A number of former Supanet (Supatel / TimeTalk) customers have been in contact to complain that the ISP has recently started chasing them for alleged unpaid bills, some of which include vague demands for up to nearly £800. In most cases those being targeted left the broadband provider 4-6 years ago.
Supanet, which ambitiously describes itself as being “one of the fastest growing ethical ISPs in the UK” on their website and claims to have “registered over a million subscribers to date” (we haven’t seen evidence of that), is actually the trading name for a Cyprus registered company called Supatel (Supanet was acquired by them in 2010).
Back in 2013 Ofcom fined the broadband and phone provider Supatel £60,000 for mis-selling (slamming) after they were found guilty of having switched 83 customers from one ISP to another without the individuals knowledge (here). Prior to that there was no shortage of complaints about the provider and many people have since chosen to jump ship.
Fast forward several years and some of those who switched away from Supanet / TimeTalk are now being hit with vague demands for an “unpaid” balance, which seem to range from around £90 to £800 (purely based on those gripes we’ve received). Many of those being targeted won’t have any paperwork left from such a long time ago (handy for Supanet) but deny that they owe the ISP anything. All of them say this is the first time they’ve heard of an outstanding bill.
Sample Complaint 1
“This originally started with a text out the blue and then I went onto their site and had a live chat with them before I was cut off. I threatened them with ofcom and I was told it wasn’t for internet so they wouldn’t do anything. It was for non closure of my account and seemingly there was a charge for me having a supanet.com email address.
I believe this is the tip of the iceberg and it’s only starting. I had only ever used them as my original pc came from them around 20 years ago. Due to the size of Time retail there must be thousands of people who will have these dormant accounts and will be getting contacted in due course.”
Sample Complaint 2
“I cancelled my contract with Supanet in March 2013. This month I received a text from supanet asking me to contact them regarding an outstanding balance. I ignored it. A few days later I received a letter informing me of a debt of £***.**. Needless to say I was a little shocked. I rang the number on the letter to ask for an address (as the letter only had a Cyprus HQ address on the bottom) to send a subject access request to.”
Sample Complaint 3
“I’ve just received a letter from Supanet saying I owe them almost £***. I finished my term of provision with them in April 2013. They say they’ve referred the case to Quick Collect, yet not once in the intervening period have they contacted me to say there’s an issue outstanding? There’s no quantification in the letter as to what this all relates to, it looks a bit amateurish to me, and I smell a scam or an attempt to put frighteners on.”
Digging deeper, at least some of the outstanding balances appear to be attributed to allegedly unclosed accounts or the use of a supanet.com email address. In other cases we’ve seen people being charged £69 for non-return of an ancient and rather naff router, which many will have long since thrown away.
At this point we note that the letter (see our copy at the bottom) directs its recipients to contact their “collection agency” – Quick Collect – within 30 days on 01204 978010 or it warns that the matter “ultimately escalates to legal action“. However they fail to provide a postal contact for Quick Collect (it’s wise to keep related correspondences in writing for legal reasons – not giving an address is thus bad practice).
We did a search for the collection company and the only one that we found with such a name in the UK was dissolved in 2016 (here). Meanwhile Supanet itself is listed as a dormant company (here) and another company called Biometrix appears to exist at the same address (here); the latter was once called Supatel. Time Group (here) and Time Holdings (here) also share the address and some directors. Quite the web of companies.
Ordinarily in this sort of situation we’d be advising customers to pay and then dispute the charge afterwards through an Alternative Dispute Resolution (details below) handler or the courts, but in this case the approach leaves too many questions (it could easily be viewed by some as a scam) and a more robust challenge may thus be appropriate.
Challenging the Provider
Broadly speaking Supanet’s letter struggles to conform to the new Pre-Action Protocol for Debt Claims (see here for a good summary), which was introduced in 2017 and advises on what information both sides are required to provide (they’ve left a lot of detail out and we haven’t been able to confirm that Quick Collect is even a registered debt collector). We’ll also highlight the Citizens Advice guidance on debt collection harassment, in case it ever becomes relevant (here). Plus the National Debt Helpline has some sample complaint letters.
At this point the usual approach applies. 1) Find out where the debt has come from by asking the agency to send you a detailed summary that fully explains the charge, 2) Request a copy of your original agreement and, 3) Tell them that you wish to only be contacted by post (request their address and also company details to help confirm it’s not a scam). Essentially, get as much details as possible.
Furthermore it might be useful to phone Supanet directly in order to confirm the debt action (here) and at the same time we’d be inclined to drop Ofcom a complaint (here). The regulator, which incidentally informed us that they “haven’t seen a particular trend in complaints about Supanet” (i.e. not enough people have told them about this.. yet), also has a useful page on disputing bills (here).
After this you may wish to write a letter that formally disputes the charge and at the same time we’d notify them of your intent to open a complaint via Supanet’s ADR provider – Ombudsman Services: Communication, which can investigate the complaint on your behalf at no cost to yourself. Supanet also has a document for their complaints procedure (here) and check our own Complaints Guide for extra help.
Some former customers inform us that Supanet caved in after they opened an ADR complaint (probably because it’s free for the end-user but costs the ISP hundreds of pounds). However if all of the above avenues fail and you continue to feel as if Supanet’s demand is unfounded then the Small Claims Court is often an effective weapon of last resort. Such courts may well take issue with how they’ve handled this.
Strictly speaking Supanet are within their rights to chase former customers for unpaid bills, even up to 6 years after the event, although this kind of approach will undoubtedly be viewed with contempt by many of those targeted. Similarly the fact that the ISP does not seem to have previously apprised those customers of any such debt only reinforces that viewpoint.
We have repeatedly tried to contact Supanet over the past couple of weeks but all to no avail.
Supatel’s Registered Office
Supanet Complaints Department
TCS Support Centre,
Time Technology Park,