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Cut Off In My Prime - Updated 23/04/12

I had my BT telephone line disconnected yesterday. It wasn't disconnected because I hadn't paid my bill, and it wasn't disconnected because I had chosen to switch to a different service provider. As I eventually found out after almost an hour on hold to an Indian call centre, my telephone line had been disconnected because someone had called BT and asked for it to be done!

Okay, the background to this story is that I'm moving house next week. As a result of my impending move, the person buying my house called up BT and asked for his phone number to be transferred to the property. Incredibly, and I mean in an almost impossible to believe manner, BT decided to simply act on this request without any authorisation from the home owner/account holder - that would be me!

Now, I've actually left out quite a bit of frustration to get this far, because when my wife was eventually told what had happened, the BT representative insisted, over and over, that we had requested the line disconnection personally. This went on until we were transferred to the UK customer service team, at which point it was confirmed that it was a third party that had initiated the disconnection and number change request.

When asked why my line was disconnected without my authorisation, the BT customer service representative's reply was that "the person who called them said it was okay" - words fail me!

So, the long and short of it is that you can telephone BT and ask for someone else's phone line to be disconnected, and BT will simply comply with the request without any confirmation or authorisation from the customer in question.

Upon presenting BT with the above hypothesis, we were told that they had tried to contact us to confirm that the request was valid. That attempted contact consisted of an alleged unanswered phone call - the genius who allegedly called didn't think it prudent to leave a message on the answering service, of course.

We were also informed that a letter had been sent out informing us of the request to disconnect our line - no such letter ever arrived. However, since the person buying our house has already redirected his mail to our address, we noticed that he had received a letter from BT. Yep, you guessed it, to check the validity of a third party individual's request to disconnect my phone, BT wrote to that same third party individual to confirm that it was okay, rather than writing to the home owner and account holder.

At this point you're probably thinking that things couldn't possibly get any worse, but you'd be wrong. When disconnecting my phone line and switching the number, BT also disconnected my broadband. As you can imagine, it's hard being a journalist for online publications without an Internet connection. When we requested that the broadband be reactivated, the BT representative informed us that we'd need to pay to be connected, even though we hadn't asked to be disconnected in the first place. Oh, and they can't get us connected until the end of next week, by which time we'll have moved out anyway.

But here's the best bit. We were also told that even if we wanted to activate broadband, we're not allowed to do so because the account isn't in my name anymore - can you see the irony here? Basically, I'm not allowed to make changes to the BT account at my home, because BT has allowed a third party to make fundamental changes to an account in my name without my consent.

And as if all that wasn't bad enough, I've also been told that my original phone number that I've had for the past six and a half years, is now gone. Yep, that's right, apparently once the line is disconnected without the number being transferred, that number just disappears into the ether. Of course, since I'm only moving to the neighbouring village I had fully intended to take my phone number with me, but that option was taken away from me, just like every other aspect of my BT account.

BT has been investigating this issue all day, and I'm still waiting for a response or comment to explain how something so fundamentally wrong could have happened in the first place. I'm also waiting to find out whether this problem can be resolved in anything even approaching a satisfactory manner, but everything's still quiet on the BT front.

I'll update this article when I do hear back from BT, but I can't think of any valid explanation for allowing a third party to disconnect another customer's phone line and change their number. Whatever the explanation, I'm looking forward to hearing it.

Update 04/04/12 - This afternoon I received a phone call from the BT Chairman's Office. The first thing I was told was that the mistake was BT's - not something that was ever in doubt as far as I'm concerned, but it's always reassuring when the opening gambit is an honest admission.

I was also told that they have been working all day to resolve this issue for me. On the bright side, it looks like my original phone number may have been rescued from the abyss. But on the dark side, I still don't have any broadband, and essentially have someone else's phone number at my home.

I will hopefully have some news tomorrow morning as to when my services and account will be reinstated. Meanwhile, the investigation into how this sorry affair happened in the first place is still ongoing, so I expect there to be a few more updates to this story over the coming days.

Update 08/04/12 - I received a call yesterday from the BT Chairman's Office to tell me that although every effort had been made to get an engineer out to me this weekend, that hadn't been possible, and that the soonest an engineer can investigate the problem is Tuesday afternoon.

