Problems With

I took out an advertising program on in November 2008 that cost me roughly £1750 exc VAT for 1 year.

The basis of that program was that my ad would appear in their search results under certain search criteria. They show 10 results per page, so my ad would be on the 1st page roughly 10/total advertisers on a random basis. IE, if there were 100 advertisers i would appear roughly 10/100=10% of the time.

Earlier this year, they changed their systems to offer what they call ‘heavyweight’ listings and normal ‘mediumweight’ listings. All listings are mediumweight, unless you pay an additional fee to become a heavyweight listing.

The search results still show 10 results per page, but now show up to 6 heavyweight listings at the top, followed by 4 or more mediumweight listings. Therefore, by chances of appearing on the front page have been reduced from 10/total to only 4/total; or, if there are 100 advertisers, from 10% to 4%.

I called to enquire about this change on the 20th April 2009. I was unsure as to whether this was a breach of contract, so I had asked for someone to point me to the relevant section of their T&Cs. I was called back 15 days later, on the 5th May 2009 and directed to their terms and conditions.

Point 10 states:

we may modify or any of the Services from time to time without prior notice but in so doing we will try not to diminish the value and utility of the Services to any material degree. If we consider, acting reasonably, that such modification is likely to have a serious detrimental effect on your financial position, we will notify you of such modification and you shall have the option to:

1. agree to the modification and continue to receive the Services; or
2. terminate the Services and you will be entitled to a refund of that part of any Charges you have already paid to us and which relates to a period after the date that the Services have terminated.

Fundamentally, I believe this to seriously diminish the value and utility of my advertising program and was not offered either of these options when the new system was introduced. I voiced my opinion to the person on the phone and asked for my payments from the date of introduction to be refunded. I was told they would not be.

I then asked if believe this change could seriously diminish the value and utility of the service offered, I was told it did not. I then asked for that statement in writing – specifically, that a drop of up to 60% in adverts appearing on the front page was not a serious decline in value and utility. I was told that I could not have that information in writing by the person I was dealing with. However, they did offer to consult with the legal team to have a statement prepared and would get back to me when it was completed.

I would like to point out that it was at this point that my wild sense of humour kicked in and I asked when they thought that might be. As it had taken 15 days for them to reply the first time, would it take another 15 days? Would it take 2 years? Or would it take 60% longer than the first time – if so, I might consider that to be a serious drop in value and utility of their customer service! I also asked the representative if they knew if the letter would be written in full, or if i’d only get 40% of the words on the page. I was told that they did not know how to answer that question!

As of time of writing, I am waiting to find out what the response from their legal team will be, although the personal oppinion of their representative was that I would not have my payments refunded. I am waiting with baited breath.

11 thoughts on “Problems With

  1. You might consider pursuing the matter through the small claims court. If you truly want to cancel the service my advice would be thus.

    1) Send a letter (registered post) immediately asking for your service to be suspended and the refund to be issued from the date of the change. Or to be uber technical, work out the math of the value of the reduced appearance over the intervening period. So 10 days reduced from 10% hit rate to 4% hit rate value equals 60% reduction for 10 days. Explain that Yell have 14 days to issue a refund before you will pursue legal action.

    2) After 14 days, assuming no response, send a follow up letter explaining that you will file court proceedings in 7 days if they do not issue you a full refund to the amount you have outlined. At this point, mention that you will also pursue additional damages for the time spent pursuing this matter with them if you file.

    3) After 21 days, if they have not issued a full refund, spend the £40 or so to file a small claims court claim. It’s likely that it will cost them more to defend than to pay.

    It would be worth checking how much you want from them and then check the maximum limit on the small claims court. Also verify if you can pursue a company which is not local via that mechanism. Might be a stumbling block.

    Good luck! 🙂

  2. Good thinking from Callum. It is very unlikely Yell would even turn up to a small claims court hearing, so would have the judgement against them. Just check with the court which court you should file it with. I got caught out on this some years ago.

  3. I agree you should go for it and I think Callum has a very good plan of how – and don’t give up. but it’s very time and energy consuming, so brace yourself, it could be a long haul.

  4. 4 page letter detailing the issue, along with solid evidence that my advert views, and consequently clicks, have declined since the change has been introduced was sent recorded post to Yell Ltd yesterday – thanks Callum. I’ve asked for the payments since 1st April to be refunded, along with 8 hours of my time.

    Will wait and see what their response is.

