Dispute over 3 contract extension turns into long and sorry saga

Customer availed of iPhone 5 offer unaware of telecoms contract extension condition

Three said a recording of the initial contact offering the upgrade shows Aidan was told he was agreeing to a 24-month contract extension. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/Bloomberg

A 76-year-old reader called Aidan contacted us with a long and sorry saga that we think deserves a bit of space, so settle in.

“On August 7th, a chirpy agent from 3 Mobile rang to say I was eligible for an upgrade,” Aidan’s story starts. “He offered me an iPhone 5 for €19. I figured I was offered this because I had been with the company for such a long time, since January 2011.”

Aidan says the 3 caller “never spoke about a contract extension. Indeed he never mentioned a contract of any kind.” On August 12th an agent from Virgin phoned offering him a mobile deal: €10 for four months and €25 for the next eight months. “I accepted and a sim card was sent to me. They told me the offer was because I was an existing customer for TV, broadband and my landline. It was a loyalty reward, I was told.”

When Aidan got his new Virgin sim, it would not work, and when he contacted the company he was told he needed to port his number from 3. “I phoned 3 to ask them to port my 087 number. They said they would. I contacted them again the following day and got vague replies about a time frame. I tried the chat line and was told I was tied to a contract and it would cost me almost €500 to break it. I told him that the 3 caller never mentioned a contract or an extension and said I wanted to remain with 3 as I did not want to pay €500. I told Virgin this and they had no problem . I posted their sim back on August 21st.”


Account closed

He contacted 3 again and was told he had to request a port reversal from Virgin. “I did this. Then I contacted 3 and they told me they had closed my account on August 20th. I protested. They said they did not have my number any more, that it was with Virgin.”

So he contacted Virgin again and they told him they had done the port reversal and it was up to 3 to complete the process. “Over the next number of days I made many phone calls and had many chats with 3, but there was always misinformation or promises that everything was okay.”

On one day towards the end of August he was promised three times that his phone would be active within two hours. Days passed with no connection. Then he was made the same promise again, but again nothing happened.

Eventually he was told by 3 that it had not completed the port reversal and he would have to get the number back from Virgin. “Virgin had told me at the beginning of this saga that it was up to 3 to do the work on this, not me, as 3 wanted. They also told me changing ports and port reversals were everyday occurrences with phone companies and that it is a relatively simple process, carried out by the phone companies themselves.”

He then got a bill from 3 for €569.04, which included €462.63 for breaking his contract. “The bill said 3 had closed my account on August 20th, in the middle of all the phone calls.”

Eventually it all got too much, and on September 1st he stopped his direct debit to 3 and told Virgin he was joining them and requested that 3 unlock his phone.

Five days passed and he got nothing from 3. He contacted the online chat forum and was told it would cost €574.05 to unlock his upgraded iPhone 5 or he could get his old iPhone 4 unlocked free. He asked for this to be done.

Days past without anything happening. Then he was told the company could not unlock the old phone. He tried to return the new phone in a 3 store in Dundrum but was told he had to post it. So he sent the new iPhone and the sim to 3's Dublin city-centre headquarters by registered post. A week later it was mysteriously returned to him.

Direct debit

There followed multiple exchanges between him and 3. Then in November he got a bank statement and realised the company was still taking money from his account by direct debit: €47.98 in August and €30.61 in September. He went to his bank and cancelled the direct debit again. They told him to phone 3 and cancel it.

On November 24th he did that and explained the ongoing saga. On December 22nd he got a letter from a debt collector acting on behalf of 3 seeking the money owed.

In a statement, 3 said a recording of the initial contact offering the upgrade shows Aidan was told he was agreeing to a 24-month contract extension. A spokeswoman said in the subsequent over-and-back it made several unsuccessful attempts to port back his number. She said that while Aidan “was made fully aware of the contract that they were agreeing to”, 3 “appreciates that the complexities of this matter combined with our failure to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion has resulted in an unacceptable experience . . . and we apologise. We have been in touch with this customer and agreed to close his account without charge upon the return of his iPhone 5. The customer is happy with this outcome.”