By Tuesday afternoon I will have been without a phone line and broadband for over a week, and even if the engineer manages to successfully restore my service, it won't be much good to me since I'm moving out of the property on Thursday morning.

It would seem that BT Open Reach - the engineering department - can only move at glacial pace, no matter who in the BT hierarchy might be pushing them. To add to the insanity of the situation, I was told that even if an engineer had been available over the weekend, they wouldn't have been able to do anything, because all of BT's cabling has been stolen - I kid you not!

So, the story is that all the cables in my area have been stolen, and there won't be any replacements until Tuesday, so the Tuesday PM appointment is the soonest that anything could have been done anwyay.

The thing I find confusing here, is why would the BT engineer need any cables in the first place? I already have a phone line, that's currently active with someone else's number. So surely switching it back to my number is a simple patching job, which won't need any cable laying. I also had, until BT cut it off, an active broadband connection, so there shouldn't be a need to lay any cable for that either!

Given the fact that there's little point reconnecting my services on Tuesday evening, my main focus is making sure that my number and broadband are hooked up at my new house as soon as possible. Let's see how painful that turns out to be.

Update 11/04/12 - So, after over a week without my phone number or broadband, I decided to give up. When BT called me yesterday morning I told them that there was no point in restoring my number yesterday afternoon, since I was moving out of the property in 36 hours anyway. I said that my priority was now getting my phone number and broadband installed at my new house, which I'm moving into tomorrow, and that's the course of action we decided to take.

Around 2pm yesterday I got a phone call from my wife saying that a BT engineer was at the house insisting that he had to restore my old phone number to the property. After spending some time explaining the situation to the engineer, he agreed to leave without restoring my old number, but pointed out that he couldn't cancel the job in the system, meaning that another engineer could turn up to try to do the same job again.

Yesterday evening I received another call from my contact at the BT Chairman's Office. He informed me that he has now escalated the problem to the most senior sales team, who are attempting to cancel the order to restore my number to my current house, and push through the order to have it installed at my new house.

Whether or not my phone number and broadband appear in my new home remains to be seen, but I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. I will, however, be taking my trusty Three MiFi to the new house just in case!

Update 23/04/12: It has now been three weeks since my phone and broadband were unceremoniously disconnected by BT without any authorisation by myself. During that time I spent the last week-and-a-half at my old house with no phone or broadband, then moved into my new house to be greeted by the same situation.

Although BT had promised that my original phone number would be up and running on the day I moved in, that wasn't to be the case. The problem, or at least the next in a long line of problems, turned out to be fault on the line to my new house. A request was put out to BT OpenReach to fix the fault.

The BT OpenReach engineer who turned up at my door on Saturday 14 April was actually brilliant. Not only did Lee get my phone line working with the correct number, but he then tested and eventually wired up all the telephone extension sockets around the house for me.

I was then assured on Monday 16 April that my broadband order had been placed and expedited for activation on Tuesday 17 April. Unfortunately I'm still waiting for that expedited activation to actually materialise.

In the meantime I've received a letter from BT demanding the return of the Home Hub that was sent to me at my old address, even though I'll need it when my service is actually activated. But today I received another Home Hub, this time, presumably for the broadband at my new property - I'm assuming the first one was actually sent out when BT tried to reconnect my broadband at my old home.

Now I'm going to have to disconnect the Hub that I'm currently using (well, "using" in the broadest of sense), because BT has requested the original hub back citing its serial number. All that said, it doesn't really matter which Hub I keep, since neither of them have a broadband service to connect to!

Oh, and yes, I'm still waiting for the promised report, which will explain how this whole, sorry affair happened in the first place.

Riyad has been entrenched in technology publishing for more years than he cares to remember, having staffed and edited some of the largest and most successful IT magazines in the UK. In 2003 he joined forces with Hugh Chappell to create They built TR into the UK’s market leading technology publication before selling the title to IPC Media / Time Warner in 2007. As Editorial Director at Net Communities, Riyad will be helping to develop the publishing portfolio, making IT Pro Portal the best publication it can be.