Lorne Thomas assumed cancelling her late husband’s mobile phone contract would be straightforward.
But three months on, the widow was being chased by bailiffs for a £61.70 debt she didn’t owe – despite writing to the chief executive to complain.
She is just one of increasing numbers of readers complaining to Money Mail about the service from mobile phone providers when their loved ones die.
Grieving: But Lorne Thomas was chased by bailiffs over a £61.70 debt for her late husband’s mobile phone contract
Cancelling a mobile phone contract should be the least of your worries when trying to plan a funeral and wrap up a relative’s estate.
But in many cases poorly trained staff are giving the bereaved the runaround and even charging punitive fees to end the deal early.
Money Mail has long campaigned for better treatment of the bereaved.
Tomorrow, Cruse Bereavement Care launches its ‘Bereaved Customers First’ campaign, urging businesses, such as telecoms and energy providers, to improve service for grieving families.
The charity wants the process of reporting a death simplified so the bereaved do not have to spend hours on the phone or fill in unnecessary paperwork at a difficult time.
Lorne, 47, from Burgess Hill, West Sussex, rang Plusnet to cancel her husband Daniel’s £13-a-month contract around a week after he died.
The builder and keen motorcyclist had been racing at Brands Hatch on his 46th birthday in July when he collapsed.
Lorne asked to speak to someone in the bereavement team but was told the provider didn’t have one. She was assured Daniel’s contract would be cancelled and she didn’t need to send a death certificate.
But the following month Plusnet sent a text to both her and Daniel’s phones saying it been ‘unable to collect payment’ and a £10 charge had been added to the bill.
Lorne tried to call the customer service department but was refused help because she didn’t know the account password.
Eventually, Lorne, who has been with Plusnet for four years, wrote to the firm’s chief executive, Andy Baker, to complain.
Someone rang to apologise and assured her she would not receive any more bills. To be sure, Lorne also sent a copy of Daniel’s death certificate.
But seven weeks later she received a letter from Plusnet demanding £61.70 and confirming it had hired bailiffs.
She wrote to explain her husband had died and sent another copy of Daniel’s death certificate, but did not receive a response.
Tomorrow, Cruse Bereavement Care launches its ‘Bereaved Customers First’ campaign, urging businesses, such as telecoms and energy providers, to improve service for grieving families
Plusnet only contacted Lorne after Money Mail got involved.
She says: ‘I’ve done everything I am supposed to do after losing my soulmate. I don’t know why Plusnet is treating me in this way.’
When Joan Hill, 55, from Brighton, tried to cancel her late husband’s mobile contract, Virgin Media’s bereavement team told her she would need to pay a £131.41 exit fee or continue paying £15.36 a month until the contract ended in February 2021.
Before Geoffrey, 64, died of liver cancer in August, he had given power of attorney to Joan.
Virgin Media said that as she had set up the contract for him in her name, she must now pay to leave — even though bills were paid from his bank account.
After sending in her power of attorney documents, she rang again to ask for the fee to be waived. But staff refused.
In a daze, Joan, who has been a Virgin Media customer for ten years, agreed to pay. But a few weeks later, she wrote to Virgin Media’s chief executive, Lutz Schüler, to complain.
And only after she threatened to email his office every day, did the firm finally allow her to break the contract and have a refund.
Joan, who works for a council, says: ‘All Virgin has done is alienate a good customer when I was going through a horrible time.’
Elaine Tipler, 75, tried to cancel her husband Carl’s contract with Virgin Media when he died from a lung condition in January aged 78.
She was told she could pay the outstanding balance but would need to call back three days later to cancel the account.
She forgot and six months later received a letter from Virgin Media addressed to Carl demanding a £17.12 payment.
Elaine called Virgin Media’s credit and collections team but was told to contact the customer care team.
Upset she was once again being given the runaround, she didn’t call back and the following month Virgin sent Carl another letter demanding £47.76 and threatening bailiff action.
It was only when Money Mail contacted Virgin that someone from its bereavement team agreed to cancel the charges.
The great-grandmother, who lives in Skegness, Lincs, says: ‘Carl and I were married for 50 years. This whole experience has been so upsetting.’
Following Money Mail’s Looking After Your Legacy campaign, a Death Notification Service was set up last year to let grieving relatives inform multiple financial organisations that a loved one has died by filling in just one form. But so far only banks and some insurers have signed up.
Experts are now calling on utility providers including mobile, broadband and energy firms to join it.
Steven Wibberley, chief executive of Cruse, says: ‘It is not acceptable that bereaved people are being threatened with bailiffs.’
Stuart Simpson, head of Equiniti Benefactor, which runs the Death Notification Service, says: ‘We are working with companies and industry representatives across a range of sectors — utilities, insurance, investment — to incorporate them into the service.’
Jane Rumble, director of consumer policy at Ofcom, says: ‘Our rules make clear that people in vulnerable circumstances must be given the right support and services they need by phone and broadband providers.’
A Plusnet spokesman says: ‘We sincerely apologise to Mrs Thomas for causing her additional upset during this very distressing time.’
A Virgin Media spokesman says: ‘While the contract in this case was not taken out by the deceased, as a gesture of goodwill, we repaid the outstanding balance on Mrs Hill’s handset loan. We apologise for Mrs Tipler’s experience. We have spoken with her to resolve the issue.’
Vodafone, O2, Tesco Mobile and Sky all said they would not charge exit fees if the person who owned the phone had died, even if the account was not in their name.
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.