Archive for Consumer

Still onto BT: Roger that!

I blogged yesterday about my problem getting my BT broadband sorted out. How hard can it be to switch the account holder of an otherwise unchanged broadband service on the same line? My former employer is, understandably, keen that they should no longer pay for my home broadband, and I’m equally keen to get this sorted out.

Yesterday I got a call from BT customer services offering to upgrade me to BT Infinity. I was assured that my broadband was in my name, that the upgrade could go ahead and we even booked an appointment for an engineer visit (apparently a new socket plate is needed) next week. My fear that the account had not yet been sorted (because I’d not been told so before) was laughed off.

Ha ha.

Today I got another call from BT apologising that they would be unable to fulfil the order since, surprise surprise, my broadband is not a residential account but still in the name of my old firm. Which is what that firm and I have been trying to tell BT, and get changed, for weeks now.

I was given another number to call to sort this out, retold the tale to a series of trying-to-be helpful people (in between tranches of holding music), none of whom, it turned out, were in the right team to deal with my issue. Finally Roger Howard in Customer Options advised me a) that the best thing was simply to switch the existing account from my firm to me and b) that he was enacting this now.

Hallelujah! Let’s see if it now happens. Could be the first time we’re glad to get the phone bill.

PS to those advising me to switch to another provider… I have had tales of dreadful customer service and/or poor connection speeds from other providers. I don’t want to give any more money to Mr Murdoch. The BT broadband itself is good. It’s just the handling that’s a nightmare. Although BT please note: if there is this much hassle involved in staying with you, don’t be surprised if people switch.

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On hold for BT

I have had fun and games a few times with BT over the years.

When I went wireless there was the non-arrival of the home hub when promised. And the delay in activating the account.

Then there was the joy of the 90-minute helpdesk call that a simple line test could have avoided.

Before that, I had problems back in 2006 when my previous employer stopped paying for my broadband. Although the phone line and broadband provider were unchanged – simply a change of billing address – I found out after I had been cut off that we could not simply transfer the billing. A change of MAC code had to be made, even though BT was still the provider.

Now I’m in the same position, as I’m taking on the broadband account from my previous employer. I’m taking the opportunity to upgrade to BT Infinity at the same time. Both my old firm and I have been trying to sort this out for weeks. I am assured that the hub will arrive a week tomorrow, that the new service will be live that day, and that the billing will be seamlessly switched to my account at the end of the month. 

When I explained about the problems I’d had before, associated with having to change the MAC code, the (very friendly) chap on the line clearly thought I was an idiot. He cheerfully assured me several times that there was no problem as the line is unchanged, the provider is unchanged, it’s just a change of billing address. We have been here before.

Watch this space….

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What future for housing democracy under Labour?

Disappointing news that the Labour Council has rejected LibDem proposals to consider balloting tenants on the future of council housing management in Islington.

I should declare an interest as Homes for Islington (HFI), Islington’s ALMO, is my freeholder. As a leaseholder, I’ve had a generally good experience of them. The few pieces of work they’ve done on our relatively-modern property (repainting railings, upgrading communal aerial) have been carried out efficiently. The railings in particular were a good job well done, going from a rather peaky eau-de-nil to a glossy black, with minimum hassle.

However I also know of too many cases where the sheer size of HFI has left a small issue festering into a major grievance, because it was not dealt with promptly in the first place. As well as major concerns over the cost of major works, and the frustration leaseholders feel when presented with huge, mandatory bills.

No-one wants to go back to the state that Islington council housing had reached by the late 1990s. When I was first a councillor, Labour presided over squalid estates where postmen feared to tread. Tenants were desperate for a change and voted whenever they could to transfer out to housing associations. Money was wasted and there was no accountability.

The ALMO was supposed to achieve the best mix between getting the perceived better management of housing associations, while retaining secure council tenancy and rents. Most pertinently, it was the only option at the time for getting vital Decent Homes money out of the Labour government.

Now that’s been done, is there a case for taking the service back in-house when the ALMO ends? The arms-length structure has led to perceived buck-passing between HFI and the Council, made worse in the many council-owned street properties where Partners for Islington – the company contracted to deliver long-term management of decent homes works on period properties – is also involved.

If Labour are truly going to look at all the options, it seems strange to rule the in-house one out. And wrong not to let residents have their say. The LibDem council held a consultative ballot before bringing the ALMO in. Labour’s attitude to housing still seems to be “you may live in it, but we know best”.

I’d look at every option, but whoever the landlord is, my preference would be devolving more money and power to tenants & residents by setting up TMOs, housing co-ops and other forms of self-management, within a community housing framework.

