Friday, 11 August 2017

Dear OFCOM, can we play this game too?

I have recently been copied in to a couple of issues that some of my customers have had with BT plc. When I say BT plc, I mean the legal entity that is company 1800000, called British Telecommunications plc.

BT plc practice a form of corporate schizophrenia where they pretend to be more than one legal entity. Worrying this madness has spread to other organisations, notably the Ombudsman service that provide ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) for BT plc.

One complaint was against the BT Retail department of BT plc where an order caused another line to be broken, and the matter went to ADR. They case concluded with confirming "BT Retail sent the details correctly to Openreach", and basically that Openreach screwed up meaning case closed as ADR does not cover Openreach!

The other case is where The Ombudsman Service would not even take a case where Openreach were blocking a number port but would not tell anyone why, i.e. what "mismatch" existed, and BT Retail said there was no mismatch. They said they do not cover Openreach.

In one case, even though admitting that he (i.e. Openreach) is company 1800000, he kept insisting that Openreach was not a communications provider (a clear lie) and to contact his communications provider (which is company 1800000 and hence who my customer was talking to!).

This is, of course, nonsense. Openreach is BT plc; The contract these customers have is with BT plc;  The failure is by BT plc; The dispute is with BT plc; The ADR scheme covers BT plc. This needs sorting.

So the question to OFCOM really is whether this sort of stupidity pretend different companies is actually allowed. Can a company pretend that its different departments are different and hence pass the buck, blame another department, and get out of any liability even under ADR by doing so - a sort of internal force majeure. Is that actually valid?

If it is, then BT sort of get away with this crap, shame, but it also presumably means that A&A can tell CISAS that only our "sales department" are covered by ADR as only they sell to the public, and all other departments are not covered by ADR. This could greatly mitigate risk of any future ADR cases and allow us (unethically?) to "pass the buck" internally between departments with no liability.

If it is not, then can OFCOM please ensure that ADR schemes know that they represent a "legal entity" as a whole and not just parts of it, and that BT plc cannot blame itself for its own failings and get away with it!

Do courts agree with this lunacy?

In the mean time I have suggested, not as formal legal advice, just friendly advice, to both customers that they simply go for a county court claim against British Telecommunications plc, company 1800000. If someone from "BT Retail" turns up and says he cannot speak for "Openreach", then great, they can ask the judge for summary judgement as the defendant has not turned up. If someone from "Openreach" turns up and insists there is no contract the judge can be shown the contract with company 1800000, and again make a summary judgement as the defendant is claiming not to be the party to the contract! If both "BT Retail" and "Openreach" turn up, then one of them gets to take the blame for the error and again the judge makes a judgement against British Telecommunications plc company 1800000. I really doubt a judge would accept corporate schizophrenia as a defence or find it at all amusing.

21 comments:

  1. I would think under the basic concept of Legal Personhood, that a judge would see all of BT as one legal person.

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  2. Have fun - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4972582/

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  3. ADR is broken in so many ways:

    We have to accept that errors happen however BT, to which this complaint relates, is the company that you have a contract with and provides your service. I am only able to consider the actions taken by BT (not Openreach) in your complaint.

    In conclusion I do not uphold your complaint against BT because I do not consider it was at fault on this occasion and I did not identify any shortfalls in service from the company. Therefore there is no justification for me to ask BT to compensate you for the additional data charges you incurred during this situation. Furthermore because the error has happened on a telephone line that is not on the BT network I cannot expect BT to compensate you for any losses.

    Following my investigation of your complaint, my decision requires no remedy or award from BT.

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    1. Quite. What happened when you went back and said you complaint was against BT plc and they appear to be admitting BT plc was at fault, ie company 1800000, the company you contract with?

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    2. Did you try pointing out that there is no such thing as "BT (not Openreach)" ?

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    3. I am awaiting their new decision. After pointing out both BT Retail and BT Openreach are part of BT plc, company number 1800000.

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    4. Yeh, I would feign ignorance and say you don't understand who "Openreach" are, what company number are they?

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    5. Pretend they are separate (as they will be soon)... The issue here is that ADR basically found it was BT Retail's subcontractor, Openreach, that screwed up. But surely you can expect BT Retail to take responsibility, and if their subcontractor makes an error then they need to exercise their powers as a contracting party with that subcontractor to remedy that situation and obtain compensation, after having compensating you because someone they control (by contract) screwed up. Surely you have an ADR case because BT Retail "washed their hands of it"? Bear in mind the same Ombudsman service decided that when an install took longer than expected (not longer than promised, and not longer than required, i.e. was by requested date) they decided that even though we (A&A) were not in breach of contract and even though we did not make an error (we passed details to Openeach and BT Wholesale correctly), we had to pay compensation and cancel valid invoices. So they are being very inconsistent here. If ADR allows the retail party to "wash they hands" simply by the fact they correctly sent the order to a sub contractor (even one that is not actually a different company), then surely we need an "A&A web ordering" company that actually deals with orders and passes to the logically separate "A&A Retail sales" team. As long as A&A web ordering did it write, i.e. the script on the web site worked, then ADR is covered, and as no direct contract with the logically separate A&A Sales, or A&A networking, no way to take those departments to ADR!

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    6. Actually, yes, if you totally lose the argument with ADR, do ask, would the same rules apply if AAISP have a separate department for "Sales" and "Networking", and no case if sales passed the order correctly to networking? If so, A&A may consider using you for ADR!

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  4. When typing BT into https://complaints.ombudsman-services.org/complaint/sector/selection it specifically offers BT Business or BT Residential. This might suggest why they don't cover BT Openreach or BT plc?

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    1. But those are not legal entities. The question is whether they cover BT plc or not?

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  5. I really did not expect to find that the whole of BT Plc is a single corporate entity with no subsidiaries etc, but it appears that really is how they're structured.

    Still it wasn't a wasted search - I did stumble across this mildly entertaining gem of a company: https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/10028016

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  6. Yeh, that one was Alex's. I too have owned an Openreach Ltd in the past.

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  7. You should setup A&A Business, A&A Residential, A&A Openreach. Only enlist the 1st two in ADR scheme. Then blame A&A Openreach for all cockups. *grin*

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  8. Openreach Ltd does now exist and is registered to BT's HQ address. Company number 10690039.

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    1. Yes, as a dormant company. It has existed many times. I even opened one. That is not the Openreach we are talking about.

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    2. Oh, absolutely. Anything currently done by Openreach is actually done by BT plc who happen to have an internal department which they choose to call Openreach. I was just noting that BT have put in place plans for when/if the legal separation of Openreach ever takes place.

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    3. Not so much "put plans in place" for an eventual legal separation, but rather that it is cheaper for them to own the company called Openreach Ltd than keep wrestling it back from others who register companies under that name, I expect!

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  9. And, out of interest, how does one get a 'nice' company number like 1800000 ?

    I know my bank can give me, mostly, any account number that they want, but what about Companies House. There are various companies with what I would call the equivalent of 'personal number plates'.

    Does same apply to VAT numbers. Can't say I have noticed any companies with 'nice' VAT numbers.

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