Blog Post, Outraged

Some time ago I closed my son’s O2 mobile account and moved his phone across to EE.  Unbeknownst to me, (perfectly reasonable) charges of £39.30 were levied by O2 subsequent to my cancellation of the direct debit.  What seemed less reasonable was that the first I knew of these charges was when O2 passed the debt on to BPO Collections.

BPO sent me a letter informing me that I owed O2 £39.30.  There was no explanation as to why I owed £39.30, just that I did, and would I please pay up pronto.

I replied on 27 August with this email:

Dear Madam/Sir

Yesterday I received a letter from BPO Collections to recover an overdue account debt of £39.30 owed to O2.  The BPO reference number is XXXXXXXXXX

I am happy to repay this debt if I owe it, but this is the first I have heard of it.  Please could you tell me what telephone *number* (not account) it is associated with, when and in what circumstances it was incurred?

Thanks in advance for your help in this matter.

Yours faithfully

Steve Manthorp

I received an automated reply:

Thank you for contacting BPO Collections Ltd. I can confirm safe receipt of your email.  A response will be issued to you within 5 working days by one of our experienced advisors.

If you feel that your query requires urgent attention, you can contact our offices on XXXXXXXX where one of our advisors will be happy to help you.

If your query is regarding making a repayment, you can call our automated payment line on XXXXXXXX or alternatively visit our website www.bpopay.co.uk where options include:

  • Making a one off payment
  • Setting up regular repayments
  • Taking advantage of any settlement offers available

You will also have the use of our payment calculator, which can assist you in finding a regular repayment amount that is affordable for you.

You can also send a message to our specialist advisors should you find you are experiencing financial hardship at this time.

Kind Regards,

BPO Collections

Recoveries Department

(Calls may be recorded for quality and training)

For the sake of brevity I will refer to this in future as the Fucking Autoreply.

It was followed the next day by this email.  My own redactions (if the government can do it, so can I):

Dear Mr Manthorp,

Thank you for your email. I can confirm that this matter is in relation to an outstanding balance owed to O2 for exceeding air time limit and an early termination charge mobile number XXXXXXXXX, original reference: XXXXXXXXX

The email goes on to list a range of payment options, concluding with:

Alternatively, you can pay online via our website www.bpopay.co.uk.  

Please ensure you quote your BPO Reference number during all transactions.

Kind Regards,

Jackie Lewis

Administration Assistant

BPOI visited BPO’s website.  The home page includes a photo of two smiling young financial professionals.  You can tell they are financial professionals by the sobriety and cut of their suits.  I imagined that the lady financial professional depicted was Jackie.  I liked the look of her.  She seemed trustworthy.

On the 1st of September I paid the £39.30 outstanding using BPO’s Payments Place portal.  I immediately received an automated receipt.

On the 8th of September I received this threatening email from BPO:

Final Notice – Please do not ignore

Dear Mr Stephen Manthorp,

BPO Collections have been instructed by Lowell to collect this outstanding debt and despite requests by both BPO and our client for payment, the balance still remains outstanding. To date, we have not been made aware of any dispute on the account that is preventing you from paying the outstanding amount. Accordingly, we now have no alternative than to recommend to our client that further action may be appropriate which may include a home visit.

 (etc. etc.)

I assumed that the email had been sent out by an automated system which had not yet picked up on the fact that I had already paid the outstanding amount.

On the 15th of September I received another email entitled ‘Recent Login Attempt’:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to you today in regards to the above account. Our systems show that you have recently visited our website but have been unsuccessful in making your repayment.

 In case you are experiencing any difficulty when using our website www.bpopay.co.uk , I have listed our alternative repayment methods below:

I was a little offended that I had reverted from ‘Mr. Stephen Manthorp’ to ‘Sir/Madam’, but I was more annoyed that BPO had failed to register my payment.  I replied:

I have checked my account and I did pay, on 2nd September.  Please confirm that this email is an error on your part.

Yours

Steve Manthorp

Notice that I, too, had cooled off from ‘Yours Faithfully’ to just ‘Yours’.  I could sulk, too.

Jackie Lewis replied with a string of questions:

Dear Mr Manthorp,

Thank you for your email. I understand you have made a payment to this account.

Could you please confirm how you made this payment?

Could you please confirm on which date you paid this balance?

Could you also provide any receipt you may have received in response to your payment?

I have currently placed your account on hold for a period of 2 weeks to allow you to provide us with this information and to bring this matter to a close.

At this point, reader, I succumbed to anger.  I had provided the Blooming Persistent Offenders with everything they needed to trace the payment.  I was not prepared to send them personal financial documents to cover their ineptitude.  I emailed in dudgeon:

Frankly, this stinks of scam.  I was already suspicious about this collection, now I’m pretty sure that it’s a con.

If you are genuine, why don’t you know these things?  You (should) have the account number, you (should) know the amount that was owed, I’ve (ALREADY!) given you the date I paid it, you (allegedly) operate the website through which it was paid and you bloody certainly should be able to trace a payment received. I have paid what was owed.  It’s not my job to ‘prove’ that I have.  You are (allegedly) a collections agency.  It is your job.

Please note that I will not reply to further correspondence unless you fully and explicitly explain why you have failed to keep a record of my payment or why you cannot trace it in your bank receipts.  I have kept copies of this email correspondence to forward to the Financial Ombudsman Service if necessary.

I received the Fucking Autoreply, followed by this:

Dear Mr Manthorp,

Thank you for your email. Please accept my apologies as we do not wish to cause you any undue stress or inconvenience.

We would like to have this matter resolved as swiftly as possible. I can confirm that your account has been placed on hold to allow us to do this.

