Guest Blog Plus Net and TextRelay call charges

I had to find a qualified interpreter today so I could contact my telephone and internet service provider to ask them why my phone bill has gone up from £20 per month on average to £64 last month and £73 so far this month.

I make approximately three calls per month using my text phone with the prefix 18001. The costs have trebled without warning since July. I contacted PlusNet and they said they have advertised the changes on their website, which I was not aware of and I have not been able to find the important information. Their website is very difficult to navigate and it makes it hard to find what you want. PlusNet informed me that Ofcom changed the classification of relayed calls and that is why they are now at a higher rate.

What this effectively means is that the ISP is now in a position to start charging deaf consumers over £1 a minute for Typetalk/Text Direct relay services. I have not been able to find any information about the changes being implemented by Ofcom since July 2011. This is clearly a case of discrimination. As you will know, making a call via a text relay service takes three times as long as a call made directly.

With no hope of getting a full refund for the costs of these extortionate charges, the technical support department at PlusNet advised me to send a letter of complaint to PlusNet via their online members’ page and a second letter of complaint to Ofcom. With the help of my interpreter, I have now fired off a letter of complaint to PlusNet and I will be forwarding a copy of this to several other sources, lobbying Ofcom, Watchdog and See Hear to name just a few.

I am hoping for reimbursements of the extortionate charges paid to date. If other people find themselves in the same situation then you must complain and together we can lobby against the powers that be. Do they really think it’s okay to charge deaf consumers over £1 per minute for making a phone call?!
Liz Brown

About Suzie

Mother, Wife, Teacher, Cook and Hearing dog owner. Passionate about Equality for deaf and deafblind people. Believes in communication for all and breaking down these barriers, real and perceived. Deafened.
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42 Responses to Guest Blog Plus Net and TextRelay call charges

  1. Alison says:

    First I knew although I dont have a phone line at home anymore however having done a bit of digging

    it appears that BT have changed their prices

    http://www.openreach.co.uk/orpg/home/updates/briefings/wholesalelinerentalbriefings/wholesalelinerentalbriefingsarticles/wlr02311.do

  2. Suzie says:

    I can’t see how that can link to note 2 of the Ofcom report in July: http://media.ofcom.org.uk/2011/07/28/ofcom-plans-to-upgrade-telecoms-services-for-disabled-people/ which says:

    Under the Universal Service Directive (‘the Directive’) Member States are required to ensure that access to, and affordability of voice telephony and directory services for users with disabilities is equivalent to the level enjoyed by the majority of consumers. The requirements of the Directive are implemented in the United Kingdom by the Communications Act 2003 (‘the Act’), and the Universal Service Order 2003 (‘the Order’) and require Ofcom to ensure the provision of text relay (‘TR’) services.

  3. mike says:

    Oh well…Thats my Minicom in the bin!

  4. Andy M says:

    I think that plus net are supposed to pay the text relay facility fee of 68.79p per minute themselves as part of their obligations as a telecom service provider, they are not supposed to pass it onto the consumer… Ofcom do not appear to have been very clear in their briefing note.

    • Carol says:

      Hi just had the shock of my life when I got my plusnet bill. When I queried it, they told me this: Unfortunately we would have to advise you that Typetalk calls are not a free. BT Wholesale have changed the way that these calls are charged, and therefore all phone providers working through BT Wholesale (which is the majority) are finding that these calls are now classed as and charged at the same rate as reverse charge calls.

      Unfortunately we can only pass these charges on to the customer, and would advise that you consider raising the issue with Ofcom who are the regulatory body.

      Not quite sure where that leaves me – but definite action is needed.

  5. Ross T says:

    TAG has already acted on this and contacted Ofcom. Ofcom has also acted switfly and has been in touch with Plusnet who have said they are investigating and will reimburse any customers who have been overcharged in full. Actually Ofcom’s briefing on this is very clear, and General Condition 15 states categorically that providers cannot pass on wholesale charges imposed by BT in this way, as Plusnet has now acknowledged. The odd thing is that Plusnet is owned by – wait for it – BT!! Anyway it does look as though action will now be taken, but I do not think it is fair to place any blame on Ofcom for this – it is wholly Plusnet who were at fault.

    I think we do all need to be alert and make sure that no other providers react to BT’s increase in their wholesale prices in the same way.

