Monday, January 16, 2017

Lying, cheating, money-grubbing bastards #3 BT

I knew it was a mistake. The moment I decided to ring BT to tell them how slow my superfast broadband was, I knew I would regret it.
Call me brave, call me foolhardy, I rang them anyway. Inspired by the latest attack on BT by a committee of MPs complaining about its terrible ‘broadbad’ service, I thought it was time to tackle the issue head-on.
Using BT’s own test on my computer I find I am enjoying a service of 5.09 Megabits per second (Mbps) though I am paying for somewhere between 27 to 36 Mbps.
So I call them and the first bloke I speak to says (and I quote): ‘You are not on superfast, it’s a basic copper connection you have there and 5 Mbps is the expected speed for your connection.’
He says superfast fibre optic broadband is actually available; I just haven’t got it. I point out I only switched to BT because I was promised superfast broadband so he says he’ll talk to a colleague.
‘You are on copper,’ he says again. ‘You are definitely not on superfast.’
Several minutes later I am transferred to a woman and I have to explain the whole thing once again. She listens and asks if we’re talking about a business line. I say we’re not so she tells me she can’t deal with it and I am transferred one more.
After a lengthy pause I have the pleasure of explaining the situation for a third time. I spend the next 36 minutes, followed by a brief pause to test the line, and a second bout of 23 minutes, in conversation with a woman whose English is not all that clear. This may have something to do with being based in Bombay.
Her first announcement comes as a shock as it completely contradicts her colleague. She says: ‘You are already connected to fibre optic.’
At this point I may have lost my sense of humour.
While I am waiting for her to carry out various tests and listening to something which would once have been called music but which is just a hiss and crackle down the line from India, I have time to reflect on the MPs’ report.
A couple of BT goons got into trouble for laughing at the report but with luck the Government will do something about the plan to separate BT from BT Openreach, the company which owns the nation’s broadband infrastructure. When 121 MPs agree the service is ‘dire’ surely someone will do something.
Breaking BT’s monopoly would be welcome to thousands of people whose lives are made a misery by the company’s bureaucratic indifference.
A self-employed friend spent weeks without any broadband as BT failed to effect repairs. She almost went out of business.
My hairdresser says when she complained about the slowness of her ‘superfast’ broadband she was told it was probably caused by the neighbour’s Christmas tree lights.
Worse still, another friend was visited three times by BT Openreach engineers after he complained about his ‘poor to atrocious’ broadband.
The third engineer declared the problem was the copper wires down the road being aged and fairly useless.
‘He told me to call BT Openreach,’ says my friend. ‘Even though he was from BT Openreach he couldn’t do anything about it himself.
‘I called BT and they said go to BT Openreach, which is part of the same company. Openreach said “You have got to speak to BT – only the provider of the line can talk to us”. I went back to BT who said they couldn’t help, I needed to go to Openreach.
‘This has gone on for six months. Ultimately a lady from Madras rang to ask, “Can we close this case now?” I have given up.’
BT says superfast broadband is available to 95 per cent of us and splitting up the company would leave less money for investment. It also says we’re ahead of most other countries.
If it’s so good, how come it’s so bad?
Ofcom is investigating the idea of splitting up BT but we can be pretty sure it will do whatever the telecoms giant tells it to do.
Meanwhile my friend in Bombay is back on the line saying she can’t find anything wrong so she will have to send out an engineer. If the fault is on my premises, rather than out in the road, I will have £129.99 taken from my bank account.
I balk at this so she offers yet another test which involves unscrewing the cover of the connector which brings BT into the house and plugging the router directly into the socket inside. Yet again the speed is tested.
The good news is it’s now 16.88 Mbps. Not exactly superfast but better than superslow. At the end of it all, Miss Bombay tells me: ‘You have been very patient and cooperative.’
Which makes me wonder how mad her other customers must get.

PS Six months later my BT broadband bill has soared to £26 per month and the speed is back at 3.4 Mbps. I ring to discuss the situation and half an hour later take part in an on-line diagnosis with an operative in India which gets us nowhere. Eventually she transfers me to some other department to discuss my extortionate bill and after a few moments the phone goes dead. Naturally they don’t bother to call back even though they certainly have the number.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Lying, cheating, money-grubbing bastards #2 VW

