I've been a Dell hardware user for many years -- I fondly remember my first Dimension XPS, and I'm happy user of their curent range of LCD displays. When I first became their customer, Dell was leading the way in on-line purchasing of computer hardware to consumers.

But, I won't be purchasing from them any more, after the way they've treated me recently.

This all started when I purchased a monitor in November last year. I ordered it, entered my credit card details, and Dell shipped the product. There was a bit of hassle about price, because I wanted them to honour a advertised sales price, and after several rounds with sales and customer service, being passed from department to department over a period of weeks, I was promised a partial refund. After that I didn't think about it again.

Then in May I received a letter from "Debt & Revenue Services - a debt collection agency" (DRS), demanding payment. Their letter design and company name gave me the initial impression this was a public body, but on closer inspection this appeard to be just a company that works with Dell. They threatened "further action" if I failed to contact them.

This was news to me.

I won't bore you with the step-by-step interaction, but after several phonecalls and emails it was obvious that DRS does not have an adequate way of looking into the circumstances of disputed claimed oustanding payments in a timely fashion, and never actually bothers to ring you back. I turned to Dell customer service, where again it took a lot of time to find out more.

It transpires that when I provided my credit card details to Dell, they were unable to withdraw funds, apparently due to fraud prevention systems operated by my credit card issuer. It seems stupid to me that they shipped the product before receiving payment; it seems incompetent that their automated sales systems don't immediately notify the customer in email, or alert a customer service agent to phone the customer or send a letter if there are problems with a payment.

After many more emails and phonecalls I negotiated a settlement and re-authorized the card, but even after I had contacted my bank the transactions continued to be declined. Rather than trying to fix that problem and drag things out further, I made a BACS payment on 6th of June. Dell managed to not locate that payment, but after further phonecalls they were able to confirm they payment had been received. I thought that was the end of it.

But, on 14th July I received a mailed "notice of action" from DRS, saying that they will be calling on or between the 18th of July and the 18th of August between 8am and 8pm. This is clearly not adequate notice -- there are only 2 business days before the first date, and the one-month period is not adequately precise to be of any use. But obviously I should not have received this threat at all.

I rang back again, was told that if I didn't hear anymore that would be the end of it. But I've been told that before, so today I rang up again, and was told that they had in fact received confirmation from Dell, but only after this notice of action was sent out on the 11th June. The envelope did not contain a timestamp, and the notice itself was undated, but on closer inspection the address label shows "/110711/", suggesting that it was actually sent on the 11th of July. Clearly DRS is incapable of ensuring that mail is dispatched in a timely fashion, and is unable to track their mail.

In all, this has cost me many hours to sort out, and has been a stressfull experience. My conclusion about DRS is that they are sharks that only care about extracting money, and do not manage their interactions with debtors adequately, and are falling foul of various aspects of the Office of Fair Trading Debt collection guidance:

  • They are unclear in their communication, by not detailing adequately what the claimed debt is for (violating 2.1)
  • They continued demanding payment, even though they knew that the debt had been in dispute and after it had in fact been settled (violating 2.6h)
  • They completely failed to investigate when I queried and disputed the debt (violating 2.6j)
  • They continued collection activity after I queried and disputed the debt (violating 2.6k)

Nor do they confirm any progress (or final settlement) in writing, or even call back when they say they will. I would suggest that Dell should find a more competent company, but I fear that they're all pretty similar, as their incentive structure does not reward good treatment of debtors.

But most of my anger is aimed squarely at Dell: sending debt collectors after customers as a first action, when Dell fails to obtain a properly authorized payment is outrageous.

Annoyingly, to the Dell and DRS beancounters this episode will be treated as a successful debt recovery statistic, and thus an incentive to continue this practice.