Number-crunched by the telephone firms

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Once upon a time you didn’t have a choice of phone providers – it was BT or nothing.

But since the market was opened up there are now a mind-boggling number of choices and packages.

For some, being able to switch companies has led to headaches.

Often advertised as if it was as simple as the flick of a switch, customers trying to move their phone line, broadband and digital TV at the same time can be left tearing their hair out in frustration.

Bill mistakes, sudden hardware failures, and a baffling inability to hold on to your old phone number have all plagued Streetwise readers who have got in touch to vent their frustration.

These were the problems faced by Richard and Sally Turner, of Jubilee Road, in Waterlooville, when they were tempted to leave Sky by Virgin’s all-in-one package.

It wasn’t long after they switched that the couple’s troubles began: first a complete failure of their digital box, then a massively inflated first bill demanding £146.

But Richard, 43, said it was when he asked to have his old number brought across from Sky that he became really frustrated.

He said: ‘When I tried the final step to get the number ported, I was told by Virgin’s techno guys that it was impossible.

‘So after much toing and froing between them and Sky, we resigned ourselves that we were stuck with a new number and began the process of informing friends scattered around the world that our contact details had changed.’

But Sally, 42, said that what really annoyed them was that his next-door neighbours had made the very same switch already, with no difficulties in bringing their phone number with them.

‘We brought that number with us from our previous property,’ she said. ‘And it has been ours for almost 15 years, so why it should be a problem now is a mystery to us.’

But it is a problem that is far from being limited to Virgin customers – in fact, 67-year-old Mo Wadham, of Honeywood Close, Hilsea, found she had exactly the same problem switching from Virgin to BT.

Mo also experienced numerous problems from the outset: with her digital TV remote failing, her bills being wrong, and the home hub BT sent her proving so difficult to install it took a trained engineer two hours – even though they first told her she had to do it herself.

But like the Turners, her biggest grumble is that the phone number she has had for more than 30 years, which came with her when she moved from Havant to Portsmouth, is apparently lost forever.

‘I just can’t understand it,’ she said. ‘After hours of phoning and being told it would be changed back in a day or two I was suddenly informed I was stuck with a new number.

‘Well everyone has my old one; friends, family, doctors, and I don’t see why it is so hard for me to keep it. After all, I’ve not moved anywhere.’

Both Mo and the Turners said the only way they had got anywhere with their new providers was through being patient and persistent, but they would never have switched in the first place if they had known the trouble it would cause.

Responding to questions from Streetwise, both Virgin and BT said they are unable to promise new customers that they will definitely keep their numbers, and try to make this clear at the start.

Asked why customers who have had a number for years suddenly lose it, Virgin said: ‘The majority of our customers have no problem retaining their old phone number when they switch, but sometimes there are technical obstacles which make it impossible.

‘We apologise to Mr and Mrs Turner for any inconvenience this may have caused.’

A spokesman for BT Paul Hayward said: ‘We have been in contact directly to apologise that the customer felt that they had not had good service from us.

‘We are investigating the position and working to see if we can retrieve the number that was requested and will keep them fully updated on progress.’