My mother has dementia but Vodafone won’t cancel her mobile

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My mother is 81 and suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. She hasn’t used her mobile phone for over a year, but Vodafone won’t let us cancel it. My sister has sent our power of attorney document four times, along with requested ID. I tried to call but it refused to discuss the account because I couldn’t provide the passwords Mum can no longer remember. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that it is making the cancellation process as difficult as possible so it can continue to collect line rental from a woman with severe dementia.

JT, London

It ought to be a straightforward process to register power of attorney with relevant companies, just as it ought to be painless to cancel a contract when a relative dies. However, corporate handling of vulnerability and bereavement is, too often, insensitive or incompetent.

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When I alerted regulator Ofcom to your case it deemed Vodafone’s behaviour grave enough to warrant intervention. It does not usually take on individual cases. “We’re concerned by this case and appreciate how difficult it must be for the customer’s family,” it says. “Someone with power of attorney can do anything the customer can do, including closing an account. We’ve raised our concerns with Vodafone and expect it to resolve the situation promptly.”

Vodafone tells me blithely that it ordinarily takes up to 40 days to add a power of attorney to an account. It processed your application and cancelled your mother’s account five days after I contacted its press office and blamed “human error” for the delay. “We have since trained up more people in our critical care team to be able to handle POA requests directly so that we can speed up the process and make sure this doesn’t happen again,” it says.

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The charity Dementia UK says that it receives many calls from families blocked by companies from accessing their relatives’ contracts. “It is unacceptable that people with dementia are locked into contracts which they do not use,” says Paul Edwards, director of clinical services. “If companies are able to monitor their customers’ usage, this should allow them to stop excessive and unwarranted bills for vulnerable people.”

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