Dear ‘Executive’ Sirs, (for I doubt you have many women in your higher echelons)
Re: Breach of Contract
This afternoon, I went to top up the existing credit on my pre-payment gas meter. When I attempted to do so, I received the message “battery fail”. It meant that my gas central heating stopped working, even though I have already paid for gas I need to use. It snowed here overnight, so the weather is cold. I do understand that there are those at the top who really couldn’t give a toss whether poor people are cold but whilst I can still afford it, my gas account remains a contractual agreement with you. Replacing batteries in gas meters forms part of your contractual responsibilities to me because, without a battery, you cannot supply the gas I have already paid for.
When it came to contact you about this, I discovered that if I were wealthy-enough to operate a land-line, you would provide free calls to sort out your breach of contract. I am not wealthy-enough – the poor depend on mobile phones or call boxes. For those of you who have never been poor, you may not have noticed that, since BT privatisation, there are far fewer public phone boxes than there used to be. The closest one to me is on open hillside. Did I mention that it snowed last night?
Those of us without landlines have to use mobile phones. Did you know that (how very convenient for the mobile phone companies)? Some of us down here at the poor end on the social scale afford to pay monthly tariffs in order to get the free calls you mention. Others, like me, can only afford to use pay-as-you-go. When I rang your mobile number to inform you of your breach of contract, I was told the waiting time was 30 minutes plus. My neighbour, who had exactly the same problem only a few days ago, confirmed that all their free-call allocation had been used up trying to get either you or one like you to sort out your breach of contract. Batteries have a known ‘shelf-life’ so replacing them ought to form part of your regular maintenance. I might wonder what kind of business you are if you don’t have that kind of schedule because, without it, it begins to look as if you don’t give a shit about your poor customers at all. I tried to phone your ‘help-line’ later and my mobile used up all my carefully saved credit before I was able to talk to someone. I can’t afford to top-up again for a week. Supposing I have another emergency? But then you don’t appear to care about my kind of custom at all, do you?
At present, judging by your business practices, I have to conclude that your answer is No. Did you know that the government of this country treats poor people the same way by not providing free-call numbers for mobile phone users? Yet everything must be done by phone. Given how little people are living on now – especially after your most recent price rise – this all seems rather cruel. I’ve been subject to a lot of cruelty over the past few years and it causes PTSD flashbacks. It’s one of the reasons I am poor and on benefits. I am hoping to return to work but your business practices do not help. Despite the fact that you already have my money and it is you who are in breach of contract, I am the one who is cold, further impoverished and inconvenienced. Please understand that I ‘might’ be inclined to be more forgiving if you paid your full taxes but, if you are anything like the mobile phone companies, you probably don’t. Had you chosen to invest those tax savings in providing regular maintenance to your prepayment meters, that might have gone in your favour too – but I suspect you don’t do that either. I am also right in thinking that those of us with prepayment meters – which enable us to budget the pittance we receive – are charged more than those who pay by other methods? Don’t we pay for this maintenance then? Are we really such inconvenient customers that it’s Ok for you to charge me more, take my money in advance and only turn up to honour your contract after you’ve messed us around?
By the way – this is being written whilst I’m waiting for your engineer to turn up. The night sky is clear – it’s going to be another cold one. Unless it snows again, of course. There are people with no homes out there tonight and some who can’t afford food or warmth, so I count myself fortunate in comparison. When I look at those less fortunate than me and then I look at you, you’ll have to forgive me if I am a little frosty. There is this matter of your breach of contract. The more I consider what appears to be going on here, the more I’m starting to believe your behaviour is intentional, especially if I’m right about the regular maintenance issue. Given your general behaviour so far, I’ll be lucky if your engineer turns up at all even thought I was told I might have to wait up to four hours. That was three and a half hours ago. My pessimism is beginning to have some grounding in fact.
In order to require you to comply with your contract, I had to go out to the public phone and call from there. The phone-box itself is subject to open-fell weather. I had to wait over fifteen minutes before I actually got to speak to another human being. You are extremely fortunate that the woman at your call centre was both professional and as humane as your service allows. She took time to listen to how upset I was and how angry I felt at being treated this way. She did a good job but also had to require me to phone your company again – from the cold public phone box (no credit left, remember? Can’t afford more for a week?)– because I hadn’t complied with your rules! The account was in my landlady’s agent’s name and it should have been in mine. You require me to do business with you by phone yet you discriminate against me because I am poor and can only use mobile or the far fewer public phones. At the same time, you fail to maintain your supply to me.
