DateWednesday 13 February 2008

BT “charges” for cheques – the next “penalty charge” retreat?

So another comment pings in on the “credit card companies can’t charge for penalty fees”. (And what’s happened to the OFT’s case against the banks? Haven’t heard about that for a bit. Or at all.)

And now, the BT “you haven’t paid by direct debit for we’re charging you £4.50” fee. The Telegraph is the first with the story, and Radio 4’s PM followed up (except that – I suspect – so many people wanted to comment on it that the blog exploded).

From the Telegraph:

Mrs Fernihough, like 5.5 million fellow BT customers, chooses not to pay by direct debit. As a result her monthly line rental costs £13.25 a month, compared to £11.75 a month.

She said: “On a £10 note, it says quite clearly ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of 10 pounds’, not ’10 pounds, plus a £1.50 handling fee’. This is not a spurious claim. BT’s position won’t wash.”

The grandmother of seven said she has paid her telephone bill in cash ever since she became a BT customer in 1964. She goes to the local branch of her bank in Sutton Coldfield and either pays in notes and coins or by transferring cash electronically to BT’s account.

Since May last year, BT has levied a £1.50 handling charge on cash or cheques; the company insists, however, that direct debit customers have always enjoyed a discount on their line rental, but it is not made clear on their bills.

As Eddie Mair got from her, her case rests on our familiar friend – the Unfair Terms and Contracts act (or whatever it’s called). BT can’t impose these charges if you don’t agree to them. It shouldn’t really be allowed to impose them by inertia either, I don’t think.

And here’s the question: I pay my bill by electronic transfer, not cheque. How is that any different from direct debit? Oh, yes, BT doesn’t get to take an unlimited amount from my account. Tell me why that’s a bad thing, where customers keep control of their own bank accounts and don’t open themselves up to identity theft through any insecurity in BT’s systems?

I think BT may be on weak ground here and that it’s going to have to make a big payback. The case comes up next month at at Walsall County Court in front of District Judge Hearne. Google Alert for “Fernihough”…

(Afterthought: why does it matter in the least that this woman is a grandmother? Is her ability to reproduce and produce fertile children somehow important? Should it raise, or lower her in our esteem? It’s a classic example of irrelevant facts – like the worst of American newspaper reporting.)

(Double afterthought: surprised that none of the other nationals seems to have picked up on this. It’s a really good human interest/money story which affects virtually every reader, and she can’t be hard to find in the.. er.. phone book.)

At the Guardian: the Tech Weekly podcast

Tech Weekly podcast: Google and the US elections, Eee PC and more

We probe Google’s role in the 2008 US presidential race. Plus, a review of the Asus Eee PC, a new web 2.0 property search business and the potential demise of DAB.

The review of the Asus is as heard on the news podcast of Monday – except this is the Director’s Cut, with an added minute from location. Ah-ha.