Telecommunications

Cut off by telecoms company, pensioner missed call as partner died of Covid-19

A pensioner missed the chance to say goodbye to her partner who was dying from the coronavirus when blunders by her telecoms provider resulted in her phone line being cut off.

The 79-year-old woman was left without a landline for three weeks after switching to Now TV, part of the Sky Group. As her family pleaded with the company to reconnect her, her partner contracted coronavirus. He died in hospital four days later, after trying in vain to make a final call. The news of his death was broken by a relative, because the hospital could not get through on her cancelled number.

Telecoms companies are struggling with a depleted workforce and unprecedented demand as customers rely on phones and broadband during lockdown. New figures released by O2 show phone calls have increased by 25% in the past month.

The woman, who has asked not be named, was told by a relative that her partner had died after he was unable to get through to her on the cancelled number. She has a mobile phone but found it difficult to use and relied on her landline. When Now TV was contacted by the Observer about the problem, the line was reconnected and the old number retrieved.

Regulator Ofcom has relaxed its service obligations to allow the industry to focus on keeping vulnerable customers connected, but some self-isolating households are being left without communication due to service failures. One cancer sufferer was unable to book online food deliveries after a severed cable left her without broadband for 11 weeks, and an elderly couple contacted the Observer after a fortnight without a phone line.

Ofcom says it expects companies to provide self-isolating customers with an alternative means of communication if their issue can’t be prioritised. The dispute resolution scheme, Ombudsman Services, has promised to fast-track complaints from customers who are left unconnected.

The pensioner whose dying partner could not reach her was left very distressed. Marina Storti, managing director of Now TV, said: “We know we’ve let the customer and her family down. We’ve spoken to the family and, while we know that no amount of money can make things right, we have met the customer’s request for compensation and offered to match it with a donation to a charity of their choice.”

The grieving woman said that her misery was beyond words. “I know my partner tried to call me at the end and couldn’t get through,” she said. “Now he’s gone.”