Monday, April 14, 2014

All Good Things Probably Come To An End - Poundland's Neil Ballard Departing

Several years ago I had taken a stand a packaging expo.

Part, part RE:tie, I was 'selling' the notion of designed-in reuse.

Sadly, considering the investment, both financial and in time, no takers.

However, there was one small silver lining, and that was in the form a gentleman (in all senses of the word) and his team who stopped by to chat about what I was up to and pushing.

I thought nothing of it really at the time, beyond enjoying the conversation I had with them.

Until, later, I got a funny little email from him. Paraphrasing, it read:

"Hope you don't mind," he wrote, "but we were so impressed with your concepts, we have decided to put your website URL on the company homepage, and all our packaging."

It marked the start of a great period (check the 'Labels' links to see the back and ongoing story), I hope, for all parties involved in the relationship.

Certainly benefited and still benefits from a significant signing uptake from those who have bought stuff from Poundland and seen the URL on the packaging.

However, sadly, in the course of one of our infrequent catch-up chats recently, I have learned that packaging manager Neil Ballard, the man who made all this possible, is moving on.

And, selfishly, I was also disappointed that he suspected that with him going, so would the mutually-rewarding relationship.

But it was great, fun and great fun while it lasted.

I hope all Poundland shoppers who discovered and were inspired by the profile provided by Neil via the packs have enjoyed what they have found... and will stay on to continue doing so.

But as an era clearly passes, thanks Neil!

Friday, April 11, 2014

UNICOM... or is it UNICon?

Do NOT shop where you see* this sign!

*For one (of many, petty) legal reasons, the company in question's logo, no matter how 'fair use' for journalistic purposes it may be valid to share, has been removed by demand of some very expensive lawyers... for some reason all over this 'case'.

STOP PRESS - Moving a post up from 1/9/10 to 11/04/14 takes some doing, but I think in this case worth it, even if also OT to Junkk's main remit. I just think it shows the power of patience, persistence and people joining together, which the internet has revolutionised on blogs, FaceBook, Twitter, etc.

The reason is summarised in a comment kindly shared today:

"It took time but we got there in the end.

Ofcom have just announced that they are investigating Unicom's Sales and Marketing tactics and their requirement to offer 12 month contracts.

The BBC have already filmed an item about them for Rip-off Britain which will be shown in the new series and Radio 4 are doing an item about them"

Ofcom investigates phone firm Unicom after complaints

17.04 - Just listened through. Very disappointed. Superficial investigation at best, with the lamest, tamest 'expert' possible to locate, dealing in generalities and neither host nor he getting their teeth into the meat of real abuses. All topped off by a breezy 'these three cases have been swallowed by Unicom... aren't we clever?'. Er, no. There are many more, worse, and longer that were either lazily ignored or venally suppressed. And no pulling in otelo, OFCOM or Government to explain their sorry selves. I hope someone does take them up on their invitation to write in with more. I might even do so myself. But given I am fighting the BBC Complaints system, which makes Unicom's seem ethical, not sure it would be worth it.

Chanelling my inner Churchill, it with luck heralds the end of the beginning, and the beginning of the end for what is clearly a seriously messed up situation that has caused misery, legally, with clear indifferent oversight by authority, for too long.
O/T, but as it goes to the state of this country and governance in general, I'll allow it.

I have not had much fun with bullies lately, but when a smug bean counter from a service company I pay invokes some legals when they screw up and says 'there's nothing you can do about it', that makes me see red.

So, for a start, Unicom, there is the power of the internet. They used to say good personal stories reach 3 others, but bad ones reach over a dozen. Let's see if I can do a tad better than that.

Google can be your friend. Starting here.

So if you're up for a fight between a David (though it seems I may not be alone) vs. a Goliath, read on.

A long time ago, our house alarm kept going off. So we called out the engineers.

Who said it was not our system, but the line.

So we called our telecom supplier, Unicom.

They said there was nothing wrong with the line. So we called back the engineers.

They insisted all in our house was fine.

So we called Unicom back and said the line was definitely at fault. They said it was not, and if we called them out and it was our problem, we'd be charged like a wounded bull. Fair enough... IF it was us getting it wrong.

So a BT engineer (go figure) lobs up, tears our house apart, and eventually finds the fault... on a pole halfway up the street. Insult to injury, in putting it all back together in the house he has disconnected a line so I have to call back the alarm engineers a 3rd time.

These folk kindly only bill me for one call out: the first.

