The shoddy service backlash: Two weeks ago we called time on firms using Covid 19 as an excuse... Now we name and shame the worst offenders

  • In September we found 50 major firms still blaming their problems on Covid
  • Since then readers have flooded our postbag with tales of woeful service 
  • Virgin Media, Easylife, Currys, British Gas and Iglu Cruise among worst offenders

Money Mail readers have spoken. And you are truly sick of terrible customer service.

Last month we called on Britain's biggest companies to stop using the virus crisis as an excuse for letting customers down.  It came six months into lockdown as we found 50 major companies still blaming call-waiting times, refund delays or reduced opening hours on Covid-19.

Since then, Money Mail readers have flooded our postbag with tales of woeful service - from waiting more than two months for a replacement washing machine, to having to make weekly calls for five months to get a £15 refund. In all, you told us you were waiting for refunds totalling more than £74,000.

Driven to distraction: Money Mail readers have flooded our postbag with tales of woeful customer service

Driven to distraction: Money Mail readers have flooded our postbag with tales of woeful customer service

The same firms cam up again and again 

We received close to 200 letters about the shoddy service you had suffered. And five company names came up repeatedly.

Over a quarter of all letters and emails complained about telecoms giant Virgin Media, catalogue firm Easylife, electrical retailer Currys PC World, British Gas and holiday firm Iglu Cruise.

Around 12 per cent of all complaints were about Virgin Media.

Some customers claimed they had spent months trying without success to leave the broadband giant and switch to another provider to get cheaper deals.

And others faced difficulties when Virgin, which generated more than £5 billion in revenue last year, tried to send out new Sim cards to customers when it updated its network.

Some struggled to speak to someone when their Sim card didn't work, while other cards were sent to the wrong address. 

Easylife was the second most complained about firm - with 6 per cent of letters and emails from readers moaning about the catalogue retailer.

British Gas told me I was 55th in the call queue 

Margaret and Brian Dent are worried their boiler could break down during winter after British Gas postponed its annual service.

The retired couple, from Dunfermline, Fife, were told their initial appointment in May had been cancelled, but they have not heard anything since.

Left in the lurch: Margaret Dent and her husband Brian are worried their boiler could break down after British Gas postponed its annual service

Left in the lurch: Margaret Dent and her husband Brian are worried their boiler could break down after British Gas postponed its annual service

Margaret, 79, says she has tried to get in touch via the online chat to no avail - and was placed 55th in line when she called. 

She wants to know if British Gas will compensate her if she is forced to get an outside contractor to do it.

'I know there is the virus, but you can't talk to anybody at all. They're just passing the buck and I've had enough.'

British Gas says the annual service was cancelled due to the virus. After Money Mail's intervention, a service has been booked for October 21.  

Some claimed to have waited months for orders to arrive, while others were growing impatient for refunds for returned items.

Lesley Mercer, 64, ordered three bra tops worth £15 in May but struggled to get a refund after returning them because they did not fit. 

She phoned Easylife's customer service line every week and sent several emails that were not acknowledged.

The dog walker from Southampton wrote: 'At first, I was reasonably sympathetic to the company's apologies and excuses of 'staffing difficulties due to the lockdown' as the reason for the delay, but now feel this is beginning to wear very thin.' It was only on Monday that a cheque for £18.94, which included postage, finally arrived.

Complaints about Currys and British Gas made up around 5 per cent each of the total. Many of the Currys complaints related to late refunds, while several British Gas customers struggled to book their annual service. 

Several readers who wrote in about Currys were especially frustrated by its decision to shut down its customer service email address and replace it with a Webchat.

Sinking feeling: Holidaymakers who had booked cruises before coronavirus were seeking the largest refunds

Sinking feeling: Holidaymakers who had booked cruises before coronavirus were seeking the largest refunds

When will we get our money back?

One in four readers who got in touch were waiting on refunds - totalling £74,147. Holidaymakers who had booked cruises before coronavirus were seeking the largest amounts of cash.

Indeed, Iglu Cruise, a specialist travel agency, accounted for 4 per cent of complaints. 

When Cornelia Reid's two-week Baltic cruise was cancelled due to the pandemic and she claimed a refund, she was told she would receive her payment of nearly £11,798 within 60 days, then 90 days, and she has now been waiting for more than 120 days.

In desperation, she attempted to claim the money back by going to the providers of the two credit cards she used, through Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

Virgin has been no help after bill went up by 60%

Geoff Langford saw his Virgin Media bill rise by around 60 per cent during lockdown

Geoff Langford saw his Virgin Media bill rise by around 60 per cent during lockdown

An eldery couple saw their Virgin Media bill rise by around 60 per cent during lockdown but have been unable to contact the firm to find out why.

Geoff and Christine Langford became so fed up that they decided to leave the firm after more than a decade, but say they are still being billed.

The couple, from Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, are worried debt collectors may soon get involved. 

They noticed their phone, TV and broadband costs creep up around nine months ago, but have been unable to get an answer.

Geoff, 75, called repeatedly and was told it would be fixed, but nothing happened. 

He switched to BT at the end of August, but Virgin are still demanding payments for September and part of October.

A Virgin spokesman says: 'We will get in touch with Mr Langford to offer a resolution.' 

But so far only one card has refunded her, so she is still £3,848 short. She wrote: 'My patience has run out. I need the money.'

Any holidaymaker who booked a cruise which lasts longer than 24 hours should be protected by Package Travel Regulations for both their transport and accommodation. 

Firms that cancel trips should refund customers within 14 days, even if it's for a reason beyond their control. But several cruise companies are asking customers to wait months for their cash.

