Businessman Gary Louca was left seething after Virgin Media refused to cancel his 18-month broadband contract without penalty for a service they couldn’t provide.
The 52-year-old Portsmouth music producer and songwriter signed up to Virgin’s top speed internet service in April 2015, but didn’t need to use it extensively to mail essential sound files to his worldwide business contacts until January.
To his surprise and annoyance the system kept going on the blink, and only worked intermittently for a matter of seconds before it dropped out. To carry on working he had to connect to the internet using an alternative computer more than three miles from his home.
Gary, of North End, explained: ‘As a professional music producer I am constantly sending music files to my writing partners around the world.
‘Because we’re working together fast internet is crucial to my business.
‘If I haven’t got internet access I’m hardly likely to go to the nearest internet café with original music recordings because there has to be an element of confidentiality.’
But when he got on to Virgin to explain his dilemma the firm insisted it was all down to a temporary system outage in the PO2 area of Portsmouth. It would all be fixed within a few days.
However despite 20 or so emails and letters later, the excuses from Virgin employees kept coming thick and fast, but they were reluctant to admit they were still unable to sort the service problems out.
Initially they blamed Gary and insisted he must be doing something wrong. Then he claims they kept backtracking and were adamant the outage was only temporary.
It wasn’t until the end of April an engineer finally came out to see if he could get the problems sorted. He did a speed test and got the system up and running for around 30 seconds – just long enough for him to get out the door.
By this time Gary was screaming at Virgin’s customer services down the phone. He just wanted to get it fixed once and for all but they confirmed there was another outage in the area and his broadband wouldn’t be restored for a week.
He says he felt they were just reading from a script and sending him around in circles. First they claimed he just didn’t know how to set his computer up, and then he must have done something to the modem. At each stage it resulted in a series of abortive calls to their call centres.
After four months of being messed around and being pushed from pillar to post, a thoroughly brassed-off Gary said something inside him snapped.
All they offered him in compensation for the extended service outage was just one month’s charges of £32. He just couldn’t take any more and decided to switch to another service provider.
‘In the end,’ he said, ‘I told them I wanted to go because they’d provided me with no service after making seemingly endless complaints, and spending countless hours on the phone trying to get through to their foreign call centre.
‘But after all the hassle Virgin still demanded I paid a six-month early termination penalty of £240 just to leave.
‘I was bullied into paying it because if you sign an agreement with these companies and you don’t pay up they trash your credit file. It’s blackmail.’
‘You feel as if you’re up against this huge company and you really can’t take them on. I was at my wits’ end so I contacted the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme for help.’
CISAS got back to Gary to take details of his complaint, but it appeared to stall so he got in touch with Streetwise to see if we could get things moving.
We contacted Virgin Media, pointing out that since Gary hadn’t received the contracted internet service for a period of three months they were clearly in breach of contract and he was legally entitled to compensation.
Following our intervention, they agreed to investigate, and within a few days Gary received a letter from the chief executive’s office confirming they’d been contacted by CISAS and were refunding three months subscription charges of £95.69 along with the £240 early termination fee.
A Virgin spokesperson told us: ‘We apologise to Mr Louca for the inconvenience he has experienced. We are pleased to have resolved the issue to his satisfaction.’
Although Gary was relived his spat with Virgin was over, he was still far from satisfied about the way he was treated.
He said: ‘At the very end of it all when you got involved Virgin admitted to me they could actually see from the records that I’d virtually used no internet since January. It should never have come to this.
‘If it hadn’t been for you I believe nothing would have been resolved. I would just have been steamrollered into submission by this enormous company.
‘Many thanks for all your help and for being a great champion for the small guys.’