Can my phone company make me pay this old debt?

29 June 2018
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Moneywise helps a reader with an old mobile phone debt.

I recently got a letter from a collection agency about an unpaid debt from T-Mobile, dated 2014, for £236.83. It was the first time I had heard about it. I called T-Mobile customer service but it was unable to share any details or give me more information. I asked if it was acceptable to chase a four-year-old bill and why I had never been contacted about it and, again, it refused to share any details. I began to think it was fraudulent and asked the debt collector for proof the bill existed. I was told it didn’t have the information on file and all it knew was that I owed £236.83.

Is it a legitimate bill? Do I owe the money? Is T-Mobile entitled to claim the money from me after such an amount of time?

VB/London

I hate it when companies resort to debt collectors as they almost always use dodgy scare tactics. They’re very hard to deal with, as they generally have no idea what the debt is. In short, they’re like dogs that have been sent to bark loudly outside your door in the hope that you will cough up. It’s disappointing that you were stonewalled by T-Mobile, now part of EE in the UK. Your questions were legitimate, given that the money was supposedly owed from several years ago and companies should equip their customer service teams with the means to assist former customers who are being hounded for debt.

Under the telecoms regulator’s rules, firms with a turnover of £40 million-plus from mobile and fixed voice services typically can’t back-bill for charges over four months old. My investigations with EE revealed that the debt related to international and premium-rate calls you made in 2014, and EE says it made attempts to contact you about it at the time. The problem was exacerbated by you moving home soon after, which may be why EE couldn’t contact you.

EE told me: “As VB’s bill remained unpaid for a number of months, it was passed on to a collections agency to settle.” I put EE in touch with you so it could explain the charges and, as a gesture of goodwill due to the age of the account, it offered to reduce the balance by £100, leaving you to pay £136. I suggested that was a decent gesture, so you offered to pay the remaining bill in three parts, which it accepted.

OUTCOME: Outstanding bill reduced by almost half

Simon Read is a money writer and broadcaster. He was the last personal finance editor at The Independent and is an expert on BBC1’s Right On The Money.

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