The morning of 21 December was fairly normal for this time of the year. You've taken the day off to go Christmas shopping but you just have time to open the post which has just dropped through your door with the usual round of Christmas cards. You notice a letter with an official looking letter with "Notice of Debt Collection" written in big bold letters at the top. You look at the amount and it's several hundred pounds.
This is precisely what happened to thousands of current and former customers of Gio Internet (although the amounts seem to vary from around £10 to almost £1,000) when they opened their pre-Christmas mail.
"I felt almost physically sick for a while"
(former Gio Customer)
Gio Internet is an ISP that has rarely escaped controversy since we first became aware of them two years ago when one of their directors was also on the board of another failed company called ET Global Solutions (a Gio reseller) which went into liquidation leaving customers with prepaid services with Gio Internet who took over the customer base. Around the same time, we caught Gio copying Pipex's terms and conditions leaving Pipex's company name within the text. Now their business practices have aroused further suspicion. Gio Internet was only recently in the news because one of their suppliers, Netservices plc, pulled the plug on broadband services citing a debt of over £220,000 owed to them (although Gio contest this).
One customer who has been billed by credit card for "Internet Services" (which appears to be a Netservices plc charge) was advised by Wescot Credit Services to speak to Gio about sorting out this "error", but they have been unable to get through to Gio on the phone, a not entirely uncommon occurrence from what users tell us. All the customers who have contacted us say this is the first they have heard about this debt.
Have a Merry Christmas...
The debt collection notices threaten that unless the recipients pay the debt in full, or contact Wescot by telephone to talk to a debt counsellor by 03 January 2005, instructions may be passed to a solicitor to commence legal action, or the matter may be passed to a debt collector to visit personally.
Recipients were instructed to respond by 3rd January 2005
Simon Talbot explains that he subscribed to Gio Internet's £17.99/month broadband service back in October 2002 and having been unsatisfied with the service, he tried to cancel after the three month contract was up by sending five e-mails which went unanswered. He was even unable to get through on the phone. In the end, he managed to get the broadband connection disconnected by contacting Netservices plc. Two years later, he received a notice from Wescot Credit Services demanding payment of £492.70.
"...it is impossible to contact Gio in any way"
(former Gio Customer)
Adam Prince received the same letter from Wescot earlier this week claiming he owes Gio £127.84, except he states he cancelled his subscription well over a year ago due to poor customer service and constant technical problems. He spent three hours on Wednesday night trying to contact Gio Internet on three numbers listed on their website and eventually managed to speak to someone in technical support who said they would contact customer services.
Edward Wohlman's letter from Wescot demands he pay them £420 presumably for the 128k ISDN service he used from October 2002. Due to poor service, he moved to Freeserve in May 2003 although he continued to pay until September when his debit card expired. He has not attempted to use the service for over a year and says at no time have Gio attempted to contact him to tell him that he owes them anything. He has tried contacting Gio by phone but has not been able to get through. He has not been contacted by Gio until receiving the letter from the debt collection agency.
Jason Maddison used the Gio bonded ISDN service over 18 months ago but was having problems and spent over £20 on telephone support without resolution or callback. He says he cancelled his subscription by telephone and Gio stopped taking payments from him. He has not heard anything until this debt collection letter. Now Wescot want over £80 from him.
It's our suppliers' fault...
It seems that the cause of some of the problems seem to be a dispute between Gio Internet and Netservices plc where it appears some Gio customers have been charged by Netservices who have then not told Gio who has paid and who hasn't (according to Gio).
We asked Gio Internet if they were intending to send letters to all broadband customers who may have received the notice in error because of the payments blunder. They said they could not "really get involved" because it has been passed to a debt collection agency, although they are considering the option.
We have received dozens of complaints about the business practices of sending
notices "just in case" something is owed
It is clear that Gio do not have adequate systems in place to even know who is still a customer, and it seems inconceivable how any reputable ISP would continue to provide a service for so many months, let alone years without payment or any attempts to contact customers. Alarm bells should be ringing on any accounts which aren't used for months when payments are not received, yet these seem to have been ignored, whether knowingly, or by failure to ensure adequate procedures with suppliers. Letting debts accumulate and then send debt collectors after them when they amount to several hundred pounds is a practice which we should all frown upon.
In view of the problems with Netservices' claims over Gio's debts, some might question the timing and purpose of the letters. It should not be left to customers to defend cases where a relationship between a supplier of an ISP fails.
