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Answer machine

A Tale of Two Answer Phones

Did you know that about the UK transition from analogue to digital landlines?

Here is a cautionary tale of a close family member who has recently undergone this transition without the appropriate upfront support/notification, resulting in confusion and distress.

Picture a ‘spirited’ 94-year-old lady, gamely living alone, fending for herself with family ready to help her if needed. She has broadband but doesn’t understand it. She’s heard of the Internet but cannot use it. A gift ‘tablet’ gathers dust in a bookcase. She has no e-mail address. She does have a functional answerphone, under the push button handset of her landline, on a small shelf in the hall. Being deaf, even with hearing aids in, our lady relies on this for all those times she is not quick enough to get to the phone and family and friends leave daily messages.

Now, in the last month, this old analogue landline, was switched over to a digital service by her service provider. Our lady was previously notified by some type of digital message but, unsurprisingly, she missed that. The first, immediate outcome was that her landline phone stopped working. Why? Because the base and handset must now be plugged into the back of her broadband router to access the digital signal. Happily, an issue quickly resolved by her visiting daughter. However, and here’s the main story; more unforeseen digital consequences followed.

The second consequence appeared about three weeks later. Callers could not leave a message on her answerphone, only hearing a robotic voice saying, “Your mailbox is full”. This was very strange, as the message tally on the machine indicated zero messages; later confirmed by an empty message memory. Family and friends were puzzled. Our heroine was somewhat more isolated with a seemingly defective answerphone. What to do?

As so often these days, good old ‘Google’ came to the rescue. A few quick searches by her ‘tech-savvy’ son-in -law, provided both the answer and the remedy; whilst simultaneously revealing this to be a recent common problem for many others in the country. It turns out that the service provider had ‘helpfully’ provided a new, virtual answerphone facility, somewhere on-line in the cyber depths of their organization. They had also, ‘helpfully’ set the system up to automatically divert any messages to this virtual ‘Voicemail’. Our heroine of course, had no knowledge of this because that little detail was buried deep in the many unseen pages of the Terms & Conditions of her new digital service.

Now, the virtual voice mailbox is accessed by dialing 1571 and then following the prompts. Lo and behold, the voice mailbox was full, as it only holds 20 messages and multiple callers had tried. Thankfully, nothing important had been missed over three weeks. However, each of these messages must be individually deleted to clear the mailbox, requiring over 20 minutes pushing buttons on the phone. Unsurprisingly, our heroine does not wish to be bothered with ‘all that malarkey!’. So, how to get the good old physical answerphone back in action?

Well, there is a ‘helpful’ option for a family member to create a ‘Managers’ account on-line, on behalf of the main customer. Within that account, you can set call service preferences. So, we tried it. Nearly a week later, we are still waiting for verification of the request and the trusty hall answerphone remains redundant. Let’s hope her service provider has not tried to send an e-mail or leave a voicemail message!
Isn’t digital technology wonderful? We’ll keep you posted …

By Keith Jones

Citizens Advice North Hertfordshire is an independent, local charity reliant on raising our own funds to carry out our work to improve the lives of residents in North Hertfordshire and parts of South Cambridgeshire. 

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