Hence I get back to Unicom and after working through a myriad of departments end up with a customer service bod who concedes my point that if I get charged for a false call out, they should cover the inaccurate no-fault claims. We agree the engineer invoice should do it. Sadly, and to my backside-covering, contact-report obsessed shame, I did not confirm it in writing.

Because nothing happens. And when I chase I find it has been 'escalated' first of all, and when I show little by way of being impressed with that, it ends up with 'compliance'. Who seem happy to write endless letters reneging on our deal.

So I involve OFCOM. Who bounce me to yet another (why??????!) quango, sorry 'ombudsman', otelo.

But they bounce me back because they can't get involved because I have only been told to go fish by an administrator when they need a note of deadlock from a manager. Which Unicom, playing the (very rigged, with the authorities who in theory are acting on our behalves, totally complicit) system, seems unable, unsuprisingly, to provide.

So, enough is enough. I decide that whatever else, I'm off. So I move to another supplier.

But, quicker than you can say customer service #fail, I get a note from UNICOM 'retentions', pointing out that I am on a 3-year contract, and I will be slammed with a bill for nearly a grand if I move.

I look at my contract, and lo, it was signed in June 2006. Sorted. By 5 months.

Oh. no. In the minute-pt type of this contract (so small that when they sent it by email it was unreadable on screen), it says that a) you are required to give them 3 months' notice, and at the end of the last contract, with no one mentioning a thing from their side at first sale, or prior to the point of renewal, it gets automatically renewed.

Now, it maybe be 'legal', but where I come from it ain't right. And I am going to raise as much of a stink with UNICOM, OFCOM and Otelo as I can until one or other feels the warm glow of public loathing is getting uncomfortable, or if they still feel like digging in, then the media and our elected representatives.

Maybe in their corporate overlord minds 'I can do nothing', but in other ways there's still fair few options I have open.

UNICon... you are so on.


Had another conversation with Otelo, who accidentally sent me a 'you are on your own' notice the last time. After an initially terse few words, the officer in question has proved quite reasonable. I now have a case file and number.

Addendum 2

It would appear big business is flexing its muscles with an ever more 'sympathetic' establishment which, coincidentally, also seems less and less keen on the principles of free speech.

I have been approached by the owners of the complaint thread that was linked above:

Many thanks for your contribution to Review Centre!

As a consumer review website we encourage people to express their opinions (both positive and negative!) of the experience that they have had, but we must also take into consideration any concerns of businesses affected by these reviews.

I have received contact from a representative of Unicom Phone Company regarding reviews published on Review Centre. I have included a copy of the review you have written for your reference - (included below).

They have expressed their concerns regarding the review content and so we have temporarily removed your review from while we ask you to confirm your position on the matter.

Please let us know which one of the following options you would like to take by 26/02/2010

You would like the review to stay on Review Centre in its original form.
You would like to write the review differently on reflection as some of the information is now not relevant.
You are happy for the review to be deleted as the matter has been resolved.
If you wish to stand by your original review (or an edited version), we ask that you provide your contact details for our records (full name, address. telephone number, plus any evidence to authenticate your review).
Information collected is to validate the authenticity of your review and will not be passed to anyone without your expressed permission.

Please be aware that representatives of Unicom Phone Company may at some point in the future choose to take the matter further.

We look forward to hearing from you soon

Thanks again!

Your Review

Looks like I am joining a 'select' club

Noting the legal, if unethical stance taken, I have also written to them as follows:

Meanwhile, for the record, might I just ask a few questions of you or whomsoever you feel might be qualified to respond meaningfully:

1) At the time of signing the contract, is it not the obligation of the salesperson to make clear all relevant and pertinent t&cs to the customer?

2) Even if in writing, and a carbon copy left, is there not an obligation to make these in a form that is both reasonable and readable?

3) In the case of a renewal after a signed dated contract, especially one where the original is taken away on the spot, is there no obligation to issue to advise the customer, in good time, when this becomes due again?

To which I have replied:

Disputes are tricky things. Just as it takes two to tango, so there will (almost) inevitably be variations on the circumstances between protagonists that will be as different as night and day.

You guys are not journalists, I accept. But I was very relieved to locate the thread on this bunch that you had hosted, and find so many, with such similar stories, all in the same boat.

It seems unlikely we were/are all chancers trying to bilk some poor, honest company.

In fact most seem to have been screwed over in some way and simply wished to have the option of withdrawing our custom.

I do note that the entire thread, at least as I linked to in my blog, has now vanished. I hope there has been a record kept.