    Ross T

    • Carol says:

      Hi. How do I get this refund then? Plusnet are not telling me any of the things that you are…

      • Liz Brown says:

        Same as you Carol, I have had no reply at all to my letter of complaint, and I too want my full refund for both August and September bills, and phone to be unblocked again

    • Andy M says:

      Ross,

      I do not see Ofcoms briefing as being as clear as you state. The briefing at http://www.openreach.co.uk/orpg/home/updates/briefings/wholesalelinerentalbriefings/wholesalelinerentalbriefingsarticles/wlr02311.do makes no reference to General Condition 15 at all.

      If a reference had been included, to clarify that the service provider cannot pass on the extra cost to customers, then I believe this problem would not have happened.

      • Ross T says:

        Andy M,

        This in in response to your comment about the briefing not being clear. The link you gave is to a BT Wholesale announcement, so is nothing whatsoever to do with Ofcom. General Condition 15 is how providers charge customers, which is a matter for BT Retail, whereas announcements of BT interconnection charges from NT Openreach are something completely different. Really the BT Openreach link is not meant for consumers, but for other telephone providers. Ofcom’s statements on this have, as Katie has said, always been very clear.

  6. Katie Hanson says:

    Ofcom’s regulations, which apply to all telecoms providers, make it clear that people cannot be charged any more for text relay calls than if they had made a regular voice call. Anyone who says otherwise is mistaken.

    I can confirm that Plusnet is aware of the problem that has occurred, is working to fix it, has apologised and has said that any customer who has been overcharged will receive a refund.

    I would also like to clarify that this issue is completely unconnected with Ofcom’s current review of relay services. Ofcom has no plans to allow deaf people to be charged premium rates for relay calls.

    Katie Hanson
    Senior Consumer Affairs Manager, Ofcom

  7. Hi there,

    Sorry for the inconvenience and obvious concern caused by this, we’re working on get the underlying cause of the problem fixed and then we’ll identify and refund anyone affected by this issue.

    Once again sorry that you’re all affected and we’ll get this fixed asap.

  8. Suzie says:

    I have posted on FB, where most people have picked this up from. Thanks to Chris and Katie for explaining.

  9. Alison Smith says:

    Am really pleased that plusnet are addressing the issues so quickly and as everyone has mentioned need to raise it widely in case others are affected.

  10. Alison Smith says:

    Am working on post on pesky people to publicise it further with links etc. back to here. hope to have this live this evening.

  11. Ross T says:

    I am grateful that both Katie and Chris has posted here and clarified the situation, but I would like to make it clear that it was TAG that took the initial step to resolve this problem, when as TAG Secretary I contacted Katie at Ofcom as soon as I became aware of the posts here. Both Ofcom and Plusnet acted very quickly on this.

    But please would any Plusnet customers let me and Katie know if these issues are not resolved, though we are all sure they will be.

    Ross T

  12. Suzie says:

    The beauty of Social media to inform and spread the word, Ross.

    Many thanks for taking the action you did on our behalf when I told Lidia to let you know as one of the founder members of TAG as soon as Liz told me at the weekend.

    We must also thank Ruth Myers and Simeon – I know they were also doing stuff in the background. An excellent piece of teamwork by deaf people working for deaf people voluntarily, shows what we can collectively achieve.

  13. Just a quick update for you, our developers have identified the cause of the issue and we’re currently working on and testing the fix. We’re also pulling a list of affected customers and writing an email to them to explain what’s happened and how we’ll refund any overcharges.

    Whilst this happens we’re not going to process any more of this type of calls, meaning that new calls of this nature won’t appear on your bills until we’ve resolved the underlying issue.

    Chris Parr
    Plusnet Digital Care

  14. Suzie says:

    Thanks – Chris – for the update 🙂

  15. AJWSmith says:

    Just discovered this page via Twitter. I’m another PlusNet customer who has experienced this outrageous costing of Text Relay calls (£1 a minute for an 0845 number, while a hearing person gets charged a fraction of that [5p? 2p?]). Last week when I had to call my bank to sort out an internet access problem, it cost me nearly £50!!! When my wife contacted PlusNet to complain, she was told that there’s nothing they could do about this.
    I’m very pleased to see that PlusNet have now changed their minds. Will they also refund me the admin charges I incurred as a result of going over my phone credit limit?

  16. Suzie says:

    Great news AJW Smith:) At least something is happening.

