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UPDATE Ofcom UK Investigates Unicom’s Sales and Marketing Tactics

Monday, March 31st, 2014 (11:58 am) - Score 11,723

The UK telecoms regulator has opened an own-initiative investigation into Universal Utilities (Unicom) after a series of consumer complaints raised concerns about the fixed-line broadband and phone providers sales and marketing tactics in respect to their service terms and contracts.

Ofcom said that its focus would be on whether or not Unicom has complied with its obligations under General Condition 24 (specifically 24.3 and 24.6) and General Condition 9 (specifically 9.3 and 9.4). For reference those GC’s refer to the following rules (note: GC9 imposes a requirement on providers to offer contracts with minimum terms):

General Condition 24

Mis-selling prohibition
24.3 When selling or marketing Fixed-Line Telecommunications Services, the Gaining Communications Provider must not:

(a) engage in dishonest, misleading or deceptive conduct;
(b) engage in aggressive conduct;
(c) contact the Customer in an inappropriate manner; or
(d) engage in Slamming.

Information at Point of sale
24.6 The Gaining Communications Provider must take all reasonable steps to ensure that before entering into a contract for a Fixed-Line Telecommunications Service the Customer who is transferring the line:

a) is authorised to do so;
b) intends to enter into the contract; and
c) is provided with the information set out below in a clear, comprehensible, prominent and accurate manner, in paper or another Durable Medium which is available or accessible to the Customer or, where the Customer enters into the contract during a sales call, by telephone:

(i) the identity of the legal entity the Customer is contracting with and its telephone, website and/or e-mail contact details;
(ii) a description of the Fixed-Line Telecommunications Service requested; the key charges, including minimum contract charges, and any early termination charges, if applicable; payment terms; the existence of any termination right, termination procedures and the Customer’s right to cancel at no cost from the point of sale to the completion of the Transfer Period; the arrangements for provision of the service, including the order process and, as accurately as possible, the likely date of provision of the service and any minimum period of contract.

It may or may not be related but over the past few years ISPreview.co.uk has received a small string of complaints about Unicom, with most surfacing around 2009-11.

In most of those cases the common allegation was that Unicom failed to make clear that some of their broadband services came with a 3 year contract term and sometimes refused to release migration codes for those who wanted to leave.

Some customers also expressed strong displeasure with how Unicom’s customer support department had handled their concerns.

UPDATE 5th Jan 2015

It’s been pointed out to us that Unicom was also mentioned as part of a recent Parliamentary debate, raised by John Healey MP in the House of Commons on the 26th November 2014, in which Healey named Unicom as a “shameful predatory company” (here).

Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, said:

Anyone listening to the events he recounted will be shocked at the way Unicom has behaved. It seems astonishing that a telecoms company would pursue a man in his 70s, who has broken his back, for this sum of money. It should recognise that … it should waive this bill.”

Leave a Comment
9 Responses
  1. Avatar Mrs Jill Geering

    I unfortunately have both my broadband and my phone line with Unicom.

    In April 2013 I signed up for a all calls package which was £31.95 a month with free calls to land lines and mobiles for up to an hour. In October for no reason and without informing us they took me off this package and started charging me premium rates for my calls. Obviously as I had not been told I was happily chatting for up to an hour regularly on the phone thinking it was free. Because we had just moved I did not have internet access so did not notice the huge bills (over a £100 some months) that had been take. When I realised in January I immediately called to sake for it to be changed back and for a refund. I received no apology and no explanation as to why this had happened, I was even told I was never on a contract!! I was refused when I asked to speak to a manager, which was sooooo frustrating, and told I would not be able to have a refund but a credit would be given, however this could take weeks. In the mean time they still still tried to take more large amount out of my bank and charge me for calls!!

    When I decided enough was enough I received threatening calls immediately threatening action if I don’t pay them £222!! When I queried this amount and asked for a break down I was told I was not entitled to see a breakdown as that was done in a “special department” when I asked to speak to this department I was refused.

    I can not tell you how frustrated I am with this company and I’m disparate for any advise help to get away from them. I had followed the complaints procedure and emailed and written to them but having been abused and aggresevly shouted at by the managers I don’t hold out much hope. Can anyone please help me.

    Mrs J Geering

  2. Avatar Busterbobs

    Hi Gill

    You are definitely not alone and the Internet is full of complaints about Unicom.

    Did you change your method of payment from direct debit to cheque or card payment? That might be the reason they have put you on premium rates.

    There is quite a lot that can be done and a lot of help to be had and if you contact the people that run http://www.unicom-complaints.co.uk they can probably help.

