BT digital landline: Tried to get me to upgrade and pay £85 when I asked for emergency backup

Switching: This reader was told to get a digital landline, but was concerned about how her emergency medical button would work

I recently received a letter from BT stating that my landline phone was being switched to Digital Voice.

As part of this it said I would be upgraded to full fiber broadband at no extra cost.

Digital Voice doesn’t work during a power outage, but apparently I can’t turn it down.

I am elderly and disabled and find using a cell phone quite difficult, especially in the dark of a power outage.

I also wear a medical pendant, with a button I would press to call 999 if something were to happen to me. This is linked to the phone, so when I switch to Digital Voice it doesn’t work if there’s no power.

Switching: This reader was told to get a digital landline, but was concerned about how her emergency medical button would work

Switching: This reader was told to get a digital landline, but was concerned about how her emergency medical button would work

I contacted BT via online chat and requested a spare battery so that the phone could continue to work in the event of a power outage.

The BT staff ignored what I asked for and instead tried to convince me to upgrade to a more expensive broadband package, even though it should have been free. They said I could only get the spare battery if I agreed.

After an hour and 12 minutes I finally managed to order the backup battery, but it cost me £85.

I want to highlight this because I am concerned that other vulnerable customers are being treated in the same way, and some of them may not be aware of it. SB, Surrey

Helen Crane from This is Money replies: Digital landlines, which are being adopted by all telephone companies, have proven highly controversial.

BT announced this week that it will push back the deadline for all its customers to switch to an internet-enabled phone from December 2025 to January 2027, and other companies are expected to follow suit.

This decision was made due to concerns that older and vulnerable customers like you, who are most dependent on their landlines, had not been given enough time to adapt.

BT, which also runs EE, also wants to wait for the companies that produce medical pendants to update their technology to work with digital phones and be allowed to share data needed to run the system.

Your experience with BT took place just before this deadline was extended, and I think it proves that spending a little more time on it was the right decision.

Needs update: Most medical emergency button devices do not work with digital phones

Needs update: Most medical emergency button devices do not work with digital phones

Customers going digital have been given free upgrades to stronger and faster internet connections, to ensure the phone works as well as possible.

So it was worrying to hear that BT staff were trying to pressure you for a more expensive package. They also charged you £85 for the backup battery.

You would pay more money if you switched to a service you never asked for or didn’t want, and which would be less reliable. It doesn’t sound like a great deal.

You sent me some screenshots of your online chat with BT, and I agree that the agents were pushy and didn’t listen to what you were asking them.

You explained your problem with the medical pendant and in response they offered you an upgrade from your old copper wire connection to full fiber, ultrafast broadband and a ‘new smart hub 2’ device for an extra £2 per month, which would have cost your monthly bill from €37.99 to €39.99.

It’s a small amount, but the principle of them selling upgrades to concerned elderly people when they reach out to ensure they are still taken care of in an emergency is wrong.

You were clear: ‘I don’t want an upgrade. I just want a spare battery’.

But the agent persisted and also tried to sell you a new calling package for £12 a month.

You asked to be transferred to a manager who said you could only get a backup battery if you took the full fiber upgrade.

They said, ‘We don’t have the ability to place an order [sic] for backup unit on regular fiber accounts, backup unit can only be shipped if you upgrade to full fiber.’

When you explained that this wasn’t what your letter from BT said, they eventually relented and said they could order it as an ‘exception’ – although you would still have to pay £85.

The fact that they made that exception shows that the full fiber requirement isn’t a technical necessity for the unit to work, but rather that BT didn’t want to ship them for those on cheaper packages.

Given your reason for needing one – which could be a matter of life and death – I don’t think that’s entirely acceptable.

I contacted BT to ask why this happened and what the policy really is regarding shipping the backup units.

Delay: BT now has until January 2027 to switch all its customers to digital landlines

Delay: BT now has until January 2027 to switch all its customers to digital landlines

It said that, as a result of the deadline change, vulnerable customers and those with additional needs would now not be moved to Digital Voice until spring 2025 at the earliest.

This would allow the country to enter into the necessary data-sharing agreements with local authorities and other companies that supply medical pendants so that they can still operate in times of need.

I hope this gives BT the opportunity to resolve these issues and ensure people can get the equipment they need to stay safe – without having to undergo unnecessary upgrades along the way.

However, campaign group Silver Voices told MailOnline that this 13-month extension is nothing more than a ‘token concession’.

In line with the extension, BT has now postponed your move to Digital Voice.

It also rates your chat conversations and says it will take any lessons learned into account. You’ll also get BT credit back for the £85 you spent on the backup battery.

While you will eventually have to make the switch to digital, by the time you do, the technology used in your medical counterpart will hopefully have caught up.

A BT spokesperson said: ‘We are very sorry [S.B’s] experience has fallen below the high standard that we always want to offer our customers.

‘We contacted her to discuss her complaint and noted on her account that she has a care pendant.

‘[The customer’s] The switch to Digital Voice was therefore postponed and we credited her for the costs of the battery backup unit. We have now resolved her complaint and she is happy that it has been closed.’

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