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  18. Sue Sweeting says:

    Hi.. I have discovered the same issue with Orange.. My son is deaf and used his minicom on my phoneline and i found out last night that the calls he made totalled £90 + …. I am going to contact Orange and will let you know the outcome, this is appalling… The charges amount to approx £1.37 a minute…

    • Suzie says:

      Hi Sue that is shocking – I have let DeafTAG know and they have said they will get on to OFCOM and Orange tomorrow. do you have twitter so I can copy you in on the tweets?

      • Sue Sweeting says:

        Hi Suzie.. Thanks… It is shocking and i am keen to raise more awareness about this too.. i did sign up for Twitter but never really used it and can’t remember my logon details lol.. I will try and figure it out and post back here or on fb if i do..
        My son is devastated about this, he has used his minicom for a long time and has just signed up with Orange broadband and Phone… Hopefully i will get a good response from Orange tomorrow and fingers crossed they will say it is a mistake and refund the charges made…If however they refuse then i will tell them i am going to pursue it with Ofcom too….I will keep you informed… Best Wishes to you!!

  19. Sue Sweeting says:

    Hi again Suzie, i have sorted my Twitter account out .. my username is Spirit_Fairy :))

  20. Ruth M says:

    Hello

    TAG will follow this up for you and let you know the outcome.

    Ruth

  21. Sue Sweeting says:

    Thankyou.. I have spoken to someone at Orange today, she is going to phone me back tomorrow.. Sue

  22. Sue Sweeting says:

    Ok I have had a phone call back from Orange and they have said they cannot refund these charges incurred for using the text relay… So anyone using text relay on Orange will be charged at £1.37 per min.. i am also going to contact Ofcom this is absolutely diabolical… :((

    • Suzie says:

      Absolutely ridiculous – this is exactly the same as Plusnet – I am sure OFCOM and DeafTAG will sort it out. you will get a refund. Plusnet had to – even after saying this initially. I’ll pass the message to Ruth for you. 😦

    • Ross T says:

      They cannot do that, Sue – they would be in breach of General Condition 15 if they pass on the charges to users. Both TAG and Ofcom are already in contact with Orange, but it looks as though the correct information has not yet got through to the person who sent the reply to you.

      We will make sure Ofcom is aware that Orange is currently giving out incorrect information and I am sure it will be sorted out quickly. I can assure that Ofcom is taking all steps possible to make sure providers realise they cannot impose these additional charges and are breaking the law if they do so.

  23. Sue Sweeting says:

    Thankyou so much.. I have also posted on the Orange fb page, their main Uk page and Orange helpers.. Perhaps you could also comment on there please, to add more weight.. there must be other people having this problem.. 😦

  24. Sue Sweeting says:

    Had another phone call from the lady that spoke to me yesterday to say that a notice has been circulated to say that they are investigating the issues with the Text Relay service.. Thankyou so much, hopefully it will be sorted out now and for anyone else affected too.. :)))

    • Ross T says:

      Sue, my contact at Ofcom said they were going to phone to tell you they would be making a refund rather than they would be investigating. Can you clarify what was actually said by them? If necessary I will pass it on to my Ofcom contact.

  25. Liz says:

    I so hope to god thes charges do not get incured to me when I get set up later and have a textphone sorted. I’m already feeling nervous about using it as it is, let alone being charged more than you should.

    • Suzie says:

      I am sure it won’t happen,Liz – and if it does, you will get a refund 🙂

    • Ross T says:

      I have just been informed by Ofcom of the following announcement that will be made by BT:

      “This text should be appearing on the Openreach website and/or in the Interconnect Bulletin shortly:

      “We have recently become aware that a small number of communications providers may have charged their customers the full cost of Text Relay calls as billed by BT. Although the Text Relay facility fee is 68.79p per minute or part thereof, Ofcom has asked us to advise our wholesale customers that to pass this charge on to subscribers would be a breach of General Condition 15.

      General Condition 15 requires communications providers to give their subscribers access to an approved text relay service. Charges for this service must be no more than the equivalent price of a regular call made without the use of a relay service. General Condition 15 also requires communications providers to apply a special tariff scheme for users of text relay services which is designed to compensate subscribers for the additional time it takes to make relay calls. Only relay services approved by Ofcom are suitable for the purposes of the General Condition.

      The General Conditions can be read in full at:

      http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/telecoms/ga/general-conditions.pdf

      Communications providers who require any clarification should contact Ofcom.”

      Hopefully this will resolve the problem once and for all.

      Ross

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