James Daley, of consumer group Fairer Finance, says: 'Some cruise companies will not survive, but for those that do there will be reputational damage if they don't do the right thing.'

Tired of their feeble excuses

Consumer experts say customers are fed up with the pandemic being used as an excuse. 

Adam French, consumer rights expert at Which?, says: 'While Covid initially caused significant upheaval, six months down the line it's no longer acceptable to blame it.

'How businesses treated customers during the pandemic won't be forgotten, and those that do not make customer service a priority are likely to find people will take their business elsewhere.'

James Daley says firms should publish more data about their customer service performance, such as average call-waiting times, so customers will have an idea about what they are signing up to.

How to take them on 

  • Complain to the firm using social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook. Publicising your problem may get the company's attention.
  • Write a letter of complaint and send it to the firm, your MP, and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). Include links to the law that says you are entitled to a refund. You can find these on consumer rights sites such as Resolver and MoneySaving Expert. The CMA outlines your rights when a service is cancelled as a result of the pandemic.
  • If you paid by debit card and have not received the goods or service you paid for, ask your bank to 'charge back' your payment. For credit card payments over £100, you can make a claim under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.But Helen Dewdney, who runs advice website The Complaining Cow, says customers who are better informed about their rights could force companies to change. 

'Online shoppers who know their contract is with the retailer will not be fobbed off by someone telling them to contact the courier firm,' she says.

There's nobody we can talk to 

Being unable to speak to a member of staff - often because nobody picks up the phone or emails go unanswered - was the most common bugbear for Money Mail readers.

One in three who complained of shoddy service had struggled to speak to someone on the phone, with several finding emails also received no response.

National Savings & Investments (NS&I) customer Roy Forbes wrote to the Government's savings arm to inform it of a change of address.

NS&I responded with a letter sent to his new home, but it also stated that it could not accept his change of phone number in writing during the pandemic and he would have to telephone or log in to his account.

But the 76-year-old retired business consultant was unable to make the changes online, as his account kept timing out. 

He has spent days trying to get through to the customer service team - over seven hours on hold in total.

The Shrewsbury pensioner wrote: 'How many days should I call them before I can either change my number or withdraw my money, whichever comes first?'

Some readers claimed they had been unable to find a telephone number or email to contact a firm about a customer service query.

Martyn James, of complaints site Resolver, described such practices as 'deeply unfair' adding: 'It should be an automatic obligation for any firm to provide a way to directly contact a customer service representative - either by phone or email - or both.'

A Virgin Media spokesman apologised for longer waiting times, adding: 'Coronavirus safety measures meant we had to close some of our contact centres which had a considerable impact on call and webchat waiting times.' 

An Easylife spokesman apologised for the difficulties Lesley Mercer faced making contact, adding: 'Our staffing was severely impacted due to social distancing, reducing our capacity at times by 50 per cent.'

A Currys PC World spokesman confirmed its call centres still weren't at full capacity, adding: 'We have upskilled 700 members of retail staff to join our customer service teams across our concierge, social and webchat services.'

British Gas says it was pushing back non-emergency appoint- ments to adhere to Government guidelines, adding: 'We have now caught up on all of these and they have taken place with the appropriate protective clothing and safety precautions.'

An Iglu Cruise spokesman says: 'Where we have failed to refund money within the timescale advised, we sincerely apologise.'

An NS&I spokesman confirmed it would investigate Roy's case, adding: 'We are sorry that some of our customers are experiencing delays when trying to contact us.'

Readers' letters special 

I belong to a group of line dancers and we are fighting for a £478 refund from IOW Tours. 

The company is refusing to give us cash and has given out credit notes instead.

P.F., via email.

My husband has been trying to cancel his contract with Virgin Media for months now. 

Each time he rings up, he gets told he may have to wait for up to 35 minutes and then has to listen to music which drives him up the wall.

C.C., Birmingham.

I spent £74 on make-up which I ordered from Debenhams online.

I've sent seven emails, but the products - which were meant to arrive in July - have still not materialised.

J.B., via email.

My husband left his keys in a check-in tray at the airport by mistake. 

An employee there eventually told me they had been traced and gave me a telephone number to ring. I've spent hours trying it, but nobody answers.

V.P., Bristol.

Our Princess Cruises trip was cancelled in May and we are still waiting for our deposit back. 

I appreciate this whole situation is unprecedented, but a 22-week wait is just unacceptable.

C.L., Ipswich.

I have been waiting for six months for a refund for £34.99 for a printer I bought from Currys. 

In that time I've made ten phone calls, but nobody ever picks up. I am a pensioner and this was for a printer I returned by Royal Mail.

J.V., Lincolnshire.

PayPal is terrible at the moment. I've been trying to contact it for weeks and it just takes you through a loop of recorded questions. 

It says it is short of staff, but there are plenty of people looking for work.

K.S., via email.

I'd like to nominate GreenThumb, a lawn treatment company, for having shoddy customer service. 

I have emailed its head office in North Wales on multiple occasions but I don't seem to be getting anywhere.

D.W., via email.

My husband and I have been trying get a £2,205 refund from Cruise & Maritime Voyages. 

We've been using the ABTA scheme, but because we are IT illiterates, we've been doing it by post. 

They have every single document we have, but we seem to be getting nowhere.

S.T., Whitstable.

I have been trying to input new bank details into my National Savings & Investment (NS&I) account for weeks, but as my password has expired I keep being directed to ring a number. 

I recently waited for 40 minutes on hold, without success

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