It would assist us greatly if you could please provide a payment receipt or a bank statement showing your payment to BPO. This would allow us to investigate the matter further and locate your payment.

I appreciate your cooperation in this matter.

Kind Regards,

Scott Coyle

Why Jackie Lewis had passed the baton to Scott Coyle, I do not know.  Perhaps my language had offended her sensibilities.  Scott Coyle sounded as if he was made of sterner stuff.  It’s the sort of name that puts one in mind of Hollywood leading men of the 1950s.  If the male financial professional depicted on BPO’s home page was Scott Coyle I was, frankly, a little disappointed.

However, I had had time to cool off and my reply – whilst still adamant that I wasn’t going send them my personal financial documents – was measured in tone:

Dear Mr. Coyle

As I stated in my previous email, I am unwilling to continue with this conversation until you can convincingly explain how you failed to keep a record of my payment and why you cannot trace it in your bank receipts.  That is not unreasonable, I think, if you are an honest company and not, as I have grounds to suspect, a phishing scam.

I received the Fucking Autoreply, followed by nothing.

How I celebrated!  The Bloody Poor Outfit had finally traced my payment and filed my case away in the vaults.  Whilst an apology would have been nice, their silence was enough for me.  The fatted cow was duly slaughtered, bottles of fine vintages were opened and life slowly returned to its normal course.

That is, until Thursday the 27th of November:

Seasonal Settlement Offer

Dear Mr Stephen Manthorp,

We are looking to offer select customers the opportunity to take advantage of one of our seasonal campaigns. We hope that if you are able to take advantage of one of them, it will help in getting your debt cleared.

Option 1: 60% Discount offer. Subject to affordability, if you are able to pay £23.58 within 30 days, we will discount the remainder, meaning you will save £15.72.

Option 2: 50% discount. Subject to affordability, if you are able to settle this over 3 monthly instalments of £6.55 per month, we will discount the remainder on receipt of the last payment, meaning you will save £19.65

Seasonal Settlement Offer?!!!  Ho Ho fucking Ho!  But perhaps the spirit of good will was working its magic on me too, for my reply was businesslike but courteous:

Please note that I paid this debt on 1st September.   See email correspondence between BPO and me between 27 August and 23 September.

Please confirm that you received a payment from me for the sum of £39.30 through Payments Place, Transaction ref . XXXXXXXX and that this debt is cleared.  Please delete this debt from your books and email me confirmation that you have done so.

Copy retained for submission to Financial Ombudsman Service.

Frankly, I don’t imagine that the Financial Ombudsman (Or Ombudswoman, for all I know) would have much interest in my case, as I’m sure (s)he’s kept busy with all those celebrities and multinationals avoiding paying their taxes.  But it made me feel better, and I left it in.

Got the F.A.

On Wednesday 10th December, in a novel twist, I received the Seasonal Settlement Offer again.  Well, I lost my rag.  I sent them a terse email headed, somewhat pompously, Important Information!  Do Not Ignore!

I paid this bill on 01/09/14.  I have written to you many, many times telling you so.  Now I am going to write to O2 (with whom the debt was originally incurred) copied to the financial ombudsman.

F.A.

I tweeted O2.  They invited me onto a chap applet with ‘Cody’ (quite a good gag as the conversation at the other end was largely algorithmically generated) and I explained the whole situation.  I received a promise from Cody that BPO would not contact me again.

I was naïve enough to think it was all over.

On Thursday 18th December, I received another email from Scott Coyle:

Dear Mr Manthorp,

Thank you for your email. Please accept my apologies for any undue stress or inconvenience caused by the delay in my response.

Unfortunately, we have been unable to locate your payment of £39.30. I have therefore placed the account on hold for to allow us to assist you.

Would you be able to provide any receipt or bank statement showing this payment?

I appreciate your cooperation in this matter.

Kind Regards,

Scott Coyle

By this time I had decided that BPO must be one of those practice names that small town solicitors are so fond of, comprising the surnames of the partners, in this case, Messrs. Bollocks, Prat and Orifice.  Scott had still not got the message: he was persisting in the quest to access my personal information.  I decided that if he was that keen to read my bank statements he could bloody pay for the privilege:

Dear Scott Coyle or Lowell (your given name is not the same as your email address)

On Thu 27/11/2014 at 15:00 I emailed BPO the date I paid the amount owing and your own transaction number.  I attach a copy of that email in case your systems’ retention of emails is as woeful as your keeping of financial records.

On 10/12/2014 I complained to O2 about BPO’s unbelievably shoddy service.  They promised me I would not be contacted by BPO any further.  Now this.

I regret that I will have to charge for providing copies of bank statements.  If you wish to proceed, I will be happy to email you a pro-forma invoice.

Copy retained for Financial Ombudsman and publication on my blog.

Guess what I got by reply?  Yup, the not-so-sweet FA.

I also took another – by this time, bloody livid – pop at O2 on Twitter.  Perversely, they have now Twitter-friended me.

And you know what?  On the afternoon of the 19th of December at 16.46, not far short of four months since the saga had begun, I received this email:

Dear Mr Manthorp,

Thank you for your email. I realise there has been an error. I can confirm that there was a duplicate account and that your payment was applied to the wrong one when the payment was made.

I can confirm that your O2 account has been closed and paid in full.

Please accept my apologies for any undue stress or inconvenience caused by our error.

Kind Regards,

Scott Coyle

Well, Scott, I appreciate that you have taken time out of your busy movie schedule to apologise for your and your cowboy outfit’s total fucking ineptitude but, yes, you did indeed cause me undue stress and inconvenience.  Personally I hope that O2 will kick BPO into the long grass where it belongs, because their reputation, such as it is, is sullied by any connection with your shambolic excuse for a service.  But that’s just me. Bye, Piss Off.

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