After customer says she was overbilled by $3K, Bell Aliant only credits $814

A New Brunswick woman wants a full refund from Bell Aliant after she says the company overcharged her about $3,100 on home phone service and then credited her roughly one-fourth the amount.

"They made a mistake and they should make it right," said Ferne Perry.

The problem started for Perry when she got home phone service in October 2012 after she moved from Nova Scotia to Parkindale, N.B., a rural area where there is no cellphone service.

Bell Aliant has a monopoly in the community because it's the only company to offer home phone service.

'I thought I could trust Bell Aliant'

The overbilling came to Perry's attention in December 2018 after she received a courtesy call from Bell Aliant and was asked if there was anything they could do for her. She suggested they lower the cost of her bill. After a few minutes on hold, she said she was told her bill could be reduced by approximately $40 each month.

"I thought I could trust Bell Aliant," said Perry. "I didn't think I had to do some kind of check to see if they were charging me the right amount."

She said she wasn't sure whether the call was legit because of the big drop in price.

When Perry received her bill and saw the new price, she called Bell Aliant to ask why she'd been paying so much.

Perry says she was promised a full refund

She said she was on the line for almost an hour before the rep returned to tell her she'd been overbilled $3,117.34 since her phone was installed more than six years ago.

Perry said she was told she would be issued a refund once the rep spoke to his supervisor.

But that never happened. Instead, Perry later received a call from Bell Aliant telling her the rep should never have promised a refund. She said she was told because she paid her bills, she accepted the fees she was charged.

"When they told me they were going to [refund] that, I thought they should pay it and I don't understand why they don't," said Perry.

Bell Aliant's terms of service

She said she was told that under Bell Aliant's terms of service, they were only required to refund three months of service, although the company agreed to increase that to 12 months in the form of a credit to her account, not a refund.

She was told if she was unhappy, she could file a complaint with the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services (CCTS), which she did.

"After review by the CCTS, we increased the credit to 18 months," said a Bell Aliant spokesperson in an email. "With the resolution accepted by both the customer and Bell Aliant, the CCTS considers the case to be closed."

The credit amounts to $814.

Bell said records from CCTS "clearly indicate the customer accepted the resolution by phone which was followed up with a letter."

However, Perry said she never agreed to the proposed resolution.

On March 28, Perry emailed Bell Aliant and said she wasn't satisfied with their offer and requested the credit be removed from the account.

The credit remains on Perry's account and each month, she makes her regular bill payment as a way of indicating she didn't accept Bell Aliant's offer.

Bell Aliant's response

In an email to CBC News, Bell Aliant said it provided what it thought was the best service to meet Perry's needs when it set up the account in 2012, which included a long-distance bundle.

The company said after Perry inquired about how much she was paying, it reviewed the account, switched her to a basic service plan and offered a 12-month credit equal to the price difference between the bundle and basic service packages. After the involvement of CCTS, it increased the credit to 18 months.

Tanya Perry

Asked questions about why Perry was not issued a refund, despite Bell Aliant's statement of consumer rights that says: "You have the right to receive a refund," Bell Aliant did not answer the questions.

The company did not acknowledge or deny Perry had been overcharged, instead, it said she accepted the charges by paying her monthly bill.

'This is a mistake,' says consumer advocate

Bruce Cran, president of the Consumers' Association of Canada, called the situation "absolutely reprehensible."

Cran said his understanding is that Bell Aliant must issue a cheque, rather than a credit, noting it would take more than two years for Perry to use up the credit.

"This is a mistake that was made by the telephone company that the customer couldn't have known about," said Cran, pointing out that even with the credit, Perry is still short about $2,300.

Cran said his organization is continually fighting to change the way phone companies deal with customers.

He accuses Bell Aliant of getting out of repaying the full amount "on a technicality" in its terms of service, which says it's only required to go back three months for refunds.

Telecom complaint numbers

Bell, which owns Bell Aliant, accounts for 30.9 per cent of complaints about telephone service providers, according to the most recent CCTS report. Rogers has the second largest number of complaints with 9.3 per cent.

On its website, Rogers says any discrepancies regarding charges must be reported to them within 90 days of the date of the applicable bill, which is the same timeline as Bell Aliant. Rogers also says failure to notify them within this time period means the customer has accepted those charges.