Who’s responsible for years of overbilling?

February 4 2009 by Ellen Roseman

You look at your latest monthly bill and find a mysterious charge that shouldn’t be there. It’s outdated or just plain wrong.

Then, you pull out older bills and discover that you have been overcharged for many years. What a juicy refund you will get.

You call the company and ask for compensation. Too bad, you’re told. You can get reimbursed for one year, maybe two years, of overbilling — certainly not five or 10 years.

Why didn’t you check your bills more often? The company says it’s your fault for not noticing if a mistake went undetected for a long time. You have to take responsibility here.

Bell Canada is notorious for overcharging and giving skimpy refunds. It has a written policy of not giving more than one year’s worth of compensation in a dispute.

Companies that sell energy door to door also shy away from giving refunds when they lock you into a contract by mistake. They think it’s enough to give you an early release. Only if you make lots of noise will they repay you for the overcharges.

I think customers should check their bills and companies should rectify their mistakes in full. Right now, they can deliberately overcharge you and wait for complaints. If they hold you off for a year or more, they’re home free.

I’m posting comments below from customers who want companies to be more accountable for billing errors.

The question of responsibility came up in my column today about a judge whose chequing account was frozen because he had run an overdraft for six months. Some readers thought I was irresponsible to champion his cause. I thought the bank should have made his obligations clear to him before clamping down so heavily.

10 comments

  1. Rob in Madrid

    Feb 5 2009

    Every time an article runs like the one about the Judge with an overdraft, people automatically assume that having credit is bad. I don’t understand that. People run overdrafts or use lines of credit for a variety of reasons and they don’t pay them off for the same reasons, this doesn’t mean there a bad credit risk or somehow less human!

  2. Rob in Madrid

    Feb 5 2009

    Secondly when was the last time you read and UNDERSTOOD the fine print of anything, whether it’s installing some software on your computer or renting a car or opening a bank account or CC, simple fact is no body does and I can gauantee that MS didn’t either.

    BTW I ran an overdraft on my account for years and the bank never said anything!

  3. Rob in Madrid

    Feb 5 2009

    BTW here’s the terms and conditions for opening a new account over at the Star, did anybody bother reading them before signing up?

    ps sorry about the 3 comments but you can’t edit comments

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  4. Chavez

    Feb 7 2009

    If you don’t understand the rules, Rob in Madrid, you shouldn’t be using the service. Also, don’t lump everyone into your category. Just because you don’t understand things, doesn’t make us all dim-bulbs.

  5. Tom

    Feb 14 2009

    My issue of being charged is with Goodlife Fitness.

    To anyone thinking of going to a fitness club: Avoid them at all costs.

    Five years ago, when I moved back to Belleville, Ont., I signed up with them. For two years, it was great. I enjoyed working out there and taking part in their squash leagues. The problem came when I left.

    I moved away from Belleville and I let them know this. During that two years, I had moved out of my parents’ place and was living on my own.

    Anyway, I went in and asked to cancel my membership. I was told by the gentleman there, yes sir, I’ll cancel that right away and we’re sorry to see you go.

    I explained that I was moving to a place that didn’t have Goodlife but I would recomend them to anyone. Oh boy, I wish I could take that back now.

    That day was over three years ago. Since then, it has been numerous trips to Goodlife and being told over and over again, yes sir, it’s being cancelled and I’m sorry that the previous person didn’t do their job but it’s cancelled now.

    I have been emailing their head office and this is my favorite quote I got.
    ————————————————————————————————-

    Good Afternoon Tom,

    Thank you for your email. I can certainly appreciate your frustration with the situation.

    I have pulled your membership file from our archives and the only thing other than your membership agreement is a change of banking and a hold form.

    Unfortunately, there is no request to cancel. In order to provide you with the requested refund, we would need you to provide proof of cancellation as we have none on file.

    I have cancelled the membership moving forward, the last payment being October 10th, allowing access until November 6th. I am sorry if this was not the answer you were hoping for, but again, if you can provide the necessary documentation, we will be happy to re-evaluate the situation for you.

    Thank you again and enjoy the rest of your day.
    ————————————————————————————————-

    The necessary documenation. I love that. How about this for your documentation? You closed your location I went to two years ago and apparently switched me over to another one without my permission.

    And to top this off, this is my favorite thing. This didn’t stop the charges either. I still got more charges afterwards. I had to put a full stop payment on this from my bank (where, of course, you have to pay a stop payment fee).

    Now they are trying to go after me in collections for their fees charged after that email was sent out where I was assured my membership was cancelled.

    Don’t get me wrong. I understand it’s my responsibility to keep an eye on my bank statements and I do. But when a company says that they are cancelling your account, you expect them to follow through.

    This wasn’t just a one-time thing with them either. I was repeatedly told that, oh yes, this was cancelled. Alright it’s cancelled. Every time I hear the name Goodlife, I just want to scream.

  6. Tom

    Feb 14 2009

    Oh, just got to add why moving out of my parents’ place was important — because all the correspondence I have with them always gets shipped to my parents.

    I have complained numerous times. Written to the company and changed it at the Goodlife place itself. And still they sent the stuff to my parents.

    And then the collections people tried calling my parents. It was ridiculous. It was finally the collections people that got my address changed to the correct one, because Goodlife apparently can’t even do that right.

  7. Chris

    Sep 30 2010

    Thank you Ellen for this post. I have a similar story to tell about Bell Canada.

    On May 2006 I transferred by two Toll-Free lines from Bell to Primus. I continued to be billed for these Toll-Free lines, as I have multiple services with Bell and thought my bills were part of my service.

    I calculate the over payment to be around $1600. Bell refunded onlt $460 saying the Statute of Limitations in Ontario allowed them to only refund two years worth of over-billing.

    Do I have any recourse? The letter of the law may say Bell does not need to refund its overbilling. But do ethics say otherwise?

    Thank you.