|TalkTalk: "TalkTalk landlines |
don't support these devices."
"We take issues like this very seriously and are conducting an urgent investigation into this."
Temporary changes made by TalkTalk to their landline service over the weekend meant that Lancaster City Council has had to warn vulnerable Lifeline users that they can't count on Talktalk telephone lines working with their Lifeline button alarm pendants in an emergency.
Over a thousand vulnerable local people use the Lifeline alarm service, wearing an emergency button on a pendant or a bracelet (see image) that they can press if they have a fall or other emergency and need help. Most of these users are elderly and frail, many are disabled, but keen to keep their independence. Knowing that help can be summoned at the push of a button brings peace of mind, to them and to the friends and relatives who worry about them .
When pressed, the button connects wirelessly to a device that plugs into an ordinary telephone socket, which phones through to the call centre. The device has a speaker and the trained call centre operator can talk to the service user and assess their need. The call centre also keeps a list of emergency telephone numbers of relatives or neighbours who have keys and can come immediately to give assistance.
This week it was discovered that Lifelines were not working for service users whose landlines were supplied by TalkTalk. There are several dozen such service users in the area and obviously, this is a potentially very risky situation. Fortunately, the glitch appeared to be only temporary. Whatever TalkTalk had reconfigured over the weekend, they restored again. But there doesn't seem to be any way of making sure it won't happen again, or finding out when it might happen.
Trying to talk to TalkTalk isn't easy. When a member of the Lifeline staff tried to explain to TalkTalk's customer services what had happened, and the problems it raised, they simply said that TalkTalk could not support Lifeline service equipment.
This statement from TalkTalk means that Lancaster City Council has had to warn Lifeline users that TalkTalk is not a sufficiently reliable service for a Lifeline that they might need to rely on in emergencies. Their letter to their Lifeline customers who use TalkTalk reads:
"Should you wish to remain a lifeline customer, you will need to arrange to change providers as a matter of urgency.
"When you are considering another provider you will need to check that the service they provide is able to support the use of community alarm systems on their line.
"Should you wish to remain a TalkTalk customer you will need to end your contract with us."
However it can take months to change service providers. Also, changing your phone line provider is a massive hassle for people who are young and strong, never mind those who are elderly or ill.
Virtual-Lancaster called TalkTalk to find out if they even knew what was going on. Their customer services supervisor first explained to us that the problem was caused by Redcare, who, he said, had installed the devices. In fact Redcare install integrated fire alarms, and have nothing to do with Lifelines. We explained this and then had to explain again in greater detail what a Lifeline was, to a person on the other side of the world who didn't (in my opinion) speak very good English and who had clearly never heard of such a thing.
That wasn't a problem for him though, because as soon as he understood that it was a device plugged into the phone line he was back on script. "TalkTalk do not support devices made by other manufacturers. You have to go and talk to the manufacturer." We explained that the device had worked on every phone line except TalkTalk's, and that we would appreciate if they could try to find out what had temporarily stopped the TalkTalk lines from working, but he just kept repeating the same line. And that was that.
The Lifeline service told us that they had a similar problem with a different service provider about a year ago. That went differently. They were able to speak to an advisor who understood the problem and had the capability to think and make enquiries. This provider was able to ensure that the service was restored.
However TalkTalk isn't interested in finding out why their service suddenly let dozens of their most vulnerable customers down, out of the blue, potentially putting their lives at risk. And they aren't interested in trying to avoid it in future. They made that very clear, to Lancaster City Council and to Virtual Lancaster.
We're lucky in Lancaster & Morecambe, because we know this now, and we can take steps to help vulnerable people change to a better phoneline provider that won't take their money and then let them down without a moment's concern.
But there are thousands of Lifeline users nationwide who may not know yet that TalkTalk doesn't support their service and that TalkTalk reserves the right to make changes, temporary or permanent, to their landline service in the course of other operations that could cut off their Lifelines without warning at any time, leaving them isolated and at risk.
The only advice that the Council can give Lifeline users still on TalkTalk is to change providers as soon as they can and, in the meantime, to keep checking the line.