There is now a rather worrying trend in the UK where freedom of speech and various out-dated libel laws are (ab)used to serve the nefarious interests of those with money and no ethics. Supported, too often, by the very government and its agencies that we pay to protect us from abuses.

I would be interested in knowing what the Unicom 'rep' had to say. That these reviews were false? Misguided? Or just that they were hostile and they didn't like them. Was any factual rebuttal offered?

As to your questions, as far as I am concerned it can stay on as 1). However I do need to update my blog entry as linked, as things have indeed moved on a tad. I have now an otelo complaint log and do need to respond to that. Though that [Unicom] think that customers are here to dance to their systems is half the problem. I don't have floors of pencil pushers dedicated to wearing the other side down into giving up.

I don't think you need to worry about the content of my blog, though it seems I might. In the circumstances I am surprised they have not approached me directly, though my first response would be to ask which part they found inaccurate.

Actually I wrote nothing on your thread that anyone could take issue with, surely. In fact, all I do is share a few perfectly legitimate questions to seek clarification of the legal and or ethical business validity of their actions. Ironically none answered to date. Hence no evidence is required, though I have plenty, which I will be sharing with otelo now, having had a few other, better things to do than jump though endless box-ticking hoops designed to encourage giving up.

Might I ask if other, fellow, posters, have been so approached? And if they are as impressed with the service thuggery of this sweetheart outfit as I am?

And as it sounds like it came from them, what, precisely is meant by 'Unicom may want to take this matter further'? On past evidence I am presuming that conceding they have screwed up in just about every way, and feel it best to part company now as amicably as possible and go our separate ways, is not what this cabal of litigious bean-counters has in mind, despite the already vast PR hole they have already dug, and seem evidently keen to excavate further.

I am now turning to the otelo documentation. I really have better ways to spend my day, but principle matters now.

Addendum 3

One for the 'when in hole, keeping digging' files.

I decided, as I tend to, to check back to see about 'progress'.

I checked back to see what has happened. And was moved to write to

You have got to be kidding me!

After all the horror stories and zero ratings... this is all that is now up!????

1 Review For Unicom Phone Company

· ElizabethAdams 1st Jul 2008Reviewer rating:

Good Points: Excellent customer service, with very friendly and helpful staff.

Bad Points: None.

General comments: I have always found Unicom Phone Company to have excellent customer service, with very friendly and helpful staff.

I did try to add another of mine, asking where the scores of negatives and zero rating went. It is now advised as 'approved', though there does seem to have been a bit of editing first.

Your comment on Unicom Phone Company has now been approved and can be seen at :

Maybe they are still nervous of lawyers. I think the derisory tone still comes across.

Addendum 4

Just as otelo have and now are proving ever more interested, involved and helpful, so things are moving in other quarters. have not stood still, and it seems some if not all critical reviews are going back up. Mine included. They have kindly offered advice on where a few comments of mine above might have been 'colourfully worded' in ways that may have distracted from the total rectitude of the facts and value of opinions as to how I felt as the victim of the corporate treatment meted out.

I sense Unicom have lazily tried default suppression and a heavy hand, and have merely uncorked a genie.

In case they get suppressed again, a few goodies:

For over a year now we have told them we are not paying their cancellation fee,that their contract is not legally enforcable and if they think otherwise then simply take us to court! However, despite receiving in excess of 50 telephone calls and letters all threatening court action , baliffs and debt collection agencys and even a copy of the court claim form that they " will be sending" they have not as yet done so. Remember, you do not need to do anything until such time as you receive an official Court Summons!!!!! Meanwhile, hang up on them if they call!!

Had the typical hard sales phone call and made a meeting for her to come down for 4.00 to discuss services.

4.20 some random guy walks in with the usual really hard sales pitch. I told him I wanted to think about it and would not sign there and then. I asked for some of their paperwork to read through and also a copy of the contract - didnt get anything based on the company or agreement just a leaflet saying how much they can save me.

In my opinion a very rude sales guy, who also asked me for some of our corporate wine for his girlfriend. Wouldnt touch with a barge pole.

I entered into this contract without the knowledge i would be tied in for three years, apparently I had to read the small print to be aware of this. I have been with the company three years now and rang them to terminate my contract, I was told this had to be in writing. I then did this and as the letter was received 10 days after the start of the three month notice period I have been tied in for another three years.
You have to ask yourself why they have to have such restrictive tie in periods.