The best-run, safest and most attractive estates in Islington are those with the most empowered residents. Not those who see their T&RA as a stick to beat the freeholder, but those who get stuck in and help run their estates themselves. You get better accountability, better value-for-money and residents who feel pride, not frustration, when they look around their neighbourhood.

For this to work the freeholder must devolve enough money and support to make the estate self-management viable, and there must be clear, simple and consistent demarcations of responsibilities between the different tiers. But it can be done, as shown by estates like the Half-Moon tenants’ co-op in Barnsbury.

This afternoon I’m joining the St. Mary’s Path Estate Tenants’ Association, and their landlord Islington & Shoreditch Housing Association (ISHA), to celebrate the great work they’ve done in providing positive activities for residents of the estate and the wider community, through having just such a good partnership.

Islington Labour please note.

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One freeze we’d welcome

It’s council budget time again in Islington.

Islington’s Lib Dems first took control of Islington Council 10 years ago following the Hillrise by-election, where the level of council tax was a crucial issue. Under Labour, Islington had the highest council tax in the country and some of the worst services.

The LibDems pledged to cut the council tax and then to keep it below the London average, while improving services: a promise they’ve kept ever since.

Last year, controversially, Labour councillors took advantage of the hospitalisation of Lib Dem Cllr Donna Boffa to force through a council tax rise, rather than the freeze that LibDems wanted.

Islington residents who might have forgotten life under Labour will have taken note that on the one day in a decade when they had a majority, Labour put up our taxes.

This year Liberal Democrat councillors will be proposing a council tax freeze again, and it looks as if they’ve got Labour to concede. We’ll find out at the Council meeting next Thursday.

Labour not putting taxes up? It must be election year….

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Down the tubes

North Londoners are facing some big public transport challenges over the coming months.

First the London Overground is being shut completely through Islington for upgrading from 20 February 2010 until 31 May 2010, with weekend closures for longer. That’s bad enough but just about bearable on its own. But now the Northern Line is facing regular closures too.

Incidentally, quite apart from messing up all those existing journeys, this makes a real mockery of the idea that it’s in any way easy for Islington residents to get to the Royal Free instead of Whittington. At least we have a direct, 24 hour bus to A&E at the Whittington, even if the trains aren’t running.

Tubelines are the surviving partners in Gordon Brown’s big idea for financing tube improvements, the Public Private Partnership or PPP. Like the other PFI deals, it was set up as a fixed-price, longterm contract, that would ‘outsource risk’ to the private sector by setting financial penalties if the job wasn’t done to time and on cost. So how has that worked in practice?

Metronet found they couldn’t deliver as agreed, so first asked for more money and more time – and then walked away from the job. Tubelines, still with us, are relatively-speaking, the good guys. They’ve completed their projects so far by playing a more cautious game: but that involves charging more money over a longer timescale than many commentators think is necessary. Londoners are literally paying the price, in taxes, in fare rises and in disruption. So much for outsourcing the risk.

These are points my feisty female colleagues Susan Kramer, Lynne Featherstone and Caroline Pidgeon have also made. Who says transport is a male issue? And who still thinks the PPP was a good idea?

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TV Times….

Richard was watching Match of the Day this morning, when our TV died. (I blame the fact that they were just saying something nice about Spurs.)

I am now watching a rather small and tinny Andrew Marr on the PC.

There may not be any TV in the Gospel accounts of the Nativity, but Christmas without a TV is not exactly what we had planned. So Rich has already leapt into action and ordered a new TV online. John Lewis to the rescue, we hope.

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Christmas recycling in Islington

Some useful info from Islington Council’s recycling team:

Refuse and Recycling collections during Christmas and New Year

With Christmas Day and New Year’s Day falling on Fridays, residents who normally have collections on a Friday will have their materials collected on Sunday 27 December and Saturday 2 January instead. The Council website has the full list of scheduled changes.

Christmas tree recycling

If you live in a street property you can simply leave your Christmas tree at the edge of your property along with your normal green waste from Monday 4 January. If you live on an estate please contact your Area Housing Office for more information on how to recycle your Christmas tree.

There will also be four bring sites for Christmas trees at parks in Islington between 2 and 17 January:
* Kings Square in EC1
* Rosemary Gardens in Canonbury
* Elthorne Park near Archway
* Barnard Park in Barnsbury

You can also take green waste, including Christmas trees, to the Household Reuse and Recycling Centre at Hornsey Street.

Extra recycling bags

Apparently the Council are also delivering a pack of 10 clear recycling sacks for extra recycling to the properties which get the green box service. I’ve not seen these yet but will look forward to them. Especially as I’m hoping to do a bit of a tidy up and clearout between Christmas and New Year!

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Westbourne Road licensing verdict

Sad to say, the campaign to fight yet another off-licence opening in Westbourne Road has been unsuccessful, after the appeal by Mr Kilic against Islington’s award of a licence failed this week.