  5. There is an ongoing complaint against Yell in the West Midlands. In Nov 2007 about 100 local businesses took out advertising in an A5 sized Yell Your Town Directory for the Cannock area. In 2008 over 130 businesse took out adverts for the Lichfield Directory. The contract was for a door to door distribution of minimum circulation figures of 20300 and 17600 respectively in designated postcode in each area. The advertisers became suspicious when none of them had received a copy to their businesses and in many cases also at home addresses. Some of the advertisers began to complain and also started talking to each other about the problem. In Lichfield a complaint letter was sent to CEO John Condron, which was replied to by Customer Service Liaision managers. Yell claim to have delivered 23195 in Cannock and 19528 in Lichfield. These figures are the Post Office Address File figures for the relevant period. That is, Yell claim to have delivered to close to 100% of available addresses. They sub-contracted the job of distribution ot Link Direct – who then sub-contracted a Leicester company, Maitrix for Cannock, and a Stourbridge Company for Lichfield. Yell denied any failure in the distribution in either area. Their industry standard backchecks of about 1100 phone calls (Lichfield Your Town) produced a 51% positive which they claimed was adequate evidence of fulfilment of the contractual obligation. A complaint was made to the DIRECT MARKETING COMMISSION in London. Yell is a corporate member of the Direct Marketiing Association. There is a published Code of Practice which their members are required to adhere to. One section of this Code of course relates to Contractual fulfilment by Yell.
    Groups of advertisers in Cannock and Lichfield obtained evidence that shows quite clearly that on a balance of probabilities, This is a long story. It has been partially resolved. Yell made no admission in Lichfield of any failure in the distribution – but they did make a Good Will offer to ALL of the advertisers. Some got full refunds, and some had their payment/ bill offset against future advertising with Yell. One Cannock business were in the process of taking Yell to the Small Claims Court. Yell (a senior Executive Head of Dept); a Barrister, and a Solicitor attended an initial hearing. They tried to settle out of court with an offer of a full refund. The Case was until very recently set to go ahead , but the business concerned gave up the battle due to time required to keep it all goingt. Eventually they gave in and accepted a Good Will offer. Yell has refunded 23 of the Cannock advertisers.
    You would be well advised to consider making individual complaints as well as joining forces with other businesses who are suffering due to Yell’s change of contract.
    Your case needs to be fought on a basis of absolute clarity. If the contract is unfair, this is another failure for the DMC to look at.
    Over 70 Lichfield businesses put their names to the complaint against Yell to the DMC. The initial judgement by the DMC took about 8 months to reach. They upheld only one Breach of Code. The advertisers were not happy with this result. They have recieived irrefutable evidence of failure in the distribution for Lichfield. 82 of the 93 advertisers across all 5 of the designated postcodes able to be contacted did not receive any distribution. Neither did any of the District and City Councillors, or the Mayor. The contract was for every home and business address in the postcodes – as far as is reasonably possible, to be delivered free. The Appeal was sent off to the DMC and a meeting followed with the Appeals Commissioner in early August. We are still awaiting the outcome. If they do not find further breaches of Code including contractual failure, this will indicate that the whole thing is a sham. However, the advertisers present at the meeting with John Bridgman, DMC Appeals Commissioner were told that as a result of the complaint – the DMA would be changing their Code of Practice with regards to Verification and some other aspects.
    Look on the DMC website for how to complain:
    There is strength in numbers. It may take a long time to get some satisfactory outcome, and you should be prepared to stand up for your rights. Business to business complaints are very time consuming and can be expensive. As far as I’m aware, you can take Yell to your local Small Claims Court – just make sure to read all of the forms very carefully before completing. The Cannock company filed at Walsall County Court, and Yell’s reps travelled from Reading and London to attend. There was a question on the form for both Complainant and Defendant along the lines of “Is there any reason why this case should not be heard at this Court? Make Yell travel to your local Court if they owe you as a result of changing your terms of contract so that it is unfair and disadvantages you. . .

  6. Thanks for your comprehensive comment. Yell Ltd offered me a refund from the date of the change as ‘a goodwill gesture’!

    Without putting in a significant amount of time, I felt that this was the best I was going to get. I did set up a website to document the issues, but took it down a couple of days ago. If you feel it would be useful, I could put it back online.

  7. The website would be more accessible to other businesses who may also be suffering as a result of the change in contract with listings. If refunds are being separately negotiated on a matter of principle, then why shouldn’t every business affected obtain a refund? Not all businesses are pro-active in dealing with such problems. Some may not even be aware that they have lost out.
    Yell has taken thousands of pounds from businesses in the West Midlands and not honoured the contract to distribute their advertising.
    It seems that Yell deny any responsibility and argue that legally they have the right to alter a contract etc. It would seem from what I have read on your situation, that the change resulted in an unfair contract. You paid for advertising on a partcular basis and then they wanted to be able to attract other businesses to pay larger sums of money for “priority” listings. This was not right – and Yell must know it.
    They wouldn’t be offering refunds at all unless right was on the side of the customer. Yell is getting away with a lot of “shady” practice. A forum is more difficult to come across than a full on Website.
    As long as contributors stick to the facts and don’t invent stuff I would suggest that it is unlikely to be a risk.
    Many businesses are facing an extremely challenging battle to survive (probably including Yell) – this does not excuse the kind of behaviour that has gone on with Yell.
    You and other businesses might consider making a complaint to the DMC.
    Only pressure on Yell is likely to force them to reflect on how they are treating their customers.
    The monetary settlement is only one part of a desirable outcome.
    Yell’s published Code of Ethics i(see their website) s not lived up to.
    The DMC is supposed to ensure that members of the DMA adhere to the Code of Practice. Yell currently has got away with several breaches. What you have described would appear to be a Breach of that Code.

  8. I Signed to place and advert with yell. They have send me a bill of £ 2800, and I am not satisfied with their advert. I send them a letter to cancell the advert, but they are refusing to do so and asking me to pay the full amount.

    I am a plumber and my advert is heavyweight multiple areas in london. But if some one search for a plumber, the chance of me in the first page is almost zero. I am not sure about the search engine mathematics, but I tried about 100 times, and I ask 3 of my friends to do so, but my advert did not come in the first page even for once. Only If I search for a plumber with my address details( Hendon), my advert comes in the first page.

    Can anyone give me wright advice , I would be greatful!

  9. I have been having the same types of problems with yell. I was told I would be heavyweight on all areas. Then I noticed that I was not coming up on all the areas. I called them and told me I was medium weight on the other areas. I really think I was missold this product. Has anyone else had this problem?

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