Let’s give you one more reason to write off me off – just so we are all being honest around here. I’m a desister – a woman found guilty of wounding with intent and threatening to kill a police officer (1st offence age 48). I know exactly what it is like to be treated as if I have no worth and the only responsible thing I could do for society was die. I’ll tell you one thing. The system isn’t permitted to kill prisoners and when they try, however directly or indirectly, they can be shown to have broken the rules. The reason you won’t write me off, however, is that I got very good at spotting exactly where the ghost in the machine was lurking, especially in prison.
The reason I believe you intentionally discriminate against the poor is the ring-back service you don’t provide on mobile lines. You provide that service elsewhere – your call centre told me so. You breach your contract with me at every level. I will be looking to change to an ethical supplier who can meet my needs as far as prepayment is concerned. There was a doorstepper here this week offering that kind of service, except the more I think about that, the more I suspect it might have been a con. There seem to be a lot of such types in your business, don’t there?
You’d think, given that there are so many of us poor these days, what with our numbers increasing and all, that there’d be some successful kind of business made out of treating the poor fairly. Perhaps some of us might fund a few start-ups on the compensation we receive from you for the way you have been treating us. I’ve a mind to get those taxes out of you one way or another.
And I apologise for the disjointedness of this – I’m normally fairly eloquent (or so I’ve been told) – but I’m cold and experiencing the kind of ‘shock’ that comes with realising just how badly I’m being abused. When I was in prison, this was the time the formal complaints began flying. A lot got sorted when I reached officers and governors who knew, without being told, that you don’t treat prisoners like this. If you do, women die and men riot. My complaints were always aimed at seeking to head off the latter when I could see it happening. I wasn’t always successful and I have seen both outcomes manifest during my imprisonment – although it was YOs who ‘rioted’ in my case. As a desister, I am no longer permitted to bystand, comply or consent to unlawful conditions once they can be proven unlawful. I have a social responsibility to oppose anything corrupt because it kills people and hurts others. You are actively discriminating against the poor in general and me in particular by subjecting me to hurt and suffering through neglect of whatever contractual duty applies between us – and if you decide you weren’t doing it to me, then you were doing it to my landlady’s agent and my landlady. It’s called a crime at my end of the social spectrum and I think it might well be a crime at your end too.
There’s no point in going through your complaints procedures because you’ve fixed them so they fail. There’ll be someone out there with evidence to prove it; if not, more. There are more like me – experiencing unmaintained service problems, experiencing total loss of paid-for service, denied equal communication access and being charged more for the privilege – which has to break some law and well as leaving you in breach of your contract to me.
I’m going to circulate this on the social media because I don’t think I’m alone in this – I just happen to be the one who can see stuff, make connections other people might miss and put it down in my own words. There’ll be things in this other people will recognise – whoever they are – but mainly, we’ll all be poor or getting poorer. I want to know if I can sue you, npower, for this and whether there’s anyone amongst my legal follows who’d be willing to help, pro-bono for now but going for enough costs to create start-up legal aid social enterprises. God knows, we need them if we are to straighten this behaviour out. I have smaller plans for a desistance-for-women social enterprise project needs funding plus I want to float the idea of a Police Social Enterprise that goes after tax evaders. Could my claim for compensation be for social gain – I’m not allowed to do personal gain as a desister. Can I do that to you, npower, because God knows I want to!.
I’m going to have to trust that society will see me alright – let them decide. I’d certainly like to be able to pay my landlady her full rent instead of her having to take the hit of my housing benefit cap. She prefers having me as a tenant and is willing to take the loss. I don’t think she should have to. I’m willing to work but I can’t if I keep getting hits like this one – as I sit here in the cold, waiting for your engineer to turn up. I feel punished for your failures.
There is one good thing about this kind of shock – it means I wobble all over the place. The one thing that keeps me steady is my focus on you. It doesn’t seem to matter what perspective my wobble gives me, I seem to be seeing the same thing. Even if everyone can’t follow everything, there are going to be some that will. The people who are seeing the same thing I am and just needed someone else’s story to confirm what they were suspecting themselves. I’m hoping that those who are ready to do something about this might pass it around. Is there a likely lawyer out there who thinks I might have a case because there’s definitely something wrong with me at the moment? I’m not usually like this. Am I?
As for you, npower executives. Is there really anything left to say?
Dee Wilde Walker
Your four-hour promise has just been broken.
Anyone else having this problem?