Garry Dean hadn’t slept soundly for nine months after debt collectors insisted he owed telecommunications company TalkTalk £586 in unpaid bills and they’d take him to court if he didn’t cough up.
But Garry had never been a customer of the firm, so when the first demand arrived last September he dismissed it as a case of mistaken identity and didn’t take it seriously.
At first he thought it was a bit dodgy, and someone was just trying to get money out him.
The 40-year-old coach driver noticed his name was spelt incorrectly, and it was clearly the wrong address.
However it wasn’t long before more follow up letters started to arrive at his Portsmouth home, so he decided it was high time to give TalkTalk a ring to find out what it was all about.
After giving them his details he was surprised when they said the debt must be owed by another Garry Dean.
They confirmed his name and address didn’t match what was on their records which was why they couldn’t confirm whether the debt was his.
They were unable to discuss the matter further with him as they’d sold the debt on to Lowell Portfolio, who in turn referred it to Lowell Solicitors, a national debt collecting agency.
‘TalkTalk said that if the debt wasn’t in my name, all the collectors could do is send letters out to people with a similar name,’ Garry said.
‘They told me to ignore any similar letters and send them back to the debt collector, which is exactly what it did.
‘When letters still kept coming I went to a local charity for help.
‘They rang up Lowell in front of me and I gave them my permission to talk to the advisers there, but when I handed over the phone they refused to discuss it with them despite trying to explain the debt wasn’t mine.
‘We tried to give them all the details including the address which didn’t match up, but they still wouldn’t listen.
‘All the evidence was sent to them, including my birth certificate and previous people at my address which was clearly different from the one they had but they still wouldn’t back down.
‘My life became a living hell, and it caused me a lot of stress.
‘I’d not slept properly for months with all this going on. I kept waking up at 4am and couldn’t get back to sleep because of worrying about what was going to happen next.’
In April Garry’s stress level went through the roof when he received a further demand for even more money.
It said that because he’d failed to pay the debt they were starting court action, inflating the demand with interest, court fees, and solicitor’s costs totalling £763.67.
Out of his mind with worry his girlfriend came to the rescue. She’d read a recent Streetwise about a pensioner who’d been wrongly billed for over £4,000, and suggested he got in touch to ask if we could help.
We first checked in with TalkTalk to ensure when they sold the debt to the debt collector they’d provided the correct billing information and weren’t the source of Garry’s problem.
They promptly investigated the matter at CEO level with commendable thoroughness. It emerged debt collectors Lowells had been in touch with them about his details as recently as late April.
They’d confirmed to the solicitors the debtor they had on file had a similar name profile but it wasn’t Garry. Despite insisting he never owed them a penny, incredibly the identity error wasn’t picked up by Lowell and nothing was done about it.
A TalkTalk spokesperson told us that it appeared the debt had been incorrectly traced, and while they didn’t have any control over the process they’d continue to try to get it sorted.
An ever hopeful Garry spent a day ringing the solicitor’s Northampton headquarters off and on in a desperate attempt to obtain closure. Staff confirmed they’d taken note of his calls, but his pleas continued to fall on deaf ears.
On learning of his continued distress, we set out to fix the matter once and for all.
We got in touch with the Lowell group’s chief executive, James Cornell, and asked him to initiate an internal investigation.
We pointed out Garry had suffered nine months of relentless distress, unable to get any answers, and his protests consistently ignored.
Within 72 hours the firm got back to us to confirm Garry’s nightmare ordeal was finally over.
A spokesperson said: ‘We are sorry for the inconvenience we have caused Mr Dean. It is only ever our intention to collect payments from the correct account holder, and we encourage anyone who believes we’ve written to them in error to contact us as soon as possible so that we can investigate and resolve any issues before they progress.
‘Unfortunately, when we were contacted in this case, after our eighth letter, due to individual errors we missed the chances to clear up the confusion. We have spoken to Mr Dean to apologise and confirm no further action is being taken. We will also be reviewing the training of our colleagues to ensure there’s no repeat of these mistakes.’
When we told Garry following our intervention he was in the clear he couldn’t his contain his relief.
He said: ‘Now I can start to sleep without having this on my mind all night keeping me awake.
‘I couldn’t have done it without you. I hope Lowell will change how they chase debts and not just look up the next person with similar name and do this all over again.
I’ll be able to go home and relax for the first time in months and not have to worry what the postman will bring next. Thanks so much for your help.’