Virgin Media vows not to charge an exit fee for loyal customer of 20 years… then charges £250: TONY HETHERINGTON investigates
Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
Ms M.R. writes: I was a Virgin Media customer for about 20 years, until I moved to an area not covered by it.
As my contract was coming to an end, I called the company. The customer adviser said they could not offer a rolling contract covering the months until the move, but advised if I signed up for an 18-month contract, I would be released without exit fees as Virgin could not provide any service in my new area.
I signed, but when we moved, Virgin charged a £250 exit fee.
Penalty: Virgin Media erased the recording of Ms R’s phone call
Tony Hetherington replies: Rubbing salt in the wound, when you protested against the exit fee, Virgin revealed that you could have had a rolling contract after all.
Nevertheless, you paid the £250 penalty over the phone – only to discover the next day that Virgin had collected the same £250 from your bank account by using the direct debit you had put in place to cover routine bills.
And things got worse. You complained about the double charge and Virgin sent you a £250 refund cheque, but the cheque was in your maiden name and you have been married for years. Virgin demanded proof of your married name, which you supplied, but when you contacted me many weeks later, you were still waiting for your £250 refund.
I asked staff at Virgin Media headquarters to look into what you had told me and the bad advice you were given. If you could have had a rolling contract to cover the months up to your move, why would you ever have agreed to an 18-month contract with stiff penalty fees if you quit?
Virgin Media told me: ‘Ms R agreed to a new 18-month contract and, as was made clear to her at the time, an early disconnection fee may be applied if she ended her contract early.’ But Virgin said it no longer had a recording of the phone conversation with you. It had sent you a copy of the new contract, but of course this would not prove what the adviser had or had not told you over the phone.
As for the £250 fee that was collected twice, Virgin has refunded £250 and added £50 as ‘a gesture of goodwill’.
But it does leave me wondering how Virgin can hold you to an agreement made over the phone, without knowing what its own adviser said to convince you to agree, since Virgin itself has erased the recording. Not a happy outcome.
Eon is rounding UP my bills
S.J. writes: Over the past three months, I have called Eon three times to report that my monthly electricity bill has been incorrect. £125.7051 has been billed as £125.73. £136.2275 has been billed as £136.25. £106.5393 has been billed as £106.56.
This is not a case of a rounding-up error, since that would only round up to the nearest penny.
In each case, 2p has been added. Just a couple of pence multiplied by a few million customers adds up to a significant amount.
Enlightening: Apparently, prices run to three decimal places, but only two decimal places are shown on bills
Tony Hetherington replies: You helpfully signed a letter to authorise Eon to give me its explanation, having calculated that if 2p is added to every bill, this could amount nationally to about £68,000 each time bills are issued to its three million or so other customers. Eon’s explanation is that this rounding up does not just affect you. It affects everyone.
Apparently, prices run to three decimal places, but only two decimal places are shown on bills. For example, one of your bills shows you used 567 units of electricity at 18.79p each, which you calculate should produce a bill for £106.5393. Eon says the unit price is actually 18.793p, which means the bill should really be £106.55631 – and it is this figure which is rounded up to £106.56.
A spokesman told me: ‘This is commonplace in our industry.’
Clearly every penny counts, and some pennies count double!
We’re watching you
Control: Ricky Burgess from Leigh-on-Sea in Essex
A company that raked in more than £1million from investors after issuing a glossy brochure stuffed with lies and false claims has been wound up by the High Court and the Official Receiver has been appointed as liquidator.
Exmount Construction Limited offered annual interest of 9.12 per cent on its three-year bonds, and 10.35 per cent to investors who tied up their money for five years. The company claimed to be a property developer, headed by Joe Mason, an experienced chartered surveyor who had worked internationally and whose previous projects included industrial parks, shopping centres and office blocks. In fact, Mason was a self-employed gardener from Tilbury in Essex.
He refused to co-operate with investigators from the Insolvency Service, who found that between March 2018 and July 2019, around £1.1million was paid in by investors, yet there was no record of any money being used for property schemes. About £800,000 was with drawn by people connected to Exmount or handed over to third parties. Exmount’s fake bonds were marketed by sales firms that used high-pressure cold-calling to snare victims.
One of the most active was Asset Backed Management Limited, controlled by notorious investment fraudster Ricky Burgess, 31, from Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. I warned in 2016 that Burgess was behind a scam selling investments in diamonds. He was later banned from acting as a company director until 2031, and last May he was jailed for two years for conspiring to defraud Coutts Bank of £1.2million.
In January 2018, City of London Police raided Asset Backed Management’s office and seized Exmount sales brochures and records showing Burgess’s company and its cold-calling staff were collecting up to 40 per cent commission on bonds sold. Officials from the Financial Conduct Authority were present but took no action to stop other firms marketing Exmount bonds, with sales continuing for 18 months.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email [email protected] Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.