Orange refuses to cancel phone of dead 14-year-old

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Peter Fitchett was already in state of extreme distress when he contacted Orange to cancel the contract on his late son's Blackberry. Tragically, his son Ben fell from a motorway bridge last month. He had a BlackBerry phone, as part of a family contract, so his father tried to cancel the contract.

Shockingly, Orange refused, and was only swayed after an internet campaign took hold.

Fight

Initially, Fitchett, a 50-year-old teacher from Rochdale, went to his local Orange shop, but after he had no success in person he emailed Orange to cancel the contract. He said: "My son's sudden death has been traumatic enough without this experience. It simply is not good enough."

However, Orange was not swayed by compassion. He received a response saying he couldn't cancel because the contract was in his name rather than his son's. They suggested finding someone else to take the phone on, otherwise he would have buy out the rest of the contract at a cost of £300.

Orange suggested he sold the phone to recoup some of the cost: Ben had his phone with him when he fell to his death. Fitchett wrote that the police still had the phone but that: "Maybe it is in good condition after such a fall, although I genuinely doubt it. Would you like to make me an offer?'

When he failed to make headway, he posted the exchange on Facebook, with the comment, "Maybe I have been too polite. Please feel free to repost/share". The post was shared 8,257 times.

Within hours, Fitchett posted that EE (the owners of Orange) had been in touch and would call him to resolve the problem. He then posted that the contract had been cancelled without charge.

Fitchett did not approach the press, and has asked to be left alone to grieve for is son. However, the tabloids picked up the story, and contacted EE. The company told the Daily Mail and the Mirror that it had policies for cancelling the contracts of deceased users, and would be reviewing the case. They also apologised to him for the distress caused.

Failing the bereaved

It's impossible to imagine why customer services teams cannot react with compassion after the death of a family member - and why they so easily forget that there are real people in terrible circumstances on the other end of the phone.

However, this is far from the only time when things have gone horribly wrong after the death of a family member.

Last month we reported on the family who tried to cancel a flight after their 78-year-old mother died before she was able to take her trip. The airline initially refused to refund the ticket price because she had not died within 28 days of the flight. After the news hit the headlines, the airline said it had made a mistake and refunded the money.

In April it was the turn of Virgin Media, which sent a bill to a deceased man, fining him for a direct debit that had been refused. The notes on the bill explained that the direct debit didn't go through because the account-holder had died. However, the company did not see this as a valid reason. The dead man's son-in-law posted the bill online and it went viral. Virgin apologised, dropped the charge, and made a donation to charity in order to apologise.

Your rights

If you are in the horrible position of trying to deal with financial affairs after the death of a loved one, it's worth setting aside time when you are calm enough to deal with the many hoops that the businesses will make you jump through.

It will help if you can get more than one copy of the death certificate, as most companies will require you to send this through in order to cancel. For sensitive financial things the executor of the will has to make the call (or the next-of-kin if there is no will). However, anyone can deal with administrative things like phone, broadband, TV, gas and electricity.

In most cases, you will simply pay what is owed to the date you inform them. In some cases the small print in the contract will say you must pay to the end of the contract. However, if you write to the customer services department and ask to cancel with nothing further to pay, many of them will use their discretion and cancel the contract immediately.

Of course, the process is still long and complicated, and many people will feel like it's the last thing they need when they are so upset, so it's worth sharing the burden with close family or friends if possible.