revenue, eventually losing his home and credit history essentially because he was unable to document the entire communication process with the Inland Revenue.

It triggered a recollection of a horrendous experience I had with NTL, where they failed to tell me about a debt that didn’t exist, which they then passed on to a debt collection firm. Three years after any correspondence with the communications provider, I suddenly started getting red letters threatening to take me to court. I called NTL to enquire why I was suddenly being charged for the given amount and after an initial refusal to provide any details; they then confirmed it was due to unpaid line rental over one summer. The period in question was between my second and final year at uni, I had tried to terminate the NTL agreement, but they said that they would keep the account open – in case I wanted to use the number when I moved back to the area in September. Naturally all of this was agreed over the phone.

When I quoted the history back at NTL, I was told it was not company policy to “keep a line open” and was refused any further information. The debt collection firm would not help either, insisting it was not their problem.

Much stress, few cold sweats, legal advice and a three hour conversation between Citizens Advice and NTL later, NTL apologised and cancelled the debt. However, if I’d ensured I had the verbal agreement in writing, perhaps none of this would have happened.

Numerous friends of mine have been caught out by other communications and utilities companies. Call centre staff and sales staff agree changes to contracts over the phone, but poor internal systems miss out key interaction with the client, thus generating an inaccurate record of communication.

Whilst we cannot do anything about the inefficient, and at times, unethical behaviour of companies, we can be more vigilant about ensuring all agreements are recorded on paper.

If anyone else has horror stories about companies chasing fictitious debts, please feel welcome to post them here.




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