When is a year not a year?

Sometimes I have to wonder about modern standards of customer service.

In this post you will find details of one mans struggle to educate several grown adults who had difficulties comprehending how many days, weeks and months there are in a year.

I had an issue recently with an energy provider who signed me up for a 1 year contract, but then when the year was up they insisted that the contract hadn’t finished yet.  Their view of a year and mine didn’t match up.

How complex can it be?  A year is variously defined as 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days (or 366 in a leap year).  We could get down to hours, minutes and seconds but there’s no real point in that.  If I sign up to a 1 year contract on April 27th 2017, then I expect it to expire on April 26th 2018.  It might stretch to April 27th or 28th depending on processing issues, but you get the general picture.

As a sensible consumer I follow the generally accepted good practice and shop around for the best deals when my various utility contracts are coming up to their expiry date.  When I went to move away from this particular provider recently they told me that I was still in contract and couldn’t move.

This provider decided that when they said “1 year” they actually meant “longer than 1 year” as they determined that the contract would end on the last day of the quarter in which the contract was taken out.  So, for example, if I took out a contract on 27th April 2016 they said that it would expire on 30th June 2017.  That means their year lasted 14 months and a couple of days.  In the extreme there could be a year which lasted 15 months.

I had some initial phone and email conversations with them where I stated the obvious – that a contract for 1 year is a contract for 12 months and not for 14 months – but was met with refusal to even consider my “argument”.  I’m using quotes here as there really is no argument about this.  A day is 24 hours.  A week is 7 days.  A year is 365 days.  Nothing in any contract anywhere is going to change these definitions.

After the first few communications I realised that I was going to get nowhere by going this route.  It became apparent that this was not just an error on the part of one person, or a mis-interpretation by a couple of people but was company policy, whether official or unofficial.

My first step in trying to get this resolved was to contact the energy regulator and get them to perhaps remind the provider what the rest of the world considered a year to be.  In Ireland this is the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER).  The request was immediately sent back to me asking if I had exhausted the complaints mechanism of the provider yet.  Before the CER will take on a case, they insist that the individual consumer follows through the complaints process fully.  There is a certain logic to this requirement, but when it’s something as clear cut as defining the length of a 1 year contract (and it affects hundreds of thousands of customers on similar contracts) I was hoping that some short cutting might be in order.  Sadly, this was not to be.

My next step was to investigate the official complaints procedure of the provider to find out what had to be done in order to exhaust it and get back to CER.  Due to their regulated nature the provider is obliged to have a clearly defined complaints procedure available for consumers.  A quick search of their website provided the link and I printed it off and started working out what I needed to do.

The good news is that the procedure was relatively straight forward and can be summarised as below –

  • Fill in their complaints form and submit it, giving reasonable time for a response
  • If you are unhappy with the response then request that it be escalated, giving reasonable time for a response
  • If you are still unhappy with the escalated response then open a case with the CER

In the next post I’ll provide details of the discussions with the provider as they vainly tried to tell me that a year was not in fact 12 months and my eventual escalation to CER and the mostly satisfactory response I got in the end.

Meantime, it turns out that you can find 14 month calendars.  They seem to be useful for schools.  Check out www.vertex42.com for just such a calendar template.14_month_year