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Contract row phone firm faces legal action threat; CAMPAIGN: Victims welcome regulator's threat in calls switch scandal exposed by the Mail.

Byline: By Catherine Hendrick CONSUMER EDITOR

LEGAL action is being taken against a firm exposed by the Birmingham Mail after families accused it of switching their telephone contracts without permission.

More than 600 complaints have been made about Free Call UK and its sister company Orb Communications, which have offices in the city's St Paul's Square, to the national regulator Ofcom.

We also passed our evidence about the companies' controversial sales tactics to Birmingham Trading Standards which carried out a joint investigation with Ofcom into their activities.

In one case Orb threatened a 75-year-old man with Parkinsons disease with legal action after switching his contract three times without permission.

Raymond Brown, from Bromsgrove, was so distressed by Orb's antics that he ended up on sleeping tablets. Birmingham gran Mary Edwards contacted the Mail after her phone was cut off by Free Call when she refused to pay up after it switched her telephone contract from BT without permission.

Like other victims Mrs Edwards, from Quinton, never signed a contract but Free Call claimed she had "verbally agreed" to become a customer during a call from one of its salesmen.

Ofcom has now ruled that Free Call and Orb have breached consumer protection legislation and "engaged in conduct likely to harm the interests of consumers." It has upheld a number of complaints against the firm including: n Sales staff making statements which led people to believe that FreeCall was part of BT or authorised to act on its behalf.

n Demanding payment from people for services they haven't agreed to.

n Threatening people with legal action when they refused to pay.

n Failing to let people know they have seven working days to cancel their contract and not accepting cancellations.

The companies and their directors now have 14 days to sign legally binding documents in which they promise to change their sales and marketing practices.

Free Call's directors are Boyd Donovan and Scott Ratcliffe. Ratcliffe is also a director of Orb along with Christian Pattihis.

If they haven't put pen to paper by November 9 Ofcom will take them to court.

Chris Neville, Birmingham Trading Standards' consumer advice manager, said: "This company's trading practices leave a lot to be desired."

FreeCall and Orb's directors were unavailable for comment

CAPTION(S):

OUTRAGED...Mary Edwards who had her telephone contract switched without permission; EXPOSED...Mail flashback
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Oct 28, 2005
Words:393
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