Q: We switched telecoms providers about a year ago after a really awful experience – we’d made more than one complaint to the regulator and, in the end, the company agreed to release us from our contract when after we threatened to take a complaint further. At the time, there was an outstanding balance on the account, but we disputed this and refused to pay. There was no resolution and, after a while, they simply stopped sending invoices.
That was until this month, when we heard from a debt collection agency via a letter, saying that they had purchased the debt and threatening legal action to recover it. I’m a bit puzzled as the matter was still disputed in our eyes. Were they allowed to pass this on to a collector? And how should we resolve it?
A: Unfortunately, simply disagreeing with an invoice doesn’t make it go away – your situation really depends on the approach you were taking to the dispute.
Were you officially pursuing a complaint, either through the company’s formal channels or the regulator? Or were you simply arguing verbally that you shouldn’t have to pay after an awful customer experience?
If they took this action while you were still engaged in the formal complaints process, you should take the matter directly to the regulator as they’ve clearly decided not to engage with you. However, if you weren’t, you’ve very little ground to stand on: they were owed money and pursued it, you neither paid nor pursued a formal complaint, so they probably sold on the debt for a fraction of its value.
That fact should make your life easier. If this is really just a debt that you let slide hoping it would go away, you should get on to the collection agency to organise some kind of payment plan. Bear in mind that they probably bought the debt for cents on the Euro, so they should be pretty pleased that you’re engaging immediately. Do explain the background to the case, but I’d be surprised if they even wrote part of the debt off. Just look on this as a learning experience not to let these things slide.