Just over a year ago, I decided to change telephone company, but soon discovered breaking up would be hard to do: initially, my operator, Vodafone, wouldn’t answer my calls; then it started calling me in the early hours of the morning. Eventually, I realized that this was going to end in court. Allow me to explain what happened.
I have an optical company in Málaga called Natural Visión. Basically, we specialize in cognitive evaluation and visual, hearing, and motor processing for young children. To offer the best service, I am constantly upgrading my equipment and machinery. So imagine my surprise when my bank told me that it could not finance my latest purchase because my company had been blacklisted as a credit risk over an unpaid debt.
I will recover the money, even if it means taking the ashtray off the chairman’s desk
I have never once been in debt or failed to pay a bill. What’s more, banks rarely tell you why you have been blacklisted. It didn’t take me long to make the Vodafone connection: the company was demanding €907.90 for ending my fixed contract ahead of time. The problem is that this wasn’t true. The letters Vodafone had sent me referred to a contract I had never signed. Months earlier, when my company had switched from Vodafone to Orange, I had paid the amount the company had demanded.
But it was when I tried to contact Vodafone that things really got Kafkaesque. I imagine my experience will sound familiar to many people. First, I was kept waiting on the phone with hold music playing. Then I was put through to the person responsible, who said they would pass my complaint on to the appropriate department. Then nothing. And like this the process repeated itself several times.
Given my failure to make any progress by phone or email, I brought my lawyer in, who recommended an old-fashioned approach: a fax. But there was still no response. Hoping to overcome the stalemate, I suggested putting the matter before a conciliation panel. All I wanted was to be taken off the bad debt list and for Vodafone to stop demanding money I didn’t owe it. But guess what happened next...
VODAFONE DID NOT TURN UP FOR THE CONCILIATION MEETING.
That seemed pretty insulting, so we decided to take things up a level and filed a lawsuit demanding not just the annulment of the debt, but €1,092 in compensation. This is how the hearing went:
Me: I want compensation of €1,092 in non-material damages.
Vodafone: Buzzing noise [sound of cicadas]. That’s right: IT DIDN’T SHOW UP FOR THE HEARING.
The debt was eventually annulled following a judicial order. My name was removed from the credit blacklist and Vodafone paid the compensation, albeit at the absolute last minute. But the sentence also included a small item that Vodafone ignored: it was supposed to pay “the legal interest accumulated from the moment the lawsuit was filed.” I did the math: the amount came to €8.71.
We informed Vodafone, and, in keeping with its approach to customer relations, it ignored my request and didn’t pay the money. So we went back to court, and a judge slapped an embargo on Vodafone’s assets. If it doesn’t pay the money, I will be allowed to take assets equivalent to the amount the company owes me. And I will recover the money, even if it means taking the ashtray off the chairman’s desk.
All good stories should have a moral. And the moral in this case is that it is worth standing up to these kinds of abuses.
Initially, friends and acquaintances simply told me to pay up and get on with my life. But I’m not that kind of person, and neither is my lawyer. What’s more, we’re talking about €907.90, which is no small amount. I’m sure that when it comes to amounts under €100 a lot of people just pay up. But I believe that if we’re going to end this kind of abuse, we need to fight. Every time.
These companies may be big, but we mustn’t let them intimidate us, even when it comes to €8.71.
Written by Álvaro Llorca, based on interviews with Kino Ferrández, who gave his approval to the text.