False Verbal Contract leads Bell-Aliant to Bad Service

26 May, 2009

Written by Jason Peddle

Bell LogoUntil 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.

About the author

Gregory

I am an ex-pat Newfoundlander who has uprooted and moved to the big city of Toronto. I develop web applications for work and for fun. I play ultimate and ice hockey year-round and camp every chance my girlfriend will let me.

6 Comments

  1. Frenchie
    June 03, 2009

    You should put this one Consumerist.com

  2. June 03, 2009

    It was submitted to the Consumerist by Jason as soon as it was posted here. The editors didn’t run the story but in the end it was all rectified by Bell-Aliant anyways.

  3. Sancika
    July 15, 2009

    A similiar situation happened to us. Our contract with Bell Mobility just ended on June 24 2009. We switched to Rogers. I called Bell to make sure that our accounts were cancelled. Bell informed us that since my brother an account user got a new phone his plan was extended 2 years(He was sixteen at the time. We were not informed of this at all nor were we informed of the 30 day cancellation period when Bell called. When I inquired about this the reps answer was it is your responsibility to ask about the 30 day notice. Now we need to pay 200+140 dollars. A rep also told me the 30 day notice was on the contract but when I flipped through our contract that was signed three years ago there is no rule listed only that we must abide by the terms and agreements!! I need to know if anything can be done about this situation because Bells seems set against helping me.

  4. Sancika
    July 15, 2009

    Bell is set against helping me! Even though there must be some law about a 16 year old getting a new phone without the account users(dad’s) permission as well as a two year extention on a three year contract without being informed. My brother also says that he did not get a bill for the phone either by email or mail!! He paid for the phone himself and picked up the phone himself!!

  5. Nicole
    September 17, 2009

    The exact thing happened to my mother, she was called saying that her contract would soon be up, and could renew it over the phone. She said I’d rather not do anything over the phone so i’ll go into the store to talk with them (NOT necessarily going to renew the contract, as we were going to do the same thing that you tried to do!) When we went into the store we were told that the contract had already been renewed for another 3 years, which she didn’t want! We are still in the process of trying to get out of it!

  6. Carolyn Novaj
    May 04, 2012

    Around mid February we decided to switch from Bell to Eastlink. We have had a bundle with Bell for about 8 years but the price kept climbing and Eastlink was much cheaper so we made arrangements to switch. This would have been about mid-week. On Saturday morning I got a phone call from Bell asking why we wanted to switch and I told them the price was my issue. They offered to knock my bill down to $50.00 per month and give me a new tv but I would have to agree to stay with Bell for at least a year. I agreed.

    About a week later I was having trouble with my remotes and after spending an hour on the phone with their IT it was determined that the remotes were worn out and I would have to get new ones. Then they told me they would cost $50.00 each. I was not impressed and phoned their Loyalty division. I explained what had happened and that I had talked to someone on Saturday and they were giving me a tv and knocking my bill down but if they didn’t give me free remotes then I was going to have to rethink my position. The lady I spoke to said they weren’t sending me a tv, that they didn’t give tvs and that they would knock $15.00 off my bill and if I didn’t like that that I could go to Eastlink. I thanked her and told her that she had made my decision a lot easier. I then called Eastlink and re-scheduled my appointment to be connected.

    Over the next two weeks (before the transfer took place) I received several phone calls and even a letter from Bell asking me to reconsider. I explained what Eastlink was doing for me and they couldn’t match it so I was switching. I’m not sure exactly what day I received the tv but I did call them that very day. They again denied that I was getting a tv and I asked if that was true then who sent me the tv. They said “you got a tv in the mail?” and I said yes. I told them that it had come from Atlantic Mobility and I said is that not you? All they would say was “we don’t give tvs out.”

    The switch took place on March 5th. I contacted Bell to find out where to send the receivers and got into a whole new argument about having to give 30 days notice or have to pay for the next month. I was VERY UPSET and told them so. That equated to several phone calls over the next few weeks regarding the bill but ultimately I did pay the 30 days notice.

    THEN I received my bill from Bell Aliant. Although we had a bundle with Bell our tv was through Bell Express Vu and the phone and internet were through Bell Aliant and they were billed separately. The bill was for $415.86 and included the price of a tv. Then it all began to make sense to me. All along I thought I had made an agreement with Bell Express Vu for the tv and it turns out it was Bell Aliant. What can I say? It was very early on Saturday and all I remember hearing was Bell. I guess the tv threw me off and I assumed it was Bell Express Vu. Anyway I called and explained to them about the mix up. They didn’t care about the mix up. They claimed that I owed them for a tv. I said I had the tv still in the box, (I never took it out of the box) and I would return it. They said no. You can’t return it. I said oh yes I can. They said you signed for it so you accepted it.

    I tried to return the tv at the mall in town but they don’t take that kind of stuff there so mailed it back to Atlantic Mobility. I then paid the balance of the bill ($72.01, including another 30 day penalty which I again argued about to no avail) but I refused to pay for the tv. I recently received another bill where they are looking for the payment for the tv. I again called and explained that I had returned the tv and the lady said you can’t, they don’t take them back and that I had made a contract with Bell and I couldn’t break the contract and it wasn’t their fault that I misunderstood who I was talking to etc etc ad nauseum. I said you signed for it so you accepted it. I flatly refused to pay for a tv that I don’t have and I stated that they are not going to get the tv and my money as well and she said that they would send it to a collection agency. I told her she could shove it where ever she wanted; I would not pay it.

    The next day I sent an email to Bell Aliant but I haven’t heard back from them despite their claim to respond within 24 hours.

    Is there a time frame after making an agreement by phone that was solicited by them that I have to change my mind? And if so shouldn’t they have explained that to me? They never said that I couldn’t return the tv. They just said if I kept it and changed my mind that I would have to pay for it. I don’t consider that I kept it. First of all I didn’t even know where it came from since Bell Express Vu denied sending it and I believed my contract with them over the tv was nullified since they told me to go to Eastlink.

    Today I received another “Friendly Reminder” from Bell Aliant to pay the $305.98. I am angry that they are prepared to send this to a collection agency rather than deal with me directly.

    If anyone is entertaining any thoughts of getting Bell either Express Vu or Aliant for their services I hope they think long and hard about it. Thier Customer Service is the worst I have ever dealt with. They apparently don’t have any superiors, no one can do anything and they “don’t care” about anything that you have to say. They are like automated voices. It was the worst decision I ever made.

    To be continuted…..

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