Britain's biggest phone operator, BT, has been named the worst landline provider in a customer satisfaction poll.
In an internet survey of 11,000 customers, BT had the lowest score for all but two of 11 categories for home phones, making it the worst performer in an industry with a poor record of customer service.
Three million of BT's 10 million landline customers are dissatisfied, according to the research for the price comparison site uSwitch.com.
It follows three surveys in the past year that have suggested BT offers poor value for money and repeatedly fails to sort out problems. In January, Citizens Advice found that 89 per cent of all landline complaints were about BT. A separate poll for uSwitch last month ranked BT's broadband the worst value, while last summer Which? ranked BT 17th of 28 broadband providers, giving it the lowest rating for value for money.
Yesterday, BT admitted that thousands of customers had experienced poor service between August 2007 and January after the introduction of a new computer system. "Unfortunately there were teething problems and some people having a lot of delays and other people had engineers turning up at the wrong time," said a spokesman, who maintained the "bad times" were over.
He accused uSwitch of distorting its latest landline survey to promote rival phone companies.
BT, one of the flagship privatisations of the Thatcher era, still enjoys a dominant position in the UK's £25bn-a-year telecoms business, with a 68 per cent share of landlines and one in five broadband customers.
While it built a reputation for customer service in the 1990s, the former state monopoly has so enraged customers in the past year that protests have spread on the internet. Eighty-nine per cent of those polled at the website Btcomplaint.com rated their treatment as "awful".
More than 1,300 people are members of anti-BT groups on Facebook such as " I Hate BT", far more than for other large companies such as British Gas.
One wrote: "I would suggest that you go to money claim online and issue a county court summons. Ringing them on the phone is a waste of time."
A freelance designer Clare Keil contacted The Independent after complaining that BT was taking months to restore her phone service – after it allocated her number to a nearby house.
"It just went on and on," recalled Mrs Keil. "I was sent to Delhi and Cape Town and just about everywhere in the world, standing in a freezing phone box. Nobody wanted to know. We really didn't know what to do, from breaking down in tears to threatening to call the Samaritans."
BT said the survey had been conducted before recent price cuts. "BT is sceptical of these results as they simply don't tally with our own research. Our research, carried out by an independent company on a much larger scale, shows far higher levels of customer satisfaction."
Thousands call up to complain
*Many telecoms companies, not just BT, offer poor service. Complaints about mobile phone contracts to the Consumer Direct hotline soared by 49 per cent last year – making them the second-most complained-about subject after used cars. The Telecommunications Ombudsman received 105,000 customer contacts in 2006/07 – up from 91,000 the year before. In a poll last year, the Citizens Advice Bureau found that 90 per cent of landline customers were dissatisfied with their service – and most of those were signed up to BT.