Cllr James Kempton and I were among those who gave witness statements in support of the residents’ objections.

In my witness statement, I argued: “This is a residential area, with schools, churches, community centres, a children’s centre and an adventure playground nearby. It is not a suitable area for an increased number of alcohol sales outlets. I find it deeply ironic that as one Government policy has robbed this neighbourhood of its post office, another now allows the flooding of the area with off-licences. This is not an improvement.

“There is growing concern about the impact of alcohol on crime and anti-social behaviour and in making people, particularly young people, vulnerable to crime. The local council, sitting as the licensing authority, should balance the legitimate desire of local businesses to trade with the negative impact of certain trades on the community. In this case, I believe another off-licence in such an over-provided area would be one too far.”

And I was not alone. Residents, councillors, local churches and schools, and other local businesses all expressed their concerns, backed by a large petition.

But to no avail. The Licensing Act makes it almost impossible for councils to refuse licences, unless the police also object, and the court faced the same problem.

As David Trillo of the Ellington Street Residents’ Association (ESRA) puts it, “Everyone knows that the law pertaining to alcohol is counterproductive and until it is changed off licences will continue to be handed out like confetti.”

Meanwhile, the Council has taken action against another off licence, caught persistently making underage alcohol sales. Express Food and Wine in St Peter Street lost its licence after being caught on 4 separate occasions selling booze to under-18s. And that was after having their licence suspended for a month due to previous offences.

This week there have also been calls for a minimum price for alcohol, in response to what researchers call “an epidemic of alcohol-related health and social problems”. The idea is to stop the situation where off-licences undercut each other on booze to get people through the door. Which is exactly what Westbourne Road residents fear will now happen near them.

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Equitable Life debate today

Liberal Democrat MPs will be using part of their Opposition Day today to debate the Government paying compensation to Equitable Life policyholders.

The Opposition Day motion is based on an Early Day Motion (EDM 1423) tabled by Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats, which so far has the signatures of 335 MPs from all parties, including more than 250 Labour and Conservative MPs.

The EDM reads:

That this House notes the Parliamentary Ombudsman has taken the unusual step of using powers under the 1967 Act to present Parliament with a further and final report on Equitable Life; also notes that the Public Administration Select Committee’s second report on Equitable Life, Justice denied? concluded that the Government response to the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report was inadequate as a remedy for injustice; recognises the vital role the Ombudsman plays in public life; reaffirms the duty of Parliament to support the office of the Ombudsman; believes the Government should accept the recommendations of the Ombudsman on compensating policyholders who have suffered loss; welcomes the formation of the All-Party Group on Justice for Equitable Life Policyholders; and notes with regret its necessary formation and the fact that over 30,000 people have already died waiting for a just resolution to this saga.

While Islington North Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn has signed the EDM, Islington South & Finsbury MP Emily Thornberry has so far failed to do so.

While only MPs can sign the EDM, we can all show support by signing the national petition on the same subject.

Unlike Ms Thornberry, I fully support the case of Equitable Life policyholders for compensation. This injustice should have been righted long since.

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Burglary crime prevention advice

Some useful advice on burglary prevention has arrived from the Met police:

Burglary continues to fall, despite this, it remains one of our top priorities. Our dedicated Burglary Team are working hard to arrest known offenders and investigate burglaries thoroughly. They are fully supported by an equally dedicated Forensics Team who aim to attend all residential burglary scenes as soon as possible or at a time convenient to the victim and are available 24 hours a day.

Since April 2009, the Forensics Team has helped solve and detect 22 burglaries as a direct result of identifying suspects through forensic evidence from crime scenes.

If you are the victim of a burglary it is very important to preserve the scene.

Do not touch or move any thing until the scene has been thoroughly examined. If you must touch something, if possible, wear gloves and preserve items touched or left by suspects e.g. doors, blood, glasses or tools they may have used.

Here are some simple steps to protect you and your home.

Before you go out or go to bed check that all accessible windows and doors are securely closed and locked.
Know where your keys are at all times in case you need to leave in an emergency, but don’t leave them or any valuables in view or within easy reach of a window or door.
Unless you are in the same room do not leave windows and doors open or unlocked, particularly if you are on the ground or first floor.
Lock away ladders, garden tools and other items that burglars could use to force entry.
Senior citizens especially should ensure that any strangers knocking at the door saying they are workmen show correct identification. Residents can check with the local council on 020 7527 2000 whether any maintenance work is being carried out in their area.
A simple test of home security is • if you can get into your home without keys • so can a burglar.

More detailed advice can be seen at prevention or by contacting Islington Police Crime Prevention Office on 020 7421 0674.

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