There appears to be nothing more emotive than stories involving billing anomalies by telecommunications companies. They invariably become a public relations disaster fort he company involved by invoking public sympathy against the telco. Telstra in Australia must be wondering how the story of a 60 year-old retiree facing bankruptcy could make the national press, and not necessarily of their doing.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Luba Kipish is facing a $23,000 bill and could potentially lose her home after being placed into bankruptcy for not paying an eight-year old Telstra ISP, BigPond, bill of less than $1,000.

Kipish claims the original bill occurred while her son was living with her years ago. He failed to pay and left home leaving Mum with the bill and her no means t pay for it. Telstra took Kipish to court and had a judgment against her for $1,400, with costs. She didn’t pay and despite receiving one call thought the matter had gone away until six years later in 2007 when she received a revised claim for, now, $2,000. She was taken to court again and the bill jumped to $16,000, despite claims that she offered to pay the $2,000 by installments of $100 every two weeks.

The bankruptcy trustee has since added $20,000 in fees to Kipish’s bill, which can only be recovered through selling her only asset, her home. Kipish has been traumatized by the thought of losing her home and has sought help from the Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC).

A Telstra spokesperson said it will thoroughly investigate this eight-year-old claim.

(via Sydney Morning Holiday)

As much as one may want to side with Ms Kipish in this story it would appear that Telstra may be getting a ‘bum rap’ here. Firstly, what sort of son would leave his mother in such a mess? The story does not indicate why he took off and left her with unpaid bills. There is no dispute over the original bill, it was accurate and Telstra justified in recovering what it was owed.

Why was Ms Kipish not allowed to make arrangements to pay down the bill and why would Telstra let the latter rest over six years and then go to court again? Most people understand that if they owe money on phone bills they have to pay, unless there are extenuating and rare circumstances of incorrect billing. That was not the case here.

Why would Telstra embark on a public relations disaster like this if it didn’t feel justified in claiming the monies owed to it? The debt collection has handed off to a specialist collections agency, as is commonly done, and Telstra rightfully left the matter to them. One has to question if there is not more to this story than meets the eye and that its not just another case of telco bashing, a popular pastime when news is a bit thin. TP