/ Technology

Ever had your phone line cut by mistake?

After a Vodafone mistake, a member had to battle to get their phone and broadband reinstated. We explain how Which? Computing was able to step in and help.

When Which? member Stephanie had their phone and broadband cut by Vodafone by mistake, it was the start of a saga that saw them lose internet access on and off for weeks, and lose the number she’d had for 35 years.

The mistake happened after Stephanie’s neighbour, who lives at the same address with a different number, switched to Vodafone’s broadband.

Which? guide: how to switch broadband provider

But instead of cutting the line of its new customers, it was Stephanie’s that got the chop after the mix-up.

So, how do you resolve a problem caused by an ISP when you’re not even a customer?

While Sky was able to restore Stephanie’s connection, it couldn’t recover the number, and was unable to make successful contact with Vodafone to stop and reverse the takeover.

£94 out of pocket

Two attempts were made to recover the number, but each time this left Stephanie without internet access for 14 days. She had to buy an EE 4G wi-fi dongle to cover the outage, leaving her £94 out of pocket.

With the issue seemingly at a dead end, Stephanie was resigned to having to tell all their friends and family that the number had changed.

She attempted to claim compensation from Vodafone, but were told that the fault was caused by a ‘third party’, so it would not compensate her.

Stephanie complained via Ofcom and the Communication Ombudsman, but both proved to be dead ends.

With nowhere left to turn, Stephanie contacted Which? Member Services, and our Computing team took on the case.

Which? Computing steps in

When we contacted both Sky and Vodafone to find out why her case had been dealt with in this manner, Vodafone apologised and offered Stephanie £150 in compensation, which she accepted. It said:

“We are very sorry that Stephanie had her broadband connection cut in error. It’s clear that the source of the problem was an incorrect address submitted for their neighbour’s broadband order. There are provisions in place to prevent such mistakes from affecting a household’s broadband, and we do apologise for the inconvenience caused.”

We’re pleased that the company finally saw the errors of its ways and provided a compensation payment that works out to £66 for the inconvenience.

What is ‘line slamming’?

Erroneously taking over a phone line is known as ‘line slamming’, a practice that Ofcom is very strongly against.

Indeed, the watchdog states that any attempt to take over a line should be preceded by a letter from your current broadband provider warning you of the change. In this case, Stephanie believes no such letter ever arrived, so her silence was taken as consent and the line was cut.

Unlike normal cases of line slamming, where an internet service provider deliberately takes over a connection, Vodafone’s actions are as a result of an error.

But the end result is the same, compounded by the loss of Stephanie and William’s phone number.

This contribution to Which? Conversation first appeared in the April 2019 edition of Which? Computing (page 63 – Working for you).

Have you ever experienced line slamming? Has a broadband or phone company failed to deal with a similar complaint?

Comments

Being able to keep a mobile number is important because you will lose your landline number if you move out of the area, as well as losing your address. Some have lost their email address too.

It’s good to hear that Which? has taken on this case to help a member. Is this a service provided for subscribers to Which? Computing?

The introduction refers to Stephanie losing the number she’d had for 35 years, which makes it 1984. That seems unlikely.

If Stephanie has lived at the same address for 35 years, I think she could have transferred her phone number from one company to another.

Thanks Michael. Anything that can raise awareness of the fact that consumers don’t have to accept poor service is welcome.

It’s the landline number that was lost, I believe. My family home had the same number since the early 70s until very recently.

Thanks George. I automatically think of Vodafone provider.

Oops. That should read: “I automatically think of Vodafone as a mobile service provider.”

Doxy says:
27 April 2019

Further to Wavechange ‘s comments about how long Stephanie has had her number, we have had the same landline number since 1969 even longer than Stephanie. We would be very upset to lose it so I really sympathize with her and William.

Thanks Doxy. I had wrongly assumed that since Vodafone is a mobile service provider the number in question was a mobile number. As George has confirmed, it’s a landline number and Stephanie must have have switched to Vodafone at some time.

I would not want to lose my number either, having had it since 1980, but those who move round the country are not so lucky. At least you can keep a mobile number.

As someone said, mobile phones were very rare 35 years ago….. 🙁

I did ask why, when a line had been (temporarily) terminated, accidentally or otherwise, whether the number was immediately reallocated and put into use; if not, why could the number not have been restored? Perhaps the whole complaints process just took too long?

Jane Marshall says:
28 April 2019

If you’ve been at the same address for a number of years then having the same landlines number sounds right to me!

I would have claimed against Sky, with whom Stephanie had the contract, rather than against Vodafone. It is Sky who was responsible for providing service, and Sky which was in breach of contract by not doing so. Sky could claim in turn against Vodafone for causing it to breach its contract. I would also not have accepted only £150 for losing my telephone number, fixed or mobile. There are ways that the number could have been recovered, perhaps at great administrative expense if Sky, Vodafone and the provider that originally issued the number (perhaps BT) all worked together.

