Screwed up or screwed over?
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at a series of anecdotes from our clients regarding extreme mobile phone bills and what caused them.
Vodafone shared data tariffs – can anybody spot the excess data charges?
A new client came to us last year unable to understand why his 30-connection Vodafone mobile phone bill often included additional fees of around £1,000. These fees were classified as ‘Purchases’ under ‘Extra Usage Charges’ in the summary account analysis.
We started investigating and on page 65 of their hefty 120 page invoice, we found the culprits - 17 individual ‘Extra Data Used’ transactions peppered throughout the preceding month. The respective user ostensibly responsible for the ‘Extra Data Used’ charges insisted that he’d always stayed within his 2 GB data allowance. Unfortunately, the invoice didn’t state the amount of excess data used in each case.
What next? To Vodafone!
The initial response from Vodafone’s help desk was, ironically, unhelpful: “these must be excess data charges” they said. They could help no further.
To get more info, we ran a full account analysis to ensure the user had never exceeded his data allowance. He hadn’t. However, many of his colleagues had exceeded their data allowances.
So, we called the Vodafone helpline again. This time, we established that the excess data charges for all the account users had been charged to one connection only. This made it impossible for our client to understand who was responsible for the ‘Extra Usage Charges’, and therefore how to manage them.
To safeguard against further ‘Purchases’, we immediately increased our client’s data allowance, effectively reducing their costs by 80%.
Billing error you say?
Along with our clients, we considered this to be a clear-cut case of billing error, at least in terms of how it had been reported. The excess data charges should have been segmented for individual connections, which is normal Vodafone practice with most of our other clients.
Regarding the thousands of pounds charged prior to our analysis, we believed the client was entitled to a refund. Vodafone disagreed.
We took the enquiry to Ofcom, who, two months later, responded:
“Addressing your specific issue regarding lack of transparency of charges billed as “Other charges” to your clients, Ofcom, as you are probably aware, undertook a comprehensive review of the General Conditions (GCs) of Entitlement in 2017/18. The aim of which was to produce a revised set of up to date conditions which reflect Ofcom’s current priorities and concerns and are simpler and clearer for industry to comply with. [this was followed by a two-page extract of the new regulation relating to Access to billing information’ and a closing remark]…
Apologies for the rather ‘long winded’ response, but I hope it will be of assistance in providing some leverage for your client(s) to request more granular information with regard to “Other Charges” from their provider.”
It did not help, nor did it answer our billing error question and we are unsure of what to expect if we ever asked Vodafone for "more granular information”.
Ofcom's fence-sitting, frustratingly, left us unable to secure a refund for our client, once again highlighting that obfuscation can go a long way towards protecting the revenues of the mobile operators, in this case: Vodafone.