Asokar (Ash) Ramalingam runs a Best-One store in Gravesend, Kent, and was leasing a Spire machine through First Data to do phone top-ups. In September 2011 he signed a 60-month contract.

“Last October they had a software problem and a lot of machines packed up. We contacted the company and they said ‘don’t unplug, it will be alright’. It never worked from that point on.”

He was then promised a replacement which never materialised despite numerous emails. He continued to pay the rent, but by December was so fed up that he cancelled his direct debit. This got First Data’s attention and he has now received a demand for arrears, late fees and future rental for £332.

First Data’s letter also says: “You are responsible for the safe return of our equipment. If you fail to return the equipment you will also be liable to pay the full replacement value of the terminal.”

That would stick another £286.70 on the bill. All presented without a hint of irony.

He has written to First Data saying he is happy to continue till the end of his contract if he gets a machine that works, but he thinks First Data will not want to provide this as his contract only has eight months to go.

I did contact First Data’s press office for a response. But it didn’t get us very far. A spokeswoman said: “It would be inappropriate for us to comment on an individual merchant’s account, however we have spoken to Mr Ramalingam on several occasions and are actively trying to resolve this issue.”

Ash says that he never gets a response from the company; all he has had is a demand for money for what he describes as a “brain dead” machine.