He didn’t pay his phone bill for 5 years. No one noticed. Now he owes Telus $5,000

A B.C. man who unknowingly went five years without paying his phone bill has been told he owes Telus more than $5,000.

Steve Wright, a music teacher from Sechelt, a community about 65 kilometres northwest of Vancouver, says he was stunned when the phone company notified him of the snafu last August.

“I had no reason to think anything was wrong,” Wright said. “Someone had been paying my bills without either of our knowledge.”

He’s now in a dispute over how this happened and who is responsible.

Telus says the problem came to light when a former customer contacted them in August, about withdrawals from their bank account which had continued for two years. 

The company says it investigated and, according to a statement, “learned this other individual’s account had in fact been paying Mr. Wright’s bills for five years, totalling $11,384.60.” 

Wright looks over pages of his correspondence with Telus at the studio where he teaches music. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

The former customer was reimbursed, Telus says, and Wright was told he would have to pay his last two years’ worth of bills, which add up to $5,466.36.

Telus has given him 30 months to pay. 

But Wright says he believes the mistake was made by Telus, and, even if he did make an error, the company should have caught it.

“I think they need to get their system straight,” he said. “When someone enters their banking information and it spits out someone else’s information, if it’s human error, then find out.”

He wants an apology for what he says were excessive emails and calls from Telus over the mix up. He claims he was treated like he did something wrong and that he’s had to take time off work to solve the problem.

“The reason I dug my heels in was the way I was treated, right out of the gate,” he said.

Telus says all correspondence with Wright was “professional and friendly.”

Wright’s offer to pay off his debt over five years to keep his bill payments manageable was declined by Telus. 

“I would like five years to pay this off,” Wright said.

Telus has given Wright 30 months to pay off the debt, having turned down his request for five years. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Cases like this are extremely rare, according to John Lawford, executive director of the Canada Public Interest Advocacy Centre, a consumer protection group. 

“The reason for the mix up is usually a transcription error at the end which is the service provider,” he said.

“Someone types in the wrong number or links two accounts in their system improperly. They should really have a system to double check the information.”

As for how he went five years without noticing his unpaid bills, Wright says he never had a problem with his account, so he assumed everything was fine.

“I’ll ask you the same question,” he said. “The individual who was paying my bills for five years, how did he not notice?”

CBC Vancouver’s Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.


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