It gets worse.. no broadband for Christmas
You'd think after all this it couldn't get worse? Well it does. It seems that customers who have migrated from Gio to another service provider have been cut off at Gio's request without any checks as to the authority of the request.
Lee Clark, who also received a debt collection notice from Wescot was probably just as surprised to receive the letter on behalf of Gio, but he was even more astonished that his broadband service from Eurofasthosts/EFH Broadband wasn't working. He contacted EFH who came back explaining that both Gio and EFH use Telefonica as a wholesale provider and because Gio had asked Telefonica to disconnect all their customers (see here for the most likely cause), but the list may have contained details of customers who have migrated to other providers such as EFH. This raises serious issues regarding Telefonica's data protection obligations and the company's management systems. EFH are closed until New Year so Mr Clark is left without broadband for an extended period. No one from Telefonica was available for comment at the time of publication, but we will follow it up in the New Year.
It's good to talk
To top it all off, we've heard numerous complaints about difficulties getting through to Gio Internet to cancel accounts, and even to discuss the Wescot letters.
We decided to put this to the test ourselves and rang Gio on 0870 922 4000, the number listed on their website at 15:39 on 29/12/2004 and listened to a ringing tone for a few minutes after which a kind BT message informed us "sorry there is no reply". This experience is not at all uncommon from reports we've received.
What you should do
Several users have asked us to advise them on what they should do. We spoke to solicitor Matthew Seymour at the law firm Eversheds LLP, and although he was unable to comment on individual cases, his advice is as follows in instances where individuals have received debt collection notices which they believe to be entirely without merit:
This letter should include:
Although it seems Gio Internet have moved from Oldham, it is recommended that communications with them is through the "registered address" held at Companies House as they are under a legal obligation to keep that up to date. The registered address for Gio Internet Ltd. and Hauka Corporation plc (formerly Gio-Corporation Plc) according to Companies House at time of publishing 141 Union Street, Oldham, Lancashire OL1 1TE. We would recommend your letter to Wescot Credit Services Ltd. is sent to the address on the notice you received.
If you have received one of these notices, accept you owe Gio Internet money, and have problems paying the debt, then we would suggest you contact your local citizen's advice bureau or see a list of other sources of advice here. If in any doubt, consult a solicitor.
If Gio don't have a record of who is and is not a customer any more, don't know what monies have been paid to them, it also begs the question as to how they can maintain accurate accounting records. The annual return (a document each limited liability company has to file with Companies House each year) for Gio Internet Ltd. was due 15 November 2004 but has yet to be filed. Similarly, its parent company Hauka Corporation plc (formerly Gio-Corporation plc) which owns all of Gio Internet Ltd. was supposed to file accounts for period ending 31/04/2004 at the end of October but this is still overdue.
The number of people who have contacted us would indicate these are in no way isolated incidents and show a systematic failure by the management of the company. Common to many of them are that they were unhappy with Gio's services ranging from dial-up/ISDN to broadband or that they were not activated for whatever reason. Most sent cancellation notices by e-mail and/or post, tried to contact Gio by telephone without any answer and that Gio have never attempted to contact them previously to raise this debt. A large number of letters we received were about accounts which were terminated over 18 months ago!
We get regular e-mails from users who are not satisfied with their ISPs, some justified, others due to misunderstandings. However, we have never seen such blatant mismanagement of accounts receivable and disregard for customer service as Gio has exhibited.
If you have received a debt collection notice on behalf of Gio Internet, please send us a copy to firstname.lastname@example.org along with details of your case. We won't be able to provide specific advice but it does give us more information which helps us to investigate these further. If you have sent us details, please e-mail us on how your case progresses.
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Some clarification on the latest Gio rumours
Gio issue press release on the current problems
Gio Internet - the saga continues
Gio Internet - in trouble?
Gio Internet upgrade results in users paying activation again!
Gio Internet slashes prices (and plagiarises Pipex terms)
Update 31/12/04 02:45 [seb]: North Ayrshire Trading Standards (the area in which Gio's offices now appear to be located) have issued a news release on Gio Internet. For more details see here. Some indications have also shown that Wescot are not pursuing cases which are contested although we have some conflicting information on this.
Update 31/12/04 12:49 [seb]: We have been advised that Wescot has ceased dealing with these and have passed them all back to Gio Internet. Those who have received a letter from Wescot should receive another letter explaining this. We would still welcome any updates from users (including when they receive the letter in question, copies of which may be forwarded to email@example.com).
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