Had a line fitted at my new offices to be phone,fax and broadband, after 8 weeks they could not supply broadband on the line so cancelled contract.
Now being taken to court for not paying the £115 installation charge and another £100 for cancelling the contract.
Beware of the 1 year rolling contract, you have to cancel by giving 3 months notice before the end of the contract or will roll on for another year,or they will charge £100 cancellation.

many customers including ourselves feel that Unicom are a company operating with staff who have no knowledge of contract law. We cancelled our contract on the basis that they were unable to maintain uninterupted telecoms supply to our business. They then argued that we had entered into a three year contract and had seen terms and conditions that allowed them to take in excess of £3,000 in cancellation fees. Having previously taught contract law..and knowing that we had not seen any such terms I was amused..but I was not amused when then took £2,7000 from our account via a Direct Debit. We decided to take them through the courts but now they are wanting to settle..check* ( a web site set up to cover their antics) to follow our progress and that of others.
Please please please do not sign a contract with this company.
My husband is a builder who signed with Unicom at the side of a road where he was building an extension, he was given little time to read any of the small print. We realised that there is a 3 yr rolling contract when we tried to change (then you can only end the contract with 3mt notice pre the actual end of the contract), we feel the salespeople have no customer skills, no communication skills.

Today I have just paid 450 inc interest and 2.5 charge for using a card to get away from this company, PS I DIDNT WANT TO RATE THEM ANY STARS AT ALL BUT YOU HAVE TO TO BE ABVLE TO POST YOUR VIEWS

I had phoned Unicom in January 2009 to cancel one of our three phone lines I was told that I had three months to run before the contract could end. I then rang in May and was told that all three of our lines had been rolled over for another three year contract and I should have put the cancellation in writing and I had been told this when I phoned in January. So now we are stuck with a line that is not being used and being charged which is now a lot more than BT. Check out Unicom on Moneysavingexpert. [I did, but the search threw up no results... another example of corporate shenanigans underway?]
This company fails to point out that it is a 3 year rolling contract and is buried in the small print so unless you have a good memory or a 3 year diary you will be with them for life.
Unicom is fine until you find a better deal only to be told that your contract was recently automatically renewed for a further 3 years. It is Unicom policy not to remind customers or send renewal notices when contracts are coming to an end. Unless you have an extraordinay good memory or an exceptionally long diary and give the 3 months written notice prior to the end of the 3 years you could be with them for a lifetime! Either that or pay up the massive termination fees.
Why do Unicom choose to not send renewal notices?
I have been in business for 30 years and all the other companies I have dealt with do!I would NEVER recommend.
In the interests of balance, it should be said that there are a few who love 'em to death, with 5* ratings and long, detailed, heartfelt and in no way corporate reasons why Unicom Phone Company (no 'TM' too?) are the bee's knees:

I have always found Unicom Phone Company to have excellent customer service, with very friendly and helpful staff.

There are many others now aware, and involved, including my current MP. Also our PPC knows the main players in the Free Speech movement and has kindly introduced me to them.


Defamation Act
FreeSpeech Blog
Libel Reform - *the site is now closed. It apparently achieved what it needed to do. Shame others yet to enjoy this aim are not to benefit from the experience of others, but one can empathise in light of what can 'go down'.
Business Zone - Top 10 ways to deal with customer complaints - Or....

Addendum 16/10/10 (yes, it still lumbers on - had a 'final judgement' from Otelo that needed to be bounced back as the adjudicator had clearly not read any details on the case) -

Patience can be a virtue.

Addendum 05/07/11 - More as a memo to self, in dealings with the authorities, it is worth bearing in mind today of all days that oversight bodies claiming powerlessness yet finding in favour of client partners is not now easily explained away by 'but they lied to us'. Especially when imposing penalties, under the guise of impartiality, on those individuals being abused that they in theory are there to protect.

Addendum 14/09/11 -  a great deal of water has passed under many bridges but suffice to say that, recently, our issues were totally resolved, in our favour and to our satisfaction. This is not to say that others are or will be as lucky.

One day I'll get time to share what went down, in case it helps.

Perhaps more relevantly, I feel it is important to share major developments that will, with luck, help for those caught up and facing further distress:

Addendum 11/12/14 - Fellow 'rebel' Mary has kindly shared what seems a clear new victory at high level, and inspiration to others still fighting. Quite why anyone still needs to fight given the wealth of evidence and testimony countrywide who knows, but here you go:

"also exposed the failures of the communications industry ombudsman – set up to be the consumer’s champion – which sided with the company"

Not over yet, clearly. I suggest those in office get their fingers out and COORDINATE!

New discussion URL -


Another worthy URL as folk still in dire straits and seeking help: