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Case studies - Court action by mobile phone company over £3.76

A 77-year-old Which? Legal member was threatened with court action to recover a debt of just £3.76 from cancelling a phone contract.

Arno Rabinowitz was shocked to receive a letter from debt collectors for a debt he knew nothing about. He turned to Which? Legal to help stop court proceedings and to wipe out any suggestion that he owed money.

Cancelling a mobile phone contract

As a Onetel customer, Arno paid a monthly line rental on a mobile phone and for 1877 prefixes for cheaper landline calls. He decided to change providers and called to cancel his contract. He agreed with the company that the contract would end at the end of October 2010. He paid what he was told he owed (£7.83) and was given no advice about when to cancel his direct debit instruction.

Debt collectors

Three months later, Arno received a letter from debt collection agency Commercial Credit Services (CCS), acting on behalf of Onetel. Arno was shocked to receive the letter, which he described as intimidating and aggressive, as he had no knowledge of any debt owing to Onetel.

The letter, headed ‘Notification of Legal Proceedings’ stated he owed a debt, now raised to £41.76 which would lead to court action and a debt of £122.03, unless he contacted CCS to settle.

Arno felt vulnerable and threatened, so took immediate action to telephone and pay CCS the £41.76. He wished to avoid the threat of court action and eliminate any possibility of an adverse credit reference, but told CCS that he was paying under protest.

Which? Legal advice

Arno then contacted Which? Legal. Our lawyers gave Arno advice and wording for the content of a letter to TalkTalk, which is part of the same group as Onetel. TalkTalk told Arno that he had been contacted by email, but Arno said he hadn’t received any emails or reminders that £3.76 was due.

Outcome

TalkTalk has since apologised to Arno and promised to refund his payment to CCS less the small amount owing. It promised to ensure his credit file wasn’t affected.

Legal points

You can expect to receive notice of a debt from a business, and a reasonable chance to settle it, before hearing from a debt collection firm.

Debt collection guidance issued by the Office of Fair Trading says that charges for debt collection should not be levied unfairly. Examples of unfair practices include applying charges that are disproportionate to the main debt.