A late billing error made by Openreach for Special Phone Book Entries (SPBEs) has riled Channel Telecom MD Clifford Norton who received a bill for circa £20,000 back dated to 2012. Norton says that his case is the tip of the ice berg and he is one of a number of FCS members who have collectively lobbied BT and Openreach on the matter and secured a meeting on October 19th.
In a statement The BT Phone Book put its hands up and said, 'we are sorry for this issue', but nevertheless plans to claw back what it says it is owed following an audit of BT's billing systems that revealed the non-billing of certain entries that are a chargeable additional listing in the Business A-Z section.
What is more surprising is that this issue is a re-run of a similar episode in 2012 when Openreach included a high volume of back dated charges for SPBEs going back several years.
The FCS said at the time that the total bill was estimated to be over £1m with some larger CPs reporting individual charges in excess of £100,000.
Following negotiations over several months the back billing was reduced to 12 months.
BT was also accused of not notifying CPs of price increases for SPBEs which came into force on 1st April 2013.
"We are again fighting these charges," stated Norton. "How do I, for example, go back to a church, vets, small garage, small hotel or doctors surgery and tell them that a contract they signed with BT phonebooks is still in place and that they now owe thousands of pounds?
"The method of charging and the fact that some customers have left us is unacceptable. The contract should be with the end user and not involve service providers."
According to FCS CEO Chris Pateman BT is 'more open and customer-focused this time compared to 2012'. "BT has already pushed back the deadline for notifying an objection to 90 days," he said. "We are hopeful we will be able to conclude this swiftly and satisfactorily within a few weeks."
Referring to the previous late billing issue five years ago Pateman said: "How could it happen again? We will continue to work with BT over issues of principle, including where the fault lies and the length of the back billing period."
A BT spokesperson told Comms Dealer: "We’re sorry for the issues that some communications providers have experienced with our billing system for Special Phone Book Entries.
"Systems issues meant that some communications providers were not charged for adverts that appeared in the phone book.
"We’ve proactively contacted the communications providers affected to advise them of the issue and are currently discussing how we can recover our costs in a fair and reasonable way.
"We are also working closely with the FCS on this process and are taking steps to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again.\"