  3. Avatar Lyndsey

    My mum has just signed up to Unicom in Jan 2014 and is already having problems, a sales person came to the house and signed her up for a 1 YEAR CONTRACT ok no problem
    My mum is now getting large bills after being td we will save you 20% on your previous provider
    She has now received a letter to say she is on a 3 year contract and they want 3 years worth if 30% of each monthly bill to buy herself out of this contract and she is not alone in this
    She rang to add broadband as they have moved house and was told it was £29.99 per month for standard after telling the advisor this was way, way too much to pay and she could get it cheaper elsewhere he hung up on her but before that saying ‘well go somewhere else then’ I’m disgusted my mum has been tret in this manner, please Ofcom do something about these cowboys, they want £600 off my mum to get out if her contract for estimated calls used?!?!
    Lyndsey

  4. I’d recommend raising these complaints via Ofcom, with reference to their on-going investigation, as now would be the perfect time to highlight the problems.

  5. Avatar Busterbobs

    Yes I agree Mark and the Ofcom investigation Case Leader’s direct email can be found on this link
    http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/enforcement/competition-bulletins/open-cases/all-open-cases/cw_01125/

  6. Avatar Julie

    This company is the worst company I have ever dealt with their salespeople will lie and say anything to have you as a customer. We had been with them happily for years with our business line when they called and asked if they could take over our broadband at a faster speed and home line, I explained that I had a contract with BT but they said they would pay any fees incurred but sure enough when the line went over I incurred a £125 fee from BT which in the end Unicom deducted a few months rental from my bill. What I was not told and am so angry about though is I was not told it was a 3 year contract, and even though I told the saleslady Jazz that we were moving in the next year and told no problem just phone and cancel when you move, that the contract is with the number not the property. When I called to cancel our lines and broadband was told that even though it was a different exchange and I couldn’t keep my numbers I would face a huge cancellation fee. I was told that my only option was for them to take over my home line and broadband and have another line run in at a cost. I explained that it was a small cottage and didn’t need another line so they agreed that as long as I had them for my home phone and broadband they wouldn’t make me have another line!!! the cost of their broadband though is double what anyone else is and there is no free weekend and evening calls standard with other companies but having no option was told it would take 7-10 working days for the broadband it took 17 working days!!! I arranged for a redirect message to be put on my business line from the 21st March they put it on on the 10th and I didn’t realise all day until a customer came in and said he’d been trying to call me all day. I called Unicom and was told there was no way of contacting my lost calls and they were sorry. The next day they did the same thing again costing me hundreds of pounds of business. They then had the cheek to charge me for the calls that had been incorrectly diverted, the broadband that I couldn’t have, the line rental on the old line and even though I phoned and told them and they agreed to reissue the bill still went ahead and charged me!!! Several other things happened including a call out where I was charged £99 and because it was working on the day of the callout the engineer did a quick line test and went, a couple of days later the line went again and the engineer couldn’t come out for over a week (bear in mind that this is a business line) I paid a local engineer £120 to come out and the problem was the box outside had blown open in the wind and he closed it. When I contacted Unicom was told I would be charged for letting someone other then them touch the box thankfully this was not the case but there was no apology for their engineer not checking the box thus costing me £220. I would not touch this company with a barge pole and can not wait to get out of this contract unfortunately it won’t be until 2016.

  7. I own a little Christian Bookshop on the High Street here. Since 2009 Unicom have supplied Basic Line rental and calls, cost varied from £18 to £22. per month. Another supplier supplied our Broadband service – total monthy cost £32-£35 per month.
    Enter Unicom Salesman- Jan:2014.(who is now unable to speak to me and nobody knows his name!) Initial discussion sales pitch was we can supply your broadband service and all on one bill and save you money – sounded good , for every penny counts for this small enterprise. He is very insistent that he can supply this service and it will cost me less. He then “harassed”me to listen to this pre-recorded terms and conditions, because of damaged hearing,I found this very difficult and asked that they mail a hard copy to me. I never got this document – for I certainly wouldn’t have signed it. And the pre-recording does not include the conversation leading up to the Term & Conditions. Because of illness I have not been able to keep an eye on finances, but I was horrified to find money deducted from our account far in excess of our previous arrangement £80.39 25th March and £55.18 25th April and so on….
    I believe this is dishonest selling to unsuspecting “joe public” and Unicom should
    carry a health warning should they continue this practice. MRR

  8. Avatar Busterbobs

    Unicom has now been featured on Radio 4 twice and can be heard here (the Unicom item starts at 6:30 minutes) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b045bss8 and here (Unicom item starts at around 40 minutes) http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/b040hhnp#threeG

  9. Avatar penny brain

    same problem here….hard pressure on my husband who has a learning disability, he said yes to get rid of them…they never provided any service now threatening us with court action. Very rude staff of phone when i asked them to send any agreement they had with us, which they could not possibly provide as there wasn’t one, and changed the subject every time. They told us that their equipment worked on BT equipment, untrue, they refused to give us the MAC code, this is illegal. Watch this space…..

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