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By: MarkJ - 27 February, 2012 (7:20 AM)
uk aaisp broadband ispThe Director of business focused broadband provider AAISP (Andrews & Arnold), Adrian Kennard, has warned that customers whom "refuse" to pay their bills on time could face "court proceedings after a week or two at the most". At present most ISPs would consider costly court action to be a method of last resort, with Debt Collection Agencies usually being deployed first.

The proposal follows a recent spat between AAISP and Ofcom's "free" (for consumers) Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme (here and most recently here), which attempts via a third party (CISAS or Ombudsman Services) to resolve disputes that have gone unresolved for 8 weeks. Check out our 'ISP Complaints and Advice' section for more.

AAISP's concern is that the mandatory ADR system appears to ignore an ISPs contract terms and could apply even when "we were taking the customer to court for unpaid invoices," said Kennard, "ADR can be used as a means to get out of paying". Kennard fears that ISPs can be forced to pay hundreds of pounds in compensation and ADR fees, often even after they've more than settled the financial dispute.

Adrian Kennard, Director of AAISP, said:

"However, one of the shocking things about this ADR case is that they took the case on even though we were taking the customer to court for unpaid invoices. They then went on to consider the unpaid invoices in their decision - requiring us to waive invoices for services that were provided and used but not paid for.

So it seems ADR can be used as a means to get out of paying your telco, even after the telco has started proceedings in the county court.

So, in future, given that they won't take a case until it is 8 weeks old (well, that is what they say, but who knows what they do - contracts and agreements mean little to these people), we will have to ensure any case where someone owes us money goes to court in enough time to get a decision by the court within 8 weeks."

Kennard's concern that customers could potentially "blackmail us by threatening to take the matter to ADR", which does have some legitimate merit and is a known frustration by other providers too, also risks generating a lot of ill-will among their users.

At this point it should be said that AAISP has earned itself a reputation for going the extra mile, especially in terms of customer support and service. As a result they're almost never in front of an ADR and the recent problems should perhaps be considered exceptional. Even though this is not an official statement from AAISP, Kennard does make it clear he is talking about people refusing to pay rather than a 'missing invoice'.

ADR's exist because some ISPs don't play fair with their customers and thus remain a vital tool; especially for tackling big providers where such mistakes can be quite common. At this stage AAISP has not implemented its proposal and is currently investigating whether or not it would even work (i.e. to avoid the ADR).

Certainly the market and consumers would benefit from a more efficient, effective and fair ADR system but at present there's no sign of that. As a closing note it should be said that abusing an ADR to merely avoid paying the bill, unless justified, is extremely unwise and does not rule out later court action by the ISP.

However, most of the time ISPs are to blame and not consumers, with the vast majority making legitimate use of an ADR. Similarly it should be said that many consumers have their own gripes with the efficiency and slow pace of ADR's.
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