'˜Phone giant chased me for money I had already paid'
Stephanie Lee suffered months of anguish after Vodafone persisted in chasing her for payment of an early termination fee that she'd already settled when closing her mobile account.
The 48-year-old Fareham postwoman is still furious at the way she was treated when an unresolved accounts bungle resulted in her being chased by debt collectors for months and having her credit rating affected.
The battle with the phone giant started last September when Stephanie decided to invest in a new iPhone 6s and switch her account to award-winning giffgaff on the O2 network.
She contacted Vodafone and explained that she wanted to switch right away.
As her contract had about another year to run, she was told she’d have to pay a £261.89 exit penalty.
Stephanie paid the outstanding balance in full over the phone. When the transaction appeared on her bank statement she cancelled her direct debit and thought no more about it.
She said: ‘They told me I’d receive a statement and my next bill in 30 days’ time, and that would be my last bill – it was all done.
‘A month later I got a letter saying that they hadn’t been able to take my direct debit, so I phoned them up and explained everything that happened. They said it was fine, just ignore the letter because someone hadn’t cancelled the contract but they’d get it done.
‘A couple of weeks later I got another letter saying I needed to set up the direct debit, so I rang them up and went through the story again. I was put through to someone else who said they could see they’d made a mistake. The account was settled so they said please ignore the letter and it’ll all be sorted within the next 48 hours.
‘Then about a month later I got another letter from a debt collection agency, so I phoned Vodafone back up and they assured me it would be sorted within 48 hours and I’d receive a phone call within 72 hours to confirm it had been done and to ignore the debt collection letter.
‘I never got any phone call from them, but ignored the letter. A month later, I got a letter from another debt collection agency, then an email from them, and another letter from Vodafone, claiming I owed them more money.’
By now it was December and an infuriated Stephanie began to get a sickening feeling Vodafone’s left hand didn’t know what the right was doing.
‘Again I phoned both up, sent the debt collectors and Vodafone a copy of my bank statement confirming the payment and they said the account was put on hold.’
But in January events took a further turn for the worse. Debt collectors emailed to say that £400 default charges had been racked up and added to the non-existent debt.
When she checked her credit rating more alarm bells began to ring. She found adverse ‘markers’ had been put on her credit file which explained why for the first time she’d been turned down for a loan and her application for a credit card had been rejected.
To Stephanie this was the last straw. She just wanted to go down the garden and scream, and was seriously contemplating setting off to Vodafone’s Newbury head office to chain herself to a reception desk until someone started listening to her.
With nothing to lose, in desperation she contacted BBC’s Watchdog, The Guardian, Daily Mail, ITV and Ofcom the phone regulator. When she didn’t get any decisive offer of help from any of them she emailed Streetwise and we soon got things moving.
We immediately got in touch with Vodafone, echoing Stephanie’s justifiable outrage at the inconceivable series of inexcusable blunders that had caused her so much torment and anxiety.
A spokesperson promptly explained: ‘We greatly apologise for the distress that Stephanie has experienced.
‘Her payment was indeed received and processed however due to an unforeseen system error, the payment didn’t appear on her account therefore the balance remained and entered the collections path as an outstanding payment. This regrettably is what prompted the debt collection agents to contact Ms Lee.
‘We’ve since cleared the account as well as contacted our credit file department to ensure any markers are removed from her credit file.
‘We acknowledge the error on our part and the difficult time Ms Lee has suffered since it occurred, so we will be offering her a gesture of goodwill.’
Stephanie was relieved the five-month ordeal with Vodafone was finally over.
‘Once you contacted them,’ she said, ‘they were absolutely falling over themselves. I had two phone calls to say that I’d be refunded a £100 gesture of goodwill, which I wanted to donate to a cancer charity, and a full written apology.
‘Thank you so much, you were my light at the end of the tunnel.’
I just didn’t know what else I could do. I really can’t say how much I appreciate all your help.’