False Verbal Contract leads Bell-Aliant to Bad Service
26 May, 2009
Written by Jason Peddle
Until today, I would have praised Bell-Aliant to anyone who asked. I use them for wireless, home phone, and Internet, and have recommended them above competitors to everyone who asks. That all came to a screeching halt today.
I was on a family mobility plan with my mother for the past five or so years. Two cell phones, separate contracts, one bill. My contract had ~20 months remaining and hers was over as of January (or so she thought).
I recently decided I wanted to upgrade to a smart phone. I did the research, picked a phone, and due to my positive experience with Bell, decided to stick with them. My mother offered to take over the final 20 months of my family plan contract and cancel her own, then I’d start a brand new contract in my own name. Three years, plus the cost of the phone. She would take my old phone.
We went to a local Bell-Aliant store and I explained the situation to the employee, who claimed it would be no problem. We filled out necessary paperwork and things went fairly smoothly. I was informed I’d have to pay a $20 fee to swap numbers on the old phones. Fair enough. I was then informed that to keep my own number and carry it to the new account, it would be another $40. So, $60 total just to swap the numbers around. I was really skeptical and taken back by such exorbitant fees to move a number within the same provider, but reluctantly agreed to pay it. I was also informed that the now abandoned account would still sit there for a month and I’d have to pay that as well. Another $35. Ouch.
After coming to terms with all the fees, I paid for my new phone and we left. The only thing we couldn’t do right at the store was cancel the account with the finished contract. We were told to do it over the phone.
Today we called customer service to cancel the phone and things took a turn for the worst. The rep on the phone insisted that the orphaned account could not be cancelled because it was tied into it’s own three year contract, starting May 4th. This was a complete shock. My mother insisted that she did not renew any contract, but Bell claimed that she made a verbal agreement over the phone to renew her contract.
What actually happened was she received a call from Bell telling her she’d receive a $250 credit towards a new phone if she renewed her contract for three years. She was led to believe she could go to a Bell-Aliant store, upgrade her phone, and sign on for a new contract. When she went to the store, Bell had spontaneously dropped the bonus to $200. Not being one to get duped, she said she’d prefer not to renew her contract. That was the last she thought of it, and was fully under the impression that the contract had never been renewed.
Bell had in fact started the contract immediately on the phone. I’m not sure how it can be possible for one to enter a contract without even knowing it, but Bell stuck by this contract as valid throughout our customer service battle to come.
She went back and forth with customer service but in the end got nowhere. They said there was a $400 fee to break the contract and there was nothing that could be done about it. We now had three contracts between the two of us, one which was tied to a placeholder phone number. How did the store not notice the account they were changing already had a contract, I’ll never understand. Two visits back to the store, dealing with several employees, a manager, and customer service again. This mostly led to the store claiming we needed to talk to customer service… and vice-versa. Repeat ad nauseam.
After a particularly futile phone call, I explained the situation very politely and thoroughly, and the rep just continued saying “The May 4th contract is a valid verbal agreement and is binding. There’s nothing I can do to cancel it.” I tried desperately to escalate the call, to get a manager, another service number, ANYTHING, but he’d repeat that statement over and over again.
I understand that verbal agreements are binding in Canada. We did not wish to get out of any services, or scam anybody. We both wanted to continue being serviced by Bell, and in fact wished to sign longer contracts with more expensive plans. Even so, no one had any interest in removing the contract that existed purely to cost us unnecessary money while providing no service in return. Even though we had no idea the contract existed, did not agree to it, were not told OF the contract when getting a new one, and were only getting the new one because the old was was over. What a mess.
We eventually ended up talking to the original employee, who conceded that the only way to make sense of anything was to cancel the new plan under their buyer’s remorse policy (pending less than 30 minutes use of the new phone), switch me to the May 4th commitment, and then separate the accounts. Finally, some hope. After lots of paperwork and phone calls, we seemed to be getting somewhere. I’ll admit, this employee was much more sympathetic and helpful than the rest of the people we dealt with. She even tossed in a car charger.
However, I was then informed it would be another $40 to move my number back again. To the account I paid $40 to move it from. Ergo, $80 total to return my number to the place it started when it shouldn’t have left in the first place. She did manage to get it waived, but the original $40 fee remains. It’s attached to a service I never did receive, but I’m tied to it anyways. In addition to that there’s a $25 fee to separate the accounts. A problem we wouldn’t have had if the bogus “verbal” agreement didn’t exist in the first place. I tried desperately to get these fees waived, to no avail.
I am disgusted by the lack of compassion and understanding displayed by customer service over this issue. It should not be possible to not know you’re agreeing to a contract with or without the promised incentives, and then duped into getting a new contract without being told you already have one. That’s ridiculous. We spent 10 hours today going back and forth with Bell-Aliant and each other trying to sort this mess out. I sure hope Bell doesn’t feel entitled to a useless contract with us because they crossed their wires. It’s money for absolutely nothing. I understand is first line service reps can’t handle these situations, but I was very understanding of that and simply wished to speak to someone who could help me. No one could. No one exists to solve these kinds of screw ups? That’s it? The customer foots the bill for Bell’s issues? Please.
I’m relieved that we shook one of the three contracts, but it was under very specific circumstances and the sketchy “verbal agreement” contract was never called into question by anyone we dealt with. I don’t feel this issue is fully resolved and until all unnecessary fees have been removed, I will not be satisfied. If anyone at Consumerist can suggest who to talk to next, I would appreciate it greatly.
UPDATE: Since this entry was posted a representative of Bell has followed up with Jason and his mother. On her own time once the situation with Jason and his mother passed she contacted any supervisions she needed who had the authority to drop certains fees. Now all of their unnecessary fees have been dropped and they are happy, despite all the suffering they have endured.