I have assumed it was the landline number that was lost. Unless that was rapidly reallocated to someone else I see no reason why it could not have been restored. What are the technicalities? Duncan could no doubt have told us.

On the basis that mobile phones did not exist in the UK 35 years ago, I assume that this Convo refers to a landline number that would have been retained when Stephanie moved to Vodafone, after which she lost the number thanks to the company’s error.

When I read “With the issue seemingly at a dead end, Stephanie was resigned to having to tell all their friends and family that the number had changed“, I understood that the phone number was never recovered.

I would have claimed an additional cost for friends to phone my mobile number until the landline number (known by friends) was reconnected, and put Sky on notice that the longer they took to reinstate my number, the more I would be claiming.

rusty says:
27 April 2019

I have had the same telephone number since the 1960’s, well at least the last seven digits. It started with letters for the first three digits e.g. WAT for Waterloo = 928 on a modern phone dial followed by four numerical digits. Since then different digits have been added before the 928 such as 01,02, and most recently 0207. So, my number hasn’t changed basically from the original one issued by the GPO (now BT) almost 60 years ago.

I miss the old alphabetical London dialling codes. Some were geographical like TOTtenham, HOLborn, BATtersea etc, but others were rather ingenious ways of turning numbers into word forms, like BYRon, DICkens, ELGar, KEAts, WORdsworth, et al. Nautical names figured prominently [e.g. CUNningham, DUNcan, FRObisher, RODney, TRAfalgar], but not generals or land battles and no female names so far as I recollect.

Easier to recall I think. I liked WHItehall 1212 but never used it. Probably banned under the race relations act now. I looked twice at a recent post that included “black male” wondering if it broke community guidelines. I realised it meant “blackmail” and presume it was not removed.

Nobody remembers telephone numbers these days as they are all listed on the device, but I can still recall my parents’ number from nearly forty years ago and all the numbers of the houses I have lived in and places where I have worked. I keep in my wallet a hard copy of my mobile contact list in case I don’t have any other access to the numbers. When I am asked for someone’s number it is just as quick to get my list out as to look it up on the phone.

One number I remember is our phone number when I was young. It was 163. When we moved to England it became 855565 and then 2855565 when more numbers were needed.

My mobile contacts list also appears on my computer.

We’ve had our ‘phone line cut several times. Reasons ranged from an accident with a tractor to a farmer with an axe, and from a deteriorated line owing to 20 years of exposure to the elements to a flooded junction box on the pole. On one occasion we were without BB for six weeks. Real fun living in the sticks…

We used to periodically lose our phone when there was a shortage of lines in our road. BT/Openreach/whatever would fix it by cutting someone else off. 😨 All sorted now, but they could take several weeks to reconnect you.

I will resist posting a picture of a farmer with an axe in case it increases Ian’s anxiety.

Many years ago my phone started to crackle and then failed, as a result of water entering a junction box. When the problem happened again I connected the cables properly and removed the junction box. Evidence of my unauthorised interference was removed when the cable was replaced to provide an extra line for a fax machine.

I don’t know who marked you down Wavechange but I will correct that .
Before anybody marks me down I am an ex BT engineer who has repaired that type of fault so many times , if I was paid a £1 /fix I would be a millionaire .
When water gets in it eats into the copper connections while producing a chemical reaction which is a combination of dirty water and battery voltage of -50V DC -ringing on it is approx 75 V AC ending up with green deposits producing HLI/LI ( heavy low insulation -low insulation ) .

Thanks Duncan. I’m not sure whether I offended a farmer or because I interfered with the telephone system to rectify a problem that had not been properly fixed. The green colour is due to copper salts, produced by reaction of the copper wire with water containing impurities.

I often correct a negative thumb, unless it is there because someone has made an unpleasant remark to another contributor.

We had virgin media disconnect our broadband line and connect it to someone else’s property. A decidedly pithy landline call to 152 got it swapped back.

In your case Alfa its entirely down to a lazy engineer using a good cable pair and claiming –its fixed . In my day you would be told –get back and fix it this time !!
In reality local network cables contain a finite amount of cable pairs when good spares run out the only realistic cure is— the replacement of the cable which means the UG dept. (underground squad ) and that takes time .
In Curmudgeon,s case its a decidedly Lazy installation engineer installing a line to a “provide ” AN (advice note ) .
Cable pairs go through a green street cabinet and are either E side (exchange side ) or D side (distribution side) and are looped at the cabinet to provide the dial tone to a black box on a pole OR a wall box .
Even at my age I could still do this with little effort mentally.