Wednesday, 25 February 2009

What's in a name?

Sometimes I envy the Smith’s and Jones’ of this world. How often are their names misspelt?
 
At school I quite liked being different. After all. Every one named Smith had the nickname Smiffy. I on the other hand was called Stirpico (this was the 70's) which I quite liked. Any association (no matter how remote) to Al Pacino was fine by me.
 
I am quite used to having hotel receptionists not being able to find any trace of my booking. It happened again just last night. I end up asking them to check for a Mr Stripe.
 
The most problematic mix up was almost 20 years ago. The story begins with a younger and thinner me out shopping with my wife to be. As we passed a Manweb shop, an assistant pounced on us and asked if we would like to see a demonstration of the new VAX vacuum cleaner. As it happened, we were in the market for a vacuum cleaner so we accepted her offer.
 
 
She spent 15 minutes repeatedly getting a carpet tile dirty with a variety of messy substances such as mud, ketchup, blackcurrent etc and then cleaning it up with ease. Even the blackcurrent was shampooed away very quickly.
 
When she was done we agreed to buy one and accompanied her to the till. It was offered on 12 month's interest free credit which we opted for and she started to type in my details. Two minutes later, her expression changed and she told me that according to her system I was unable to get credit as I was blacklisted.
 
I asked why and she told me that the system didn't say and that I would have to ask head office. In the short term we still wanted a VAX so my wife-to-be said that she would buy it.
 
"Do you live at the same address?" she asked.
 
"Yes" we said.
 
It turns out that the house was blacklisted and so she couldn't have credit either.
 
As we left the shop we noticed a branch of a rival chain called Rumbelows. On the off chance we popped in and tried to buy a VAX on 12 month's interest free credit. No problem. In and out in under 10 minutes.
 
Whatever the problem was had to do with Manweb. I popped back in (with VAX) and asked to see the manager. I demanded to know why Manweb had blacklisted me when Rumbelows obviously didn't have a problem with me.
 
He fobbed me off with "Sorry, I can't tell you. Data Protection Act you understand." Now coincidently I had delivered a presentation on the very same act the previous week and so was able to counter with:
 
"What part of the act would that be? Certainly not the section that states

'The person who has their data processed has the right to view the data an organisation holds on them, for a small fee'.

Furthermore, I cannot conceive of a reason why I should be blacklisted. There has obviously been an error and so

'The person who has their data processed has the right to request that incorrect information be corrected. If the company ignores the request, a court can order the data to be corrected or destroyed, and in some cases compensation can be awarded'

would seem relevant."

Manager gets back in his box at this point and passes the buck. He directs me to contact head office of the parent company Norweb the power generation company.
 
The following week I was able to get into the Norweb office in Manchester and ask to see someone in authority. When authorative looking person turns up I ask to know why Norweb have blacklisted my house.
 
"I'm sorry sir. I cannot tell you. Data Protection Act. You understand."
 
"What part of the act would that be ? Certainly not the section that states

'The person who has their data processed has the right to view the data an organisation holds on them, for a small fee'.

Furthermore, I cannot conceive of a reason why I should be blacklisted. There has obviously been an error and so

'The person who has their data processed has the right to request that incorrect information be corrected. If the company ignores the request, a court can order the data to be corrected or destroyed, and in some cases compensation can be awarded'

would seem relevant."

Authorative looking person agrees to check and comes back with an answer.
 
Apparently the householder (me) had failed to pay a bond owing to Norweb for the supply of Electricity some 12 months earlier. This is a bond that all new customers were expected to pay when they first apply for electricity supply.
 
Now I was certain that I had paid this bond as I recalled being annoyed at the demand in the first place.
 
[You are probably wondering at this point if I might actually turn this story around and get to the point. i.e. What's in a name ?. Be there in a minute !]
 
I checked my statements that night and sure enough, a check to Norweb had been cashed a year earlier.
 
Back to Norweb.
 
I find my pet authorative looking person and show him my statement and ask what they have done with my money.
 
He has no idea how they are going to find out.
 
Then an idea occurs out of left field.
 
"Can you check to see if £100 was credited to my father's electricity account ? You see there are only two Mr Stirpe's in Britain and the other one is my father. I am wondering if someone has credited my father's account by mistake."
 
"I'm sorry sir. I cannot tell you. Data Protection Act. You understand."
 
I'll cut a long story short.
 
I made two more trips to Norweb. The first with my father in tow to insist that he look at his records which did in fact prove that a mystery £100 appeared in his account at the same time that my £100 vanished.
 
The second was to demand that the blacklist be removed which they refused to do. They also refused to acknowledge that an employee had made a mistake. They claimed computer error.

"Oh no!" I said. "A computer doesn't read Philip Stirpe and confuse that with Sisto Stirpe. A human who believes that there couldn't possibly be two Mr Stirpe's and picks the first that they come to, does it".
 
So there we were. Norweb refused to remove the blacklist and I didn't have the heart or time to pursue a legal challenge. What's a guy to do in that situation ?
 
We moved!
 
To those who currently reside at 50 Tootal Road Salford. I do hope you have been alright for credit over the last 19 years or so.
 
Here's a thought. Given that you can get sued if you don't declare something like a problem neighbour to the buyer of your house, could someone sue me for not mentioning the blacklist?
 
One good thing about the misspelling is that when I pick up the telephone to answer one of those 7pm tea-time cold calls and get asked "Is that Mr Philip Stripe?" , I just say "No" and hang up.





See you soon

Phil Stirpé
"I don't do average!"


 
 

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