As we all know, those clever chaps at Volkswagen have duped the entire world with their baffling emissions scam so we had to take our Golf into the dealer to have it set right.
At the same time they gave it a check-up and discovered a nail in a tyre. The tyre was perfectly functional until they removed it whereupon the tyre deflated and they declared it impossible to repair.
So far, fair enough I suppose. But they then announced that, because the car has tyre-pressure sensors which only work if the tread on each tyre is the same, it would require not one but two front tyres.
The un-punctured tyre had 5mm of tread (like the punctured one) and was good for many more miles. But it would have to go because otherwise the warning light would come on, stay on and we would somehow be in breach of the warranty. Or some such cobblers.
After much argument, we submitted so we had to buy a pair of tyres and throw away a perfectly good one.
What is the point of an allegedly sophisticated system if it can't cope with something as simple as one tyre with 8mm of tread and one of 5mm. And if it's so wonderful, how come it never noticed the nail in the tyre in the first place?
This comes after VW has tried and failed on several occasions to deal with the Bluetooth phone system which means anyone speaking to the driver hears what they said echoing back to them after they have spoken. This is, apparently, standard on VW cars. So be warned.

Lying, cheating, money-grubbing bastards #1 BUPA

The Government shouldn't be surprised local authorities need more money to look after our growing population of old people. After all, part of the problem is caused by the rise in the minimum wage.
Unfortunately, given how tough their jobs are, many care home workers have to get by on £7.20 an hour rising by 30p in April.
That's not a huge amount of money for the individual but if you add together the 1.6 million care workers in the country and give everyone a 30p-an-hour pay rise, that's virtually £1 billion.
Suddenly the minimum wage starts to look quite expensive and the money has to come from somewhere.
Given that people are living longer, councils can't save the money by cutting the service, assuming we wish to treat our elderly with a modicum of dignity.
So that means it comes either from us as taxpayers, from us as care home customers, or both.
Yet the whole sector seems like a licence to print money. For a start, councils only have to foot the bill for the care of a pensioner when the individual’s assets have been whittled down to £23,250.
Until that point, a pensioner has to find the fees out of their own pocket. That almost certainly means selling their home, if they own one, and any other assets they might possess. It means losing all their hard-earned savings leaving nothing to pass on to their children and grandchildren.
This may be fair enough, I suppose. Why should the taxpayer subsidise someone's old age just so they can hand on a legacy to their family?
But there is something dispiriting about the way a lifetime of work disappears in a matter of months. The price for growing old has never been higher.
I know of one elderly couple, confined to separate care homes 50 miles apart, whose wealth has disappeared completely. No surprise, really – their fees were £10,000 a month.
If you are poor enough for councils to meet the cost of your care, homes will
charge about £25,000 a year. Pay for it yourself and it’s £35,000-plus.
And for anyone who goes private – the majority of old people – once a home has got its claws into you, there is no escape. An elderly relative incarcerated in a BUPA care home has seen her fees soar by £199.36 a week – 25 per cent – in two years. Her fees are £51,667-a-year.
The home is nothing special. A new manager every six months means the turnover in employees is bewildering. It is never fully-staffed.
Many carers are kind, helpful and willing but lack direction and seem forgetful, if not negligent. Bad management is to blame but what can you expect if the boss changes twice a year?
In its latest ransom note, BUPA says if my relative is unhappy about the cost she’s free to go elsewhere.
This nonsense is the vilest insult of all. Where could she go? The upheaval involved would be intolerable for a frail old lady, as BUPA know only too well. That is why they can charge whatever they like. They have a captive clientele.
To make matters worse, the family is now afraid to take up arms on our relative's behalf for fear they would retaliate in some way and make her plight even worse than it is already. It’s risky even to complain when they fit her with hearing aids with flat batteries, which they do with distressing regularity.
No wonder they could afford to pay chief executive Stuart Fletcher over £2 million last year. He’s now left and finance director Evelyn Bourke, who got £1.3 million in 2015, has taken over and no doubt gets a huge pay rise. Even Labour Peer Lord Leitch, BUPA’s non-executive chairman, trousers £385,000 for his part-time job.
BUPA is allegedly a non-profit-making organisation. Yet this disgusting rip-off merchant made £278.3 million profits last year which it stuffs under the mattress to top up its reserves. It has a quite staggering £3.6 billion in the bank and still whinges about the minimum wage.
And if one organisation can be this unscrupulously grasping, no doubt many others are as well.
Luckily local authorities are in a position where collective bargaining can at least deliver better value for money than individuals get.
But it's still a costly business made worse by the fact that a three per cent council tax rise in most parts of the country raises a whole lot less than it does in the rich South East.
So where is the extra money to come from? Local taxpayers will doubtless have to cough up as usual but the Government should take a look at organisations like BUPA.
In the past, Chancellors have imposed ‘windfall’ taxes on oil companies and banks which have exploited their position in the market. If BUPA can get away with imposing fee increases on customers of its don’t-care homes, it’s time the